Think You’re Really SEEING What’s Around You? Read This And Think Again! Written by Dr Linda Berman.


“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” Tolstoy.

The poet Mary Oliver looks so intensely into things that she somehow detects their essence; she notices Nature’s details and rejoices in the beauty around her, sensing the existence of ‘angels’ within:

“Forgive Me” by Mary Oliver

Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the
trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with
its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and
makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some
spirit, some small god, who abides there.

If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this
holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming
back from wherever I went.

Forgive me.


Blue Horses, 2014, Penguin Press.


PICT0166 15-09-20.JPG

Image: Dove Angel.  ©Linda Berman.

Inspired by Oliver’s poetry and having written several posts about death and the end of life, I felt impelled to look around me, at the beauty of the life I have, and the life we all have.

How much do we remember to do this, to take in our surroundings? Our looking is, at best partial; it is almost impossible to see everything.

This post represents an interlude, a meditation, a concentration on looking and seeing.

The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone. Johann von Goethe

Could Looking At The World Be A Constant Two-Way Process?

In the book The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing by James Elkins , the writer discusses the phrase “Just looking.’

We have all said these words in shops when approached by an assistant, I am sure.


Elkins examines the meaning of the words ‘just looking, ‘ in a way that implies that just looking is actually like hunting, searching.

A little like Mary Oliver, he feels that objects are imbued with an energy of their own, all actively trying to ‘catch’ his eye. It is as if looking is a two-way phenomenon; this is an unusual way of seeing. He perceives that ‘The world is full of eyes, and sight is everywhere.”

Seeing and Knowing.

The connection between seeing and knowing is an interesting one. So many times, we miss things, or hardly notice them, because we do not know about them. We have to know how to look.

Could Leonardo da Vinci have drawn such wonderful figures without his anatomical knowledge? How much of what he drew was based on this knowledge  as well as his visual perception?


Leonardo da Vinci. Studi Anatomici 1504-06. Wikimedia Commons.

Leonardo himself thought that –

“The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies every thing placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.”

Leonardo da Vinci

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing


“Knowing it and seeing it are two different things.”
Suzanne Collins



Look closely. The beautiful may be small.”  Emmanuel Kant

“I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”
Mary Oliver


“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

Travis Blessing

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell others.”Mary Oliver

As well as ways of thinking, there are ways of looking.


How much of life have I missed, he wondered, simply by failing to look? Or by looking and not seeing?      

Irvin D. Yalom

Looking at Art
“Sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”
Marina Abramović
The above quote links to Elkins’ ‘just looking’ in shops. Perhaps the paintings look back, too? Sometimes it feels like they do, that there is a kind of interaction between artists and viewer through the work.
Looking at paintings, at art, is not a static, unchanging experience. If we keep looking, or look back at the work again and again, we see different aspects, new parts that we did not see before.
Mary Oliver’s words are very relevant in terms of Rembrandt’s  great painting,
The Night Watch.
Take a look.
Rembrandt. The Night Watch. Flickr, Dennis Jarvis.
Obviously the scale of actual painting is much greater; we would see more if we were standing in front of this enormously magnificent work.
Looking closer and longer, we would spot the outstretched hand, beautifully painted, and, in the detail below, we would see its shadow.
We would also see- and wonder about- the girl in the image, and we would notice that there is a smoking gun that has actually been fired.
All this and more would be missed if we merely glanced at the painting.
Detail. The Night Watch.
image.pngDetail. The Night Watch.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 
Henry David Thoreau
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius
‘Beauty surrounds me daily. I learn to take notice.’ Buddhist saying.


©️Linda Berman.


  1. Another post full of inspiring quotes. Looking and seeing is rather like listening and hearing. The latter in both cases evokes engagement and feeling which is so much more enriching. You write so well and I love the combination of pictures, quotes and and your own well crafted thoughts.


    • Thanks so much for your comments, Helen. Love the comparison with listening and hearing. Thanks also for your kind words about my images and writing. 🙏🌹Linda.


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