The Looking Exercise

We conducted an experiment. For the duration of a minute (timed on the timer of our phone), students were asked to take in one impression after another of their immediate environment in intervals of a breath. For example: begin by looking at the mug on your table, with the next breath shift your gaze to the carpet, then with the next breath look at the view through the window, and so on, for a minute. Students were invited to repeat this ‘looking’ exercise in several situations during their day, and asked to observe their emotional state before and after the exercise. Could they verify an emotional effect as a result of taking in neutral impressions for a successive minute?

Naturally, such ‘looking’ enlivens our inner landscape. First, we must resist momentum, the invisible force that tugs us through our day and considers pausing to notice a flower superfluous. Then we must grab the reins of our vision, normally allowed to wander freely and randomly. Then we must pay attention, look through our eyes to find an object and study it. And finally, we must resist the urge to generate associations to the object we view, which easily carries us away from our minute-long exercise.

This exercise highlights how much of our time is spent ignoring what is before us. Moreover, it shows that, even if we do ‘look’, we don’t necessarily ‘notice.’ “In an ordinary psychic state I simply look at a street,” says George Gurdjieff. “But if I remember myself, I do not simply look at the street; I feel that I am looking, as though saying to myself: ‘I am looking.’ Instead of one impression of the street there are two impressions, one of the street and another of myself looking…”When we daydream, the view of the street bounces off of us the way light bounces off the surface of a shining mirror. But if we intentionally internalize this impression — as the ‘looking’ exercise invited us to do — it elicits a certain process. And, indeed, students verified that the exercise produced an emotional effect. Taking in even the most commonplace impressions around us — along with the inner discipline involved — generated emotions.

A healthy plant, such as our April farmer holds in his right hand, can transform sunlight into food. It transforms electrical matter into cellular matter. We have a similar ability of feeding on impressions. The plant does this automatically while for us, it can only happen by applying our will. This was our labor for April.

“In an ordinary psychic state I simply look at a street. But if I remember myself, I do not simply look at the street; I feel that I am looking, as though saying to myself: ‘I am looking.’ Instead of one impression of the street there are two impressions, one of the street and another of myself looking…”
Gurdjieff