Friday, June 1, 2012
Eyes on the Horizon
If you had seen me aimlessly ambling along a sidewalk 15 years ago, I guarantee you wouldn’t have looked me in the eye. What you probably would have seen was me shoe-gazing while walking. My weight issues in my early 20s certainly saddled me with an amazing lack of self-confidence; I had no luck in life or love, or at least that’s what I told myself at the time. If you witnessed that same scene now, you’d see me marching forward, eyes on the horizon. I wouldn’t say that I’m totally confident in my abilities, but I’m certainly no longer afraid to look the world/life squarely in the eye. Though some of this change is due to better physical health and overall weight loss, much of this personal transformation has been mental. In the previous letter I mentioned sankalpas, which are brief statements of intent similar to an affirmation. One of the three that I repeat to myself every morning is “I am a confident and courageous person.” I’ve been telling myself this for more than a year at this point and—whether it’s due to the neuroplasticity of the brain or otherwise—I’m really starting to believe it. I feel more confident and courageous in all of my choices, and this has led to me looking at my life and how it impacts others in a completely new way. Each day is a chance for us to believe in ourselves a little more, to raise our gaze to meet the horizon and all that it brings us.
There are two ways we must keep our eyes on the horizon, literally and metaphorically. The literal sense is important because it helps us not walk into walls or other people, but it also shows others that you are not afraid, that you believe in yourself and your potential. Moreover, it’s a great way to meet new people. Even when I’m walking around campus I find myself seeking eye contact rather than trying to avoid it as was my previous wont. I try to smile and say hello to whomever I pass; sometimes I get weird looks from students who don’t know me, but I especially try to reach out to those kids who seem like the old me, walking with head hung low. The other reason it’s crucial to always look to our horizons is that it’s precisely how we see the most in terms of scale, which brings me to the metaphoric meaning of always bringing our bearing to the vanishing point on the horizon.
In the fall semester of this school year, I took my 7th period Philosophy Honors class outside to have class beneath the live oak near the northeast corner of the DHS campus. There’s a ringed bench that easily accommodates an entire class, and it wasn’t the first time we had been out there to enjoy the weather and discuss life’s largest ideas. But this day was different. We went outside with the express purpose of staring at the horizon across the road and out into the large, lush green fields that extend to a faraway woodline. It was a Friday, a day that is typically earmarked each week for discussion about that week’s material. If I’m not mistaken, it was around the time we had been discussing British Empiricists such as Locke, Berkley, and Hume. These skeptics argued that a thing can only be comprehended (and by extension, exists) when it’s experienced through the physical senses. In the midst of our discussion, I somehow tangentially related this (shocking, I know) to a type of meditation I like to do when out in nature. It’s fairly simple to do because all that’s required is to stare at the center of your horizon. At first you have to pick something to stare at in the middle and focus on it with intent. Then, over the next few minutes, allow the gaze to soften as if relinquishing the central focus. What happens next is amazing. The only way I can describe it in words is “an expansion of the peripheral vision.” Once we let go of the focal point, it’s as if both eyes are staring straight ahead with equal focus on disparate parts of the horizon. This type of focus allows us to not only see what’s in front of us, but what’s on the sides to a greater degree too. The hardest part, however, is not letting the eyes be drawn to one particular thing in view. If you get it right, it’s amazing. It seems as if birds that fly across your vision only momentarily exist within your consciousness. The same can be said for passing cars, falling leaves, or anything else. After a few minutes of sitting on the bench, many of them were able to see what I was describing, but were flummoxed by the fact that they were so easily distracted thereby losing the effect. With practice, though, it gets easier.
This is what we must do every day of our lives, NIP. We must not only keep our eyes on the horizon literally, but metaphorically as well. Sometimes we can be too focused on an outcome, a goal, or even a dream. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being focused, but being overly so can be detrimental in the sense that we may miss other opportunities. This would be equivalent to staring only at the center of the horizon, rather than relaxing our eyes and taking in the vista in its entirety. I cannot imagine how many opportunities I’ve missed out on in my youth because I was blinded by a preconceived notion of what I wanted or who I should be. In either case I was forcing life’s hand rather than graciously recognizing the hidden opportunities all around me. By metaphorically keeping our eyes on the horizon, we can focus on the present moment and yet still see the possibility of the immediate future. We can shape our personal destinies through the choices we consciously make, mainly because we’re aware of all that lay before us and we are open to it.
Today was the DHS graduation and I couldn’t be there. Though I wish I could have been there to celebrate and share their special moment, one of my choices precluded this outcome. I’m not worried, though, because I know that they will be walking tall across that stage, eyes on the horizon. It may seem like a great leap forward in life, but to tell the truth any day that we want to change our lives for the better is always a great leap forward. So whether you’re 18 or 80, know you’re capable of incredible things, NIP. It’s as simple as reorienting ourselves toward our horizon, gazing into the distance and taking life head on. I spent so many years being shy and introverted that I’m only just now learning what it’s like to leave the safety of my old shell. And you know what? It’s wonderful. There’s a whole lot of life right in front of you, all you have to do is open your eyes and take it all in.
Keep your eyes on the horizon, DHS Seniors/NIP.
P.S. – If you have the chance, try the meditative technique I described earlier in the letter. More than half of my philosophy class was able to do it after only several minutes. I particularly enjoy doing it at the beach, a large field with a copse of trees at the far side, or looking off deep into the woods. I love being out in nature, so if you do too I think you’ll love it.