Sameness: a walk to work.
As I walk to work I follow the same trail. Walk by the same trees. I see many of the same people. As I cut through the park, I walk through the same grass and smell the same smells.
This is what we do. We reduce experience to sameness. We confuse "similar" with "same". At the surface, this may not be a big deal, but "same" is limiting. It stops us from experiencing each tree again, because they aren't the same. Today, the trees are budding. Tomorrow, they may begin to flower. Even on the most similar days, the rays of sun create new patterns, and the wind, new sounds. Giving you a new experience every day, to be effortlessly enjoyed . Until you call it the same and you forget that it's only similar. Limiting your experience to the same thing, every day.
I wrote this a little while ago to illustrate two perspectives we rarely observe. Try to picture the last time you traveled. Be it is the cobblestones of your favourite arrondissement in Paris, or a boardwalk in Southern California. My last travels were in the mountains of British Colombia so I will lead this metaphor through my eyes. In these mountains, I had fresh eyes. Every snowcapped peak captured my undivided attention. Each log cabin felt shrouded in a delicate magic. In these moments, everything is new. When I brought my attention to an object, it vibrated with its own existence. This is how we travel; in a state of perpetual newness. ‘Sameness’, has not yet entered our mind.
I bring this up because whether it is our walk to work or the newest location we explore, we can train ourselves to do this with new eyes. For many, this idea may be enough for now. Walk through your city and try to recreate that magic. Observe each building, person, or tree you walk by as if you’ve never seen it before. Deeply sink into yourself and this new experience. Fully bring your attention to everything you see as if it is the first time every day. Do this deliberately as often as you can – you will be amazed at how quickly your perspective changes.
Let us dive deeper. Take a moment to close your eyes and look inwards. Watch the feelings in your body. Watch how quickly you jump from thought to thought. Do you observe any stability? Are there any constants in your life that persist through time?
When you look at me I appear to be the same. Analogously to the tree, I am similar but not the same. Your brain turns me into a symbol. Nat is like this. I know Nat, this is how he is. This distinction, especially when it comes to relationships, is extremely important. I, like you, am never constant. We feel different emotions from one moment to the next. One minute my arm may be itchy, the next my leg may be uncomfortable. One day I may feel strongly about putting pickles in a tuna sandwich, the next day I may not care, instead too baffled by the complexities of modern existence to entertain the thought of a tuna-pickle sandwich. These examples are trivial but I hope this is beginning to illustrate the fallacy of ‘same’.
When we treat each other as ‘same’, we stifle one of our amazing freedoms; to change from moment to moment. If everyone treats me the same as I was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, it quickly impedes on my ability to be as I am today. More dangerously, if we treat all others as ‘same’, be begin to view ourselves as ‘same’. We adopt phrases like ‘that’s just how I am’, or ‘I’m just not good at this’. These are very restrictive ideas we allow ourselves to believe. In doing so, we create invisible restraints that lock us into ‘yesterday’s us’, the ‘us’ we used to be as opposed to the us we are now. Further, this creates the feeling of having to “figure out who we are”. This is an impossible mission, to figure ourselves out, as we are constantly changing. We can perhaps learn how we change, or create a better understanding of how our individual mind functions, but there is no us to figure out. It limits our freedom to be however we are at that given moment.
In relationships, this manifests as expectation. “You usually do this” or “I just thought you would do that.” With expectation, comes disappointment, but more importantly with expectation comes restriction and lack of freedom for both partners. The moment we think we have figured someone out, we begin treating them as a stable ‘self’. As a self that persists through time; one that is the same over time. In doing so, we become less curious about others. Less curious about ourselves.
Unfortunately, just like the trees on your walk to work, instead of treating others with an open curiosity, the fascination of new eyes, we begin to take them for granted. What else do we treat as same? What is the depth of the implications of treating others as a persistent entity? What are some tricks that may allow us to exceed such a universal and limiting human behaviour?
Inspiration: Eckhart Tolle, Caley Crossman, Patrick Rothfuss
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