“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
I have been sitting in the company of this quote for some time now. Letting it speak to me and allowing my mind to playfully engage with what it hears from it. It makes me think of the wonder of fresh eyes; a beautiful enchantment that became very salient to me when my kids were very little. At that point in time in their lives (and mine), there were moments that jolted me out of my own perception of reality and invited me to a different world - their world, free of conditioned assumptions and full of genuine curiosity, creativity, and an eagerness to engage and participate as they navigated through it. It was as if stepping into the closet that could open the door to Narnia and I remember feeling so grateful for the opportunity to see things differently.
I will give you a small example that still makes me shake my head in wonderment. It was just another day, with the kids safely strapped in their car seats. I was driving to pick up take-away dinner. My oldest (she had to be around 4 years old at the time) asked me:
“Mama, where are we going?”
And I replied:
“We are picking up some Thai food for dinner.”
And here is where the fresh eyes, moment of wonder, curiosity and creativity greeted us by the means of her very concerned response:
“Mama, if the food is tied - how will we untie it?”
And there it was, the jolt out of my world into hers. Of course, I chuckled (like the warm loving chuckle that breathes out from a heart overwhelmed by cuteness at that moment) - but there they were … unmistakable fresh eyes. I know to some, this may be viewed as a typical example falling under the umbrella of: “Oh kids say the silliest things that make us laugh at their innocence.” The episode most likely becomes a distant memory to be retold later as the “one time you said this silly thing” only to keep reinforcing that our way of looking at the world is THE way; anything falling outside of it, simply a cute story to laugh about later. To me it was a reminder of my own limited thinking and assumptions about the world and how I saw it: hearing the words “Thai food” elicited images of deliciousness in a plate and cause my mouth to water whereas for my child hearing the words “Thai food” elicited images of a complicated and challenging dinner, where food may actually not be consumed if we can’t figure out a way to un-tie it! :)
There were so many examples like this - I’m sure if you have been around small children you can think of them too - and they always left me aware of how limited and automatic my view had become through the years and fed my desire to keep enjoying opportunities to see the world through the lenses of new eyes when I didn’t have them anymore.
But as much as I enjoyed those moments, I would not be honest if I led you to believe that I was self-aware enough to intentionally and actively seek them out. It was wonderful when they happened, but I was not humble enough to be aware that my life would be so much richer if I made my craft to approach the world from a more open, curious and detached point of view. Just as the quote that has kept me company for a little while now encourages me: to look at the same landscapes of my life with new and fresh eyes.
I don’t remember the day I stopped wondrously asking why or being curious in general. The day when my innocent, curious, inquisitive, open mind had enough of “because I said so'' or just “because it is” or “this is the answer” and decided that it was a much more positive experience if I just accepted what was and repeated it as needed. The day where the prize possession to hold became the answer and not the question. I wonder if it was a sunny or a cold and rainy day or what prompted the question. Was I playing in the yard and told to come in and I asked why? Did I wonder why the sky was blue or how is the rain made? Or was it the much dreaded how do babies get in the tummy? Whatever it was, the answer that followed encouraged me to stop asking. That is how my world started to become the compilation of the answers I had received from the people most influential and close to me. That is how I started acquiring my “eyes”.
As I now think about the times when I am most frustrated with the “why” question is when I have ran out of answers or when I don’t have words to explain the “obvious” (to me): when the only answer readily available to me is “because!” As I pause and reflect on this now, I’m coming to the realization that those are the times when my deepest assumptions are being challenged. The assumptions that are so deeply ingrained and conditioned in me that I can’t even speak about them because they are now part of who I am, part of the plasticity in my brain that has made them so automatic, so fast, so fluid and undetected. They have become my truths. At a culture level, Edgar H. Schein in his book Humble Inquiry refers to these underlying unconscious truths as tacit assumptions: “Such assumptions may have been values at one time, but, by consensus, they have come to be taken for granted and dropped out of conscious debate.” The key thing for me here is that these assumptions seeded way below any level of awareness make me blind to anything outside of my way of seeing. I actually don’t know that I don’t know.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman
In the words of Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Staying alert to this observation helps me gain the awareness of my limited view. This is very salient in my present life at the moment, as my kids are now almost teenagers and they are providing me with a quick education on how to unroot my assumptions as they question my rules. As we got into a recent parent-teen boundary wrestling match I heard my daughter say “But mom, I’m just trying to get to a good answer!” It made me stop, breathe, and chuckle. And it jolted me to a place of understanding in my heart, a place of realization that says: But of course you are sweetheart. Please continue to be a seeker, a curious mind, an explorer of possibilities. Always and forever, be a chaser of questions not of answers.
When was the last time you truly wondered? What stories and assumptions shape the way you see the landscapes that surround you?