Exploring Life


Photo credit: E.Kidd

My work and practice is about getting to know the world, in terms of itself and on its own terms. I do this by engaging with life and the phenomena that I wish to study by being open, receptive and using all my ways of knowing, such as intellectual, imaginative, intuitive, sense perception.

I use a dynamic way of seeing, and engage in what you could call phenomenological studies of the world. I know that’s rather a mouthful, but its essentially about getting to know the whole picture, the life and the livingness of something, by tending to all of it as a whole. This involves paying attention to our experience life, such as an object, a part of nature, a person, or a place, rather than breaking the subject into parts and getting to know it only through abstract knowledge and concepts.

Phenomenology emerged as a philosophical discipline in European thought of the 20th Century. It is now practiced as a qualitative research methodology in many areas including psychology and the social sciences. It can be describe as: “The study of phenomena as experienced by human beings. The primary emphasis is on the phenomenon itself exactly as it reveals itself to the experiencing person in all its concreteness and particularity.”

Key words and phrases:

– looking, trying to see, describing, interpreting

– seeking to empathic and open

– trying to allow the ‘thing’ to describe itself

– trying to set aside preconceptions, assumptions, and prejudices

– describing critically yet fairly

– describing the thing or experience as it is experienced

– seeking underlying pattern in the midst of specific instances

(Definition and key words from a paper on Phenomenology assembled by David Seamon, Department of Architecture at Kansas State University)

Below are some notes that we can use as a loose guide when getting to know something phenomenologically, and form a summary of the guidelines that I give to participants during my workshops.(You can also download a more detailed version here: Guidelines_for_undertaking_an_ongoing_phenomenolog.)

Preparing yourself to explore:
– Approach the world with a child-like sense of wonder.
– Try to see with ‘fresh new eyes’ as though you are seeing everything for the ‘first’ time – or pretend that you are an alien visiting from another world, and that everything here is new to you.

– Hold a positive and friendly attitude throughout your explorations, as though you are meeting a new friend.

Exploring with your senses:
– Touch, smell, feel, gaze, search, explore. Use your senses to look for the tiniest details that you can find.
– Dwell on those details for a while, and the follow them with your fingers or your eyes to see where else they lead you.
– When exploring with your senses consciously try to forget everything that you think you already know (such as names, categories, facts, theories) and instead direct your attention to exactly what it is that your senses are experiencing in the present moment.
– Use curiosity to sustain your attention and to sustain your explorations. By fueling our observations curiosity can help us to constantly search for details that we haven’t yet noticed.
– Close your eyes for a minute or two and try to recreate your sensory experiences in your mind as exactly as you can, as though you are playing back a DVD of your experience.
– If you notice that you can’t remember things, then use this as a starting point for your next set of observations.
– Instead of getting up close and using your senses to observe details, spend some time standing or sitting at a slight distance and behold the subject of your exploration from afar.
– Give it your full attention, but in a gentle, non-specific way. Open yourself to just spending quiet time being in its presence.
The end is only a new beginning…
So, now return to the subject of your exploration and start all over again. Keep exploring and returning to it until you are so intimately acquainted that it begins to feel as though you are meeting an old friend, not just another thing-in-the-world.

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