ReflectionMay 12, 20140The Same Thing, Different

Bored? You have the ability to see the day-to-day with new eyes.

Every spring I write at least one post about spring.  You’d think I’d be jad­ed by now — after all, I’ve lived through a good many years, and each year to date has includ­ed a spring.

And yet…

Every year, I glo­ry in it. It seems mirac­u­lous every sin­gle time: one week, dead grey branch­es and bar­ren ground; the next, a hun­dred shades of ten­der green­ery adorn the branch­es and wild­flow­ers span­gle green­ing mead­ows. We tuck inert seeds into gar­den soil and — voila! — the ten­der shoots emerge a few days lat­er.  We open the win­dows to wel­come in the scent of new­ly warmed earth and the susurra­tion of breezes in the grass.

spring from the train
spring from the train

I’m grate­ful to be enchant­ed like this every spring. And I’m con­vinced that this abil­i­ty to see the same old thing with new eyes is a gift we all have — and of which we take insuf­fi­cient advantage.

There’s a rea­son for it, though. Being able to do a great many things pri­mar­i­ly on auto­mat­ic pilot makes it pos­si­ble for us to nav­i­gate our com­pli­cat­ed lives. For instance, think about the things you’ve done so far today: got­ten out of bed; done your morn­ing ablu­tions; got­ten dressed; per­haps eat­en break­fast — and cooked or pur­chased it first; pos­si­bly got­ten kids or your spouse off to work or school; made your own way to work or start­ed your day in oth­er ways. I’d ven­ture to say that most of these activ­i­ties took very lit­tle of your attention…in fact, you were prob­a­bly think­ing about oth­er things entire­ly, or hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions, while you did them.  This abil­i­ty to do a vari­ety of things with­out pay­ing too much atten­tion to them enables us to do and say and think as many things as we do dur­ing the course of a day, many of them simultaneously.

But the fact is, we can ful­ly attend to any cir­cum­stance or event or per­son that comes before us; we have that capa­bil­i­ty, too.  And when we do, our expe­ri­ence of that thing opens up, and it  strikes us with great depth and clar­i­ty.  We see it for all that it is, rather than see­ing mere­ly the two-dimen­sion­al sketch to which our inat­ten­tion reduces it.  We all expe­ri­ence this some­times: when we’re new­ly in love; when some­thing brand-new (to us) is hap­pen­ing; when we’re ful­ly engaged in doing some­thing about which we’re passionate.

We for­get, though, that we can look at any­thing through this lens of full atten­tion — and that when we do, we’ll regain much of the rich fresh­ness of see­ing it for the first time. See­ing spring anew each year reminds me of this capa­bil­i­ty, and it’s a joy to me — but it also reminds me that mak­ing use of this abil­i­ty to attend ful­ly can make my life bet­ter in every realm.  For instance, full atten­tion can allow us to see our col­leagues more com­plete­ly, so that we don’t lim­it them to thin car­i­ca­tures of them­selves. Look­ing more ful­ly at new ideas makes it more like­ly that we’ll see the pos­si­bil­i­ties inher­ent in them, rather than label­ing them as imprac­ti­cal or deriv­a­tive.  More ful­ly attend­ing to our own phys­i­cal­i­ty can make us more con­scious of how we car­ry our­selves, what we eat, how we sleep: we are more like­ly to to sup­port our own well-being if we’re aware of how our actions are affect­ing our body at a giv­en moment.

Some­one once asked Pablo Casals, a world-renowned cel­list who spe­cial­ized in play­ing the works of Bach, if he did­n’t get tired of play­ing the same pieces over and over.  Casals replied, “I’ve nev­er played the same piece of music twice.”

That’s pos­si­ble for each of us. 

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