Participant Observation as a Way of Life.


For our March Meditation month I want to highlight an anthropological tool that is used in the field when learning about other cultures. It is called ‘participant observation’, which means to participate while observing, rather than just being a bystander looking in from the outside.


There are two key purposes for the practise of participant observation, one is to join the community you are observing so that you are not seeing them as ‘other’ and they are not intimidated by you as the ‘other’. The second is to experience a real felt sense of what it is like to be them, to live the way they do and therefore have a more accurate account of that way of life.


You may not be venturing into foreign lands to study the ways of unknown cultures as Anthropologists did and do, but we venture into different cultures other than our own all the time. To be more precise, we tend to stay in our comfort zones, only participating in group cultures that we are already familiar with, however, any time we venture out of our comfort zone we are essentially entering an unknown culture.


Have you ever joined a new sports group, yoga class, or painting workshop and felt a little nervous, unsure of how things are done in that space? This is what it feels like entering an unknown culture. As you might imagine, it does no good to stand aloof on the side line or pretend that you’re invisible while watching others. In other words, it is a little odd and ultimately not enriching to learn or play by just observing, we must participate if we truly want to expand ourselves.  


Participant observation can be a tool for you to use if you don’t often leave your comfort zone but really want to try something new. You can set your own boundaries on how much you want to participate at any one time and then, with the cover of your eagerness to learn, get your journal out an take notes in silence. You can also ask whoever is in charge if you can attend just for a taster, or be explicit about just wanting to observe for the first session to see if it’s for you.


You can even use the participant observation tool as a way of life. Get a feel for the culture of the space you find yourself in by flowing between active participation and passive observation. Over time it will become more natural to do both simultaneously, integrating participating and observing so that both become your modus operandi. It can be a tremendously helpful way to integrate into a new culture as well as cultivate a more mindful approach to every day situations.


Join me over at IG for our March Meditation Challenge, every morning at 7am, for a short and sweet 10 minute meditation!


Chantal x


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