On observing

Observing is the beginning.
Learning the skill of observation is a part of our practice. Why? Because the act of observing is the beginning of consciously directed change. I observe and perceive, and from there I learn about the world, draw my conclusions and notice connections. Ageing also represents the decline of the observer. Observing is the child’s skill. For the child, everything is new, and in the course of becoming adults, we're gradually perceiving fewer things as new. Thereby, observing takes a step into the background. We perceive less. We limit our perception to the supposedly essential.
A simple exercise I take people through is identifying trees. Many of my students are in contact with trees through climbing, through which they become acquainted with many characteristics of the trees, like the constitution of the bark, the architecture of the trunk and the branches, or the strength and elasticity of the wood. The precise identification of the trees can build upon this experience, but will benefit from examining some further details. For example looking at the leaves, which will reveal many details that will allow the distinction from other trees. This is the essence of identifying trees: what differentiates this tree from others? What is the unique combination of characteristics that allows me to say, this is this species and not another one?
Now, one notices that one has walked past trees his whole life, has maybe even climbed them, but mostly hasn't really taken the time to look precisely, to observe properly. The lesson is: we can spend our entire lives walking past things without really knowing and experiencing them, unless we observe. On the other hand, if I take the time once to learn to tell the differences between different species of trees, it'll give me a deeper feeling of being in the world. A deeper feeling of connection arises through my observation. Instead of seeing a mass of trees, I now see several different species, and with time may learn to tell apart different individuals within the same species, allowing me to learn more about places through the trees that grow there.
Observing represents being in this world. A receptive kind of being. Through observation, I open myself up to the world.
Using the act of observing extensively in my life helps me to become a practitioner, and something that is malleable. The practitioner is the observing one that takes action. The one using the act of observing to evoke changes.
It's about observing oneself. It's about observing the people around oneself and the human made. It's about observing nature.
If I learn to observe myself I can see that I'm not finished, but rather in a constant process of change. If I observe myself over time, I'll observe that I don't stay the same. Observing allows the practitioner to change himself. He can use the observation and guide the changes. Instead of being changed, he can consciously change. Observing means gaining freedom. It also means to be able to, and to have to, take responsibility. Before one helps, one must observe that help is needed. Observation contains reflection, observing deeds, one’s own or those of others. He who observes can improve.

Joseph Bartz
Translation: Oskar Henke