i’ve recently been diagnosed with presbyopia. what this means, in laypersons’ terms is, i have old eyes. the result of this diagnosis is new glasses, and not just any old glasses, but bi-focals. well, not really bi-focals but actually their fancier cousin, “progressive lenses.” fanciness aside, my first several attempts at donning my new spectacles have left me frustrated and dizzy. looking up is fine but looking down or to the side results in blurred vision and a strange feeling of nausea. i’ve contemplated returning them, considering the look on the doctor’s face as i tell him, “i take it back, i can see just fine! i don’t need these after all.” i’ve also contemplated treating them as accessories since my kids tell me they are “hipster cool” and make me appear young and “in.” all coolness aside...these things take practice.
my seven year old nephew ethan has had bi-focals for a year and is brilliantly people smart. i figured a call to him might help me. i knew that he’d have words of encouragement and advice to help me adjust to this new way of seeing. “oh, it’s easy auntie.” he said, “the top part is for seeing and the bottom part is for things like reading. things where you really have to pay attention. you just point your nose at what you’re looking at and it really helps. just point your nose. just try it.”
so...i began pointing my nose. it takes a bit of adjusting. at times i forget to turn my face to follow a sentence, viewing the words through the portion of the lens intended for distance vision. at other times i point my nose up and direct my eyes down and find that nothing at all is clear. it’s hard to stay still enough to point my nose, to really look, and to pay attention. this reminds me of the discipline of contemplation.
according to the dictionary the word contemplate means “to look thoughtfully for a long time at” or “to think profoundly and at length." it strikes me that, just as the task of adjusting to new glasses is uncomfortable and slow, the practice of contemplation requires time. truly contemplating that which matters to me doesn’t make it to my to do list frequently and, when it does, i am not practiced enough to do it easily or well. i am quickly distracted. i have one more thing to accomplish. i have another call to return or email to write. you know how it goes...
if you talk to anyone who is serious about mastering a skill you will inevitably hear the word “practice.” baseball players do it. drummers do it. lecturers and sales people and baristas do it. they rehearse. they repeat. they train. in a yoga class i attended last week the instructor commented that she practices every day. she doesn’t “do” yoga, she “practices” yoga. the same can be said of those who are intentional about their bread baking or cello playing or prayer or meditation. practice is the name of their game.
for me, practicing contemplation is alot like pointing my nose at what i’m looking at. slowing down long enough to contemplate is not natural. the instant culture within which i live delivers information at break-neck speeds. i wake up to more options for connection than imaginable and fall asleep having had access to the wide world all day long. screens of all shapes and sizes deliver personal and impersonal news to me twenty four hours a day and offer alternatives for distraction of all kinds.
what none of this connects me with is my internal world. while pointing my nose at screens i rarely ask myself, “how shall i invest my time today?” “how shall i spend my energy?” “to whom will i attend?” “what will nourish my body, my mind, my soul?” asking these questions, and then listening quietly to discern answers, is neither easy nor automatically instinctual. it is, rather, an act of discipline and sheer will by which we learn to attend to our insides as opposed to our outer shells only.
i’m not talking about the hipster cool, navel-gazing-which-leads-to-self-absorption, type of self reflection. neither am i referring to the agonizing paralysis brought about by defeatist self flagellation. what i am talking about is a quiet, non judgemental gaze at our motivations, our behaviors, and our lives in order to truly see that which drives us. from this place we can make better conscious choices about all manner of ways we spend ourselves, our time, and our energy.
the gift of contemplation is a more centered, grounded, and known self. as trees with deep roots and strong trunks can better handle challenges from external sources so can we better handle the stresses that come our way when we have set down deep roots into our own internal worlds. we may not always like what we find as we sit quietly with ourselves. better, however, to learn this in quiet than when the same disliked traits reveal themselves in a business meeting or with our friends or family or at midnight when we ingest the drink or food that pushes us over the edge of “why in the world did i do that?” the goal is not to think ourselves to death but rather to be aware that a deeply unconscious well of motivations and drives exist and then to consider whether we want to nourish and grow them or blaze a different path altogether. judgement is not the desired result of contemplation, rather simply being with the truth is the goal. when we are with the truth of who we are we can graciously accept ourselves or, with equal grace, chose an alternative and consider how to usher in a new way of living.
none of this is easy or automatic. just as adjusting to new glasses takes time, so does adjusting to looking within, rather than automatically turning outward to determine how and who we are. three minutes a day of pointing my nose toward my insides was challenging at first. now it is easier. if i wouldn't have begun with three minutes, however, i'd still be dizzy at each attempt now. practice is rarely easy and almost never fun. it is, however, deeply rewarding when it pays off...and it will...
regardless of how my glasses make me look or see, i am grateful that they are reminding me to be intentional about HOW i look and TO WHAT i direct my attention. i am living with greater intention, moving through the dizziness and nausea that results from an honest internal gaze and coming out on the other side more aware and settled. this is a gift of the truest form of sight.