Back to Observation

eyes of graceFrom my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot.   Being in the middle has had its advantages.  I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc.  Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope.  It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation.  There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it.  In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.

And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either.  However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized.  After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution.  No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it.  So let me use another sense to focus on the problem.  Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing.  I’m not being modest.  I really can’t sing.  But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not.  Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol.  Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing.  The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for.  Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional.  Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now.  The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt.  Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so.  When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.

Bad things happen, to be sure.  The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional.  Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try.  The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation.  For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk.   Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.

The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising.  What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health.  Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being.  Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also?  Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group.  Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal.  The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.

The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food.  The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different.  Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential.  Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful.  It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe.  The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional.  The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way.  My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.

In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition.   It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor.  And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.

That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either.  It’s important to preserve subjectivity.  Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas.  So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does.   This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head.  What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.

The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen.  Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step.  This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk.  It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world.  If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest.  As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless.  Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.

Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream.  Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only.   Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement.  When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance.  Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval?  The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me.   Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.

While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum.  We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience.  And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success.   Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping.  Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.”  The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s.  How often does that thought come into your heads?  How often to do you start your day with this thought:  I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true?  Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God?  I thought so.  So, let it start now.  Be cosmic chocolate to someone.  They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.

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