Bruegel The Harvesters
Detail from The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel

Bruegel: The harvesters

Netherlands, 1565

When I was in college, I had a playwriting professor who took our class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an assignment: Observe Bruegel’s The Harvesters — look at it and see it — and write a response to that observation.

I hated it. Every single minute of it.

But something kept me observing. In the 14 years since that first assignment, I have made a point of stopping by Bruegel whenever I’m at the Met. The painting hasn’t changed in over 450 years, and yet I notice something new every time I look at it.

A few years in to this time-delayed approach of completing my assignment, I started to grok the nature of the piece: It’s a foundational work, a landscape painted as-is versus an imagined conflict (which for 19-year-old me would have been far more easier to intuit). The older I get, the more time I spend looking, seeing, observing, the more I realize how to be with a landscape as it is. In fact, the longer I sit with it, the more I realize that it’s not about being with the landscape, but about being the landscape.

So my challenge to you, in this first post that sets the foundation of this series, is to observe things as they are. Look up, right now, and see the landscape that you are in — the landscape that you are. Whether it’s the landscape you want to be in right now or not, can you notice your connection to the terrain, notice your breath coming in and out through the tip of your nose, and — without trying to add any artificial conflict, be with things as they are?