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Posted: March 19, 2014 by Jennifer Wohl, MA, LPC
Sometimes, when I am feeling lonely or blue, I find solace in a long walk by myself. And sometimes, when I’m lucky, something extraordinary happens. One day, when I was living in Santa Barbara, CA, I was walking along the beach, churning in my own despair and unable to emerge from inner darkness, despite the natural beauty around me.
As I neared the end of my walk, something on the sand ahead caught my eye. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but it drew me forward like a magnet. As I got closer, I could see swirls of color: luminescent pinks, blues, and pearly whites, swirled together in magical waves, all contained within a perfect circle the size of a large sand dollar. It was not a sand dollar, nor was it a shell. I didn’t know what it was, but in one quick moment of aesthetic arrest, my whole inner landscape shifted. In that instant, there was no despair and no loneliness, there was no me. There was just the raw, transcendent experience of life exactly as it is.
I reached down to touch this little piece of wonder, to find out more, to claim my prize and pocket the miracle. Just as my fingers were about to make contact with the swirling world of color, I recoiled in disgust. My magnet of awe was gone and in its place was a large mass of bird crap. I pulled my fingers back, turned my head in revulsion, and had a moment of gratitude that I had been saved from fingers full of goo.
Same swirling colors, same perfect circle, different experience. What happened? For one brief moment, who knows how, or for what reason, all my preconceptions lifted like a veil, and I saw the world differently. My preconceptions flooded back in, and the world changed once again. Outer reality never changed, but my mind did. The ordinary became extraordinary for one brief moment. And then back to ordinary again.
The English Romantic painter John Constable said, “There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may – light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.” I get what he means. When I think about that experience now, what strikes me is that the extraordinary was right there in the ordinary. It was “nothing special” and extraordinary at the same time. I didn’t make the extraordinary happen and I can’t, nor would I want to, completely erase my preconceptions. But I recognize that my experience of life, of nature, of things, of clients, of anyone or anything could be completely different with a loosening of the fixed ideas I bring to each encounter. How much richer and more beautiful my relationships could be if I could meet each person afresh, if I could see each person as a circle of swirling luminescent colors rather than as a deputy of my predetermined labels and categories.
The American writer Jessamyn West said, “To meet at all, one must open one’s eyes to another; and there is no true conversation no matter how many words are spoken, unless the eye, unveiled and listening, opens itself to the other.” That day on the beach, my eye was unveiled and listening, and I was open. I think it would behoove me to go on more walks.
Tags: mood and feelings