I was re-reading Eric Beinhocker’s ‘The Origin of Wealth’ the other day and I came to the passage he uses from Proust, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”….how true is that? This is a metaphor that is applicable to just about every area of our lives when we stop and think about it.
Every morning that I am in the North East, I take my three dogs out on Longsands Beach. It’s a beautiful beach and because of the wild North East coast weather, the landscape changes each day. No two days are alike. Yet for so much of our lives, we miss so much of the beauty around us because we don’t look. We take so much about our lives and our environment for granted. We are blinkered to what is happening outside our line of vision. It’s so easy to become stale, bored, jaded or short-sighted in how we see our lives, our relationships, our physical bodies, our jobs, the home in which we live, the community in which we live, the country in which we live and even the car we drive. It’s in our biological nature to become bored with routine. Our brain’s ‘reward circuitry’ is wired to experience a surge of dopamine in response to novelty. This means that a lot of our excitement and happiness is dependent on our lives constantly being filled with new experiences. Yet our perception of our day-to-day lives could be changed if we could only train ourselves to frequently see the ordinary things around us as new.
When we start taking these things for granted (because we are so near to them), we fail to see the precious role they play in the big picture of our daily lives. At those times, it may be tempting to seek new landscapes, that is, to look elsewhere for our inspiration, fulfilment and contentment. People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records "reality.” You construct how you choose to see the world. Perhaps what we need is not a new relationship, job, home, community or car. Perhaps what is needed is a new perspective, to see what lies before us with new eyes?
Recently I found myself watching a TV documentary about bees. What struck me was the multiple perspectives that bees can bring to our lives. A bee flying around the table of kids is seen by many of the kids as something that is there to sting people. That is one perspective. A philosopher sitting in an orchard watching the bee sipping honey from the cup of the flower might think that the object of the bee is to sip the nectar of the flower. A beekeeper working their nests might say that the object of the bee is to gather honey. Another beekeeper, who is an expert in the behaviour of bees, might understand that the object of the bee is to gather honey to feed the young ones, and to rear a queen, and to perpetuate the bee race. The botanist however believes the object of the bee is to fertilise the pistil of the flower. Another sees the hybridisation of plants and believes the object of the bee is to contribute to that end. Multiple perspectives, all correct in their world, yet all not seeing different things but different aspects of things. So how do we bring alive our sense of what is around us? How do we be present in our environment?
In the 2009 film ‘A Single Man’, Colin Firth's character George decides he's going to kill himself. As he goes through what he plans will be his last day, it's clear that he's fully IN every experience—smells, sights, conversations—because he knows he won't have them again. Nothing is missed from his day. The implication seems to be that even as he plans his death, he's more alive than ever. There's a richness to his experience.
It’s good that most of us don't have to wait until death is upon us to practice this level of awareness. We can change our lives by changing our thinking. We can change our thinking by becoming much more aware of what is happening around us. No matter how much of our life lies ahead, we can deliberately treat our experiences as though we won't always have them. We never really know what we are looking at, even the most familiar things. Once things become familiar to us we no longer see them, well, not REALLY see them anyway. We must make the effort to see them fresh. It will awaken our soul and we will come alive to life simply by seeing what is really there in front of us rather than seeing our thoughts attached to it.
Want to know more about me? You can find me here:
Twitter - @TheBeakSquawks
Facebook - @MauriceMDuffy
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/mauriceduffy