As we start thinking about writing and how it works, we want to be mindful of a few key terms and practices. For this assignment, we’ll focus on two of these: observation and orientation. Observation involves a particular sort of attention to our experience and what we notice about it. In any situation, we can make any number of observations, and different types of observations will be helpful in different situations and for different purposes. So, we want to be mindful of what we observe and what we can do with these observations.
Orientation helps us think about how we position ourselves in relation to what we observe and encounter. The way I interact with new people will differ depending on whether I take up a friendly orientation or a judgmental one. The way I respond to a piece of writing will differ depending on whether I’m trying to analyze it or use it as inspiration for my own ideas and creativity. The orientations we adopt toward the world around us shape our actions and responses. Some of these orientations are deeply ingrained; we inherit many of them from our culture, families, religions, etc. Other orientations we learn over time or use in limited situations. We want to be mindful of our own orientations toward the world and how we can take on different orientations for different purposes.
This assignment takes up our concerns with observation and orientation. First, you’ll need to complete two “observation sessions,” each about 10-15 minutes. In the first session, practice meditating. Find a quiet place to be alone with your eyes closed. The challenge is to quiet your mind. This does not mean emptying your mind so you’re not thinking at all, but rather that you don’t fixate on any thoughts. It’s okay if thoughts come to mind, but don’t dwell on them. Instead, let them go. Observe what’s happening in the moment: focus on your breathing, what you hear, what you feel. For the second session, find a place to sit or walk and observe your immediate environment – what you observe around you and what you experience in response – without letting your thoughts wander to other concerns.
After you complete the mediation/observation, start writing. Write about 300-400 words for each session (600-800 words overall). Your writing should focus on observation and orientation, addressing some combination of the following prompts and questions:
- What did you observe and experience? Be as specific as possible.
- How would you describe your orientation toward what you observed and experienced? Were you peaceful? Bored? Inspired? Stressed or worried? Was this activity fun? Awkward? Silly? Informative? How did your own attitude toward the situation or what you were observing shape what you saw, experienced, or felt? What might you have observed with a different orientation toward the situation?
- Do these observations or experiences mean anything to you in particular? Did you notice, observe, or experience anything that you haven’t before?
- When you finished meditating/observing, did you have anything in particular on your mind? If so, you might try following your thoughts. Where does this thought take you? Why did it come up in this situation?
- If you’re not inspired to write about anything from the meditation/ observation experience itself, try freewriting about anything immediately after the observation session. Whatever comes to mind, write about it non-stop for ten minutes.
You should submit this assignment by attaching it as a .doc or .rtf file in an email to me, and you should also bring a hard or electronic copy with you to class on the day it is due.