Changing how we see

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what is in Fortune’s control and abandoning what lies in yours.”  – Seneca

I was thinking about this quote from Seneca, and because I’m me, I applied it to the process of becoming a more self-aware, self-kind person through movement and meditation and trying to eat better.

Here’s a quick way to think about how we filter day to day life – I used an experiment I recently did.

Take the same walk 3 times in a row. Do this in a populated area – so a sidewalk, or local park that has decent traffic, something like that.

  1. On the first walk, only look for any spare change that might have been dropped. Look at the ground, scan the terrain for shiny bits of money. Bonus: you get paid for walking!
  2. On the second walk, look only for flowers. Any flowers – in the grass, the bushes, the trees – just look for flowers. Do it like it’s your job. You’re a bee, you get paid in pollen.
  3. On the third walk, don’t look for anything. Think about this: how much of the landscape of the walk do you recognize from the previous 2 walks, and how much of it was ignored because you were focused on your money-goal or your flower-goal? Did you see anything surprising or beautiful that you totally missed the first 2 times? 

    When I did this experiment, I felt like I was on 3 very different walks – I noticed very little the first time, because my eyes were searching for random pennies or dimes hiding in the grass. And the second time, which was the next day, I couldn’t believe all the flowers, because I didn’t remember seeing them at all on Day 1. By the time I got to walk #3, I felt like I wasn’t even in the same place – I noticed the sky, the trees, the ground sloping away from the path, and it was all like it was new. 

As a species, we are very good at tunnel-vision, at sticking to a goal, and then our goal becomes the filter that basically filters out much of the rest of the world. I’m looking at this as a metaphor for how we go through life – what we focus on overlays the landscape to the point where we can’t see other things clearly. And for me, this leads me to think: is what I care about right now so important that I am willing to filter out everything that surrounds me right now, just to tend to that goal? If my life were to end right now, would I be happy where I am, in those last moments? Or would I just see the things I didn’t get around to doing, and be disappointed in myself? 

Managing your health is a reward in and of itself, and exercise is a reward in and of itself – if you treat workouts as necessary evils, as things to get you where you think you should be, you will find yourself resenting them, resisting them, and wanting to do something else with your time. But if you reframe exercise & workouts as a way to experience a chunk of time, you have the chance to be present in that moment, communicating with your own body. You will understand yourself much better than if you got on a treadmill with a book, for example. Tell yourself that you’re where you want to be, and that you’re doing what you want to be doing. And then really experience it.