Watch and Witness

I was flipping through a 2008 issue of “The Writer,” and I came across an article advising writers on ways to find new ideas and characters for their novels. I thought it was interesting that the writer Michele Acker suggested simply: Hanging out.
Hanging out at Starbucks. Practice observing without reaction For instance, she advised sitting at a coffee shop like Starbucks and observing the way people move, laugh, interact and behave.

This made me reflect on the state of watching or rather witnessing the environment around without getting involved.
Imagine sitting next to a loud group at a coffee shop. A writer like a witness may observe the group’s loud bursts of laughter or constant chatter, but a person who is not a witness may feel offended by the rude behavior or be agitated. Such a person reacts.
To witness a situation, without personal reaction to it, is a helpful quality. Whether one is stuck in an airline ticket line or in a traffic jam, the quality of witnessing will come in handy.
If you witness, you do not react, and thus learn to enjoy your own state of silence. A person stuck in a traffic jam may get irritated, yell and swear (although that won’t get the traffic moving). In fact, the yelling will only give the person a headache or a bad day.
I find regular meditation practice helpful in developing a witness state.

So, whether you’re at a coffee shop or on the road, try chilling-out by witnessing.

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  1. a good point!
    Another helpful exercise is what i call …photo-hunting.
    Only if you a in a witness state, the best scenes will appear in from of you…it is also very enjoyable!

  2. I use a similar technique that I title “environmentalizing”. I relax and let my awareness spread to the edges of my hearing and vision. I “soak” into the cacophony of sights and sounds. Then I do a series of quick “focus and remember” so I can later recall the details for use in my writing.

    Pragya, thanks for bringing this topic into discussion.

  3. Thanks for pointing out that it’s so much healthier to watch and listen, than to get upset and vocalize. I learn a lot about people calmly standing in line at the bank or the super market. I feel sorry for people who rant and rave in the hopes of changing what will be. It would be interesting to play back their antics to them.

    When I need to relax and think to get my writing in motion, I usually take a walk or go to the Desert Botanical Garden early in the morning and shoot photos of all the beauty and creatures there.

    Thanks for the great blog post.

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