“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” ~John Lubbock
Have you ever noticed how as human beings, we tend to go negative?
Looking out into the world, we see the crumpled fast food bag in the street and the torn curtain in the window.
Looking into the mirror, we see the pores and dark circles under our eyes. We see the freckles and miss the dimple, or we hate the dimple and miss the smile.
Our eyes focus in on what’s wrong.
I’ve noticed it’s hard to undo this tendency in myself, though sometimes the veil drops suddenly, and I can see the beauty of the world around me.
Many years ago, a friend and I made a three-day visit to the Polish city where we were to live for a year while we taught English.
Arriving on the train, I was struck by the torn metal siding in the station and the crumbling rust of the ancient stair railings; as we walked along the sidewalk, how the entire city seemed one blocky stamped-out Soviet-era apartment building after the next.
Neither of us spoke, but I felt sure my roommate’s thoughts mirrored my own: This was where we were going to live? This worn foot sole of a town was going to be our home for a year?
Just as my mind headed in the direction of I don’t think I can live here, a tiny bird flew down a foot or so in front of my shoes, hopping a few inches here and there to nibble the tops of a tuft of grass poking out of the broken concrete.
I let my suitcase bump to a stop and watched. The bright saturated green of the grass, the pale orange stripe on the bird’s beak, the angle of sunlight against the cracked sidewalk… it was beautiful. And at that moment my heart gave a hopeful thump. There was beauty here, too. I only needed to look for it.
As humans, we have a built-in bias to see what’s not working, what needs fixing, what doesn’t measure up. In general, it’s not bad to see the negative… we avoid falling into pits by looking out for potholes. But seeing only the negative results in what I call “paper towel tube vision.”
When you look through the empty cardboard paper towel tube, you only see whatever shows through the little circle at the end of it, and nothing else. This is what we’re seeing when we see only the flaws on our cheeks and only the crumpled coffee cups on the curbs of life. We see whatever appears in that little circle and lose all perspective.
Seeing the good doesn’t mean we don’t see the bad, too. It means we throw away the paper towel tube and let our eyes take in what we don’t like and invite ourselves to see what’s good there, too. We let ourselves see it all, the big panoramic view that acknowledges that we are more than any mistake or flaw or misdeed.
Imagine letting your mind unfold like a vast, exquisite map laid out on a table. Seeing the bigger picture can be an awesome way to see yourself with more love.
Make a habit of looking for the good. Catch yourself looking at the world—or at yourself—with a narrow, negative view. Then step back mentally and spread out your awareness.
See with the eyes of your heart. Look for something that’s working, something sweet, something lovely, something that opens you up.
Look for the good in people, even people you wouldn’t want to sit over dinner with.
Look for the good in the mirror.
Let looking for the good become a new default for you, and give yourself credit when you’re able to hold whatever’s happening with that big perspective and big heart.