Do you think you see with your eyes? Then how can one person love a painting and another person hate it? Or more importantly, why can someone look so gorgeous when you start dating them and so ugly when they fall out of favour? Did they actually grow uglier? Or do you only see what you look for? If your thoughts about someone are uglier will your vision be that way too? And if we can make the world uglier with our thoughts can we also make it more beautiful?
In the docu-drama What The Bleep Do We Know?! many people assume the film is being figurative when it states that early Native Shaman had to teach tribesmen to be able to see Christopher Columbus’s ships. People assume if they can see something then everyone must be able to. After all it’s not small—it’s a ship. And while I would agree that most people have the potential to see it, you still can’t see anything that your brain can’t file. Your brain needs a holding place for the concepts of things. That’s what things are.
A good example of this is me and my bird-watching biologist neighbour. “Hey, there’s a yellow-breasted warbler,” he’ll say as we walk through the ravine near our homes. I look and look but I can’t see it.
“It’s right there,” he’ll say, pointing at a very specific nearby tree. “See where the main trunk V’s? And just above that is a little knot in the wood?”
“The knot shaped like a figure eight?”
“Exactly. See the two horizontal branches right above that?”
“The two almost exactly parallel to each other?”
“That’s the ones. He’s on the lower one, just to the left of the knot in the wood.”
Now this is a very easy place to identify on the tree. And I was looking at the right spot. But even though the light is entering my eye just like it is with my neighbour’s, my brain had no idea what a yellow-breasted warbler looked like so I couldn’t pull his colours and shape from the background. Until he moved. Trees don’t suddenly dart around, so as soon as the bird did that my brain was able to brilliantly subtract everything that didn’t move, and voila I was left with a yellow-breasted warbler!
The problem is, now that I have the name of it I’ll likely never see it again. Because that’s how we look at the world—blindly. It’s why the world is so fascinating to little kids. Because they don’t have many words to divide the world up with, they can actually see things. It’s exactly why they can find the arrow in the FedEx logo and adults usually can’t (unless they’ve seen the test before). Because adults know the alphabet, they get blinded by that knowledge and they only look for what they they’re supposed to see. Kids are less judgmental so they can find the arrow almost immediately.
What you see through your thinking is much more than just bird-watching. It’s how your relationships work too. Because I have the life experience necessary to know that some people make it easy to think nice thoughts about them, I am now far less interested in the physical beauty of a woman and far more interested in her internal beauty. I absolutely must take responsibility for my own thinking, and yet the wisdom of patience knows that people will encourage or discourage nice thoughts about themselves.
If I’m with a younger buddy and we see two women and he finds one physically attractive, he stops right there. He doesn’t even know who she is. But she is instantly “attractive” simply because she matches things he got excited about while he happened to be going through puberty. I’m affected by that too. But experience has taught me to also look at how she is in the world.
Did she hold a door open for that lady with the crutches? Did she offer to carry a friend’s drink into the movie because the friend’s hands were full? Was she polite to the server? Is she quick to smile? etc. etc. etc. I do this because I know that this beautiful girl will quickly be exposed as an ugly woman if her thinking is ugly too.
So while my friend ignores the plump woman because other people don’t put photos of her in magazines, I notice what the magazine would never have looked for—that she’s trying to help a crying little boy find his Mom. And there’s only certain people who will stop their own personal thinking and instead think of doing something like that. And that kind of person is really beautiful.
You don’t live with skin and bone structure. And even if you did those things will certainly change. You live with people’s attitudes. So to have a happy life it is important to appreciate that people aren’t made beautiful because advertising executives anointed their type as attractive.
They aren’t attractive because they look like a famous singer or actor. And they aren’t attractive because of how much money they make or what kind of car they drive. They are attractive because they conduct themselves in this world with compassion, generosity, patience and love. If you keep your eye out for those things you’ll find yourself on the smoothest path through life there is.
Here’s to a day of awakening. Enjoy it thoroughly.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.