Over the following weeks and months, I enjoyed my daily walk in this little alley. I haven’t heard my iPod anymore. I listened to the birds signing and the wind moving between the trees. Every day I arrived at the beginning of the alley and expected something magical.
Except that I was never able to capture that first Moment of pure wonder again. Over time, walking down the alley has become a familiar Routine again. It was no longer an enchanted place. Little by little, I found my old way of being. I’ve always enjoyed my walk to work and always found it nutritious to be outside, but the Magic was gone – at least for now.
What has changed?
The Irish writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch once said: “people on a planet without flowers would think that we should be crazy with joy all the time to have such things on us”.
Can you imagine what it would be like? If you were the person from another planet who has never seen a flower? How do you think you would react? You would almost certainly stop, no matter what you do. You would naturally ask yourself the question: “My God! What is this wonderful thing in the world?!”There is probably a feeling of intense curiosity. Maybe you’re getting closer to investigate? All your senses are alert. What does this object look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? You may notice all sorts of small details that will only be visible on closer inspection… delicate and delicate textures, subtle shades of colors, an intoxicating fragrance?
How do you think you would feel right now?
Except here on earth, there are flowers everywhere. They are daily. We see them all the time. Sometimes we can see a particularly beautiful flower and notice how pretty it is: “Oh, one more flower, A Yellow flower. That’s nice of you.”It’s a fleeting Moment. There may be appreciation, but there is no real curiosity, no enchantment, no miracle. For most of us, we are certainly not “crazy with joy”!
We’ve probably all seen something wonderful become commonplace over time. We are slowly starting to take it for granted. Gradually, the shine fades. This is what happened to me in the weeks and months after my first experience as I was walking along the path. Without knowing it, I stopped seeing the world with new eyes.
Thus, quite simply the human mind is conditioned to work. If something is very familiar and does not pose a Threat, we usually do not pay much attention to it. Another Sunset. Another Tree. Another forest. Another River. Another Mountain. It doesn’t matter. We have already seen all this. They all merge into one.
On the other hand, if something is new or different, we are naturally curious and want to do research. We’re stopping. We pay attention to it.
Consider what it’s like to go on vacation to a new city. Everything is a little unusual. There is so Much interest. People look different. We would not be able to understand or recognize their unique language and manners. The architecture is unusual. Trees and Birds are different. Is this new city so much more beautiful or more interesting than his own hometown? Goal probably not. Why is the experience so rewarding?
It turns out that the new environment is not the decisive factor at all. The experience is rewarding especially because of our way of thinking. We are curious. We are exploring. We see with fresh eyes. There is a Sense of Wonder. Literally, the quality of our attention determines our experience. If we could apply the same “vacation” mentality in our daily life in our hometown… if we could see all the time with fresh eyes, then certainly every day would be a holiday.
Well, it’s extremely simple, although it took me a long time to figure it out for myself.
The first step is to recognize this natural tendency of the mind to ignore information that it considers “non-essential”. Our usual condition is not to pay attention. To break this habit, we must first recognize the existence of the habit!
The second step is to realize that Attention is a tool. We control this tool. We always have a Choice. At any moment we can stop and decide to pay attention to something. Most importantly, we can also choose “how” we take care of. We can zoom in or opt for a wider perspective. We can choose to engage a certain sense. Our eyes are like a camera. Our Ears are like a Microphone. Our skin and nervous system allow us to explore our world in incredible detail. Try it right away. See how much control you have over how you experience the world. There is always a Choice.
The third step is a little more subtle and when I look back, I can see that this is The aspect that was not found from my approach when I was walking along the path all those years ago, trying in vain to regain that elusive feeling of awe and wonder. We must leave all expectations. The more I tried, the more I approached this track with a memory of “as it was” and an expectation of “as it should be”, the more I moved away from the open and curious state of mind that invited my first experience. Only a gentle and open curiosity, the willingness to look again with “fresh eyes” and see things exactly as they are, without filter, without explanation and without comparison, can open the door.
When traveling in nature, first stop putting names and labels on things: “It’s an oak tree, it’s a blackbird singing”. Words sometimes prevent us from seeing with fresh eyes. The next time you see a tree, imagine yourself as the person From another planet that Iris Murdoch talked about who sees a tree for the first time. Spot the ordinary everyday places and look with fresh eyes: your garden behind the house, your local park, the little alley that you walk down every day on your way to work.