I took this photograph one afternoon. The sky was overcast and it was threatening to pour. The reflections of the clouds and sky in the water were patterned in shades of grey, blue and white in a play of gentle waves of light and dark. It was a different kind of beauty from that of the clear blue skies and sunshine. Nonetheless, the scene was arresting for me.
What do you feel when you see this photograph? When I asked a few people what they felt, I got words and phrases reflecting a whole spectrum of feelings about the scene. Yet, the weather reporter on television would have called it a ‘grey, wet, and ‘miserable‘ day! How the media conversations feed us with definitions with such an unquestioning sure touch! As though they were ‘objective’ truths. And to slip in ‘miserable’ so seamlessly! Even a weather report can construct reality for us all, telling us how we should feel if the sky is overcast! Would you believe that where I come from, an overcast dark sky is sung and celebrated with music dedicated to the ‘monsoon’! The context is different. Rain is the harbinger of life, of growth, of agriculture, of prosperity, of abundance. But too much rain and flooding? And the context changes again.
Husserl who is the father of phenomenology speaks of the inseparability of what we see (object) and how we see (the subject). Phenomenology is a science which studies experience from the first person’s perspective. It studies the structures of consciousness. This link tells you more about phenomenology http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/
Why is phenomenology important? Because it questions claims of an ‘objective’ reality. Whatever we see, is an interaction between what we see and how we see it. Existential therapy adopts a phenomenological attitude of enquiry. Therapists are asked to recognise their own way of seeing and experiencing, to acknowledge it and temporarily bracket it. It helps therapists to hear their clients, and get alongside their client’s way of seeing and experiencing, so clients can feel heard and understood. Therapists remain open to hearing not only ‘miserable’ but also ‘not miserable’ if the sky is overcast and grey depending on each person’s experience of it. They recognize that seeing and experiencing is unique for each person. It is part of an entire spectrum of possible meanings that may emerge. And that meanings arise within given contexts. And meanings too can change as perspectives, horizons and views change.
Time to pause and ponder on your way of seeing the world, others, and yourself. Have you noticed how the present contains the context of the past? Have you wondered how it might be to look with fresh eyes?
And looking with fresh eyes, things may well look different!