Seeing for the First Time….Preparation is the Key


People only see what they are prepared to see.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My friend Denise posted the above pic and quote on my Facebook wall. It was shared from a site called The Mind Unleashed. The very title of the site is pretty phenomenal when I think of unleashing the potential of the human mind. But, the picture really grabbed me. It reminds me so much of the path of my life. As children, we only have one paradigm – the family of origin. As we grow up and move through the world, our paradigm expands and shifts. Sometimes people get stuck in that initial paradigm or another one along the way. Until they are ready to let that one go, they will never move to the next one.

My sister-in-law Laura, a scientist by nature and by education, said she likes to think of this quote by a scientific frame of reference. Louis Pasteur – think pasteurization – a leader in the field of microbiology said “Chance favors the prepared mind.” “It means that sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen – they are the products of preparation,” Laura said. “It comes from the training of your mind to accept new ideas and concepts.” She told me of Alexander Fleming who observed a mold growing on a bacterial culture. He noticed that the bacteria did not grow near the mold. Instead of just throwing the plate away because his culture was contaminated, he became curious as to why the mold inhibited the bacteria. He discovered antibiotics.

I read a New York Times article last year about happiness through the ages. A Gallup survey determined that people get progressively unhappier from their mid-20s through the end of their 40s. Happiness begins to increase between 50 and 75 and then begins to dip again, but never to its lowest level around the early 50s.  In my own life, I’ve seen that happen, and I really believe it’s because of the fact that I had to be prepared – as Laura said – to see things differently than I had seen them before. The picture above reminds me of that growth process. I had taken the paradigm of the family that I had grown up with and assumed that formula was the way it should be. I didn’t want children, but I did want to be married. I tried and tried to make it work for me. I got so consumed with trying to make it work that I became codependent. My world became so small. The love that I so desperately desired was elusive.

When I became ready – when I had tried enough and failed; when I understood my history; when I began following my spiritual path; when I came to the end of me; when I realized that my paradigm was limiting – I could open my eyes and see something different. I won’t bore you with the details of that transformation again, but, suffice it to say that I learned that there was more than one way to be in the world. I learned that romantic love is only one kind of many kinds of love. I opened my eyes to the belief that single life could be fulfilling and fun. A friend of mine said the other day, “There is nothing worse than being alone.” I winced when she said it. At one time in my life I believed that. Now, I find that so far from the truth of my reality that it almost sounded humorous.

I used to get more than a little irritated with myself that I was in my mid-40s before my paradigm shifted. But, as time has gone on, and I’ve seen other people go through midlife changes and transitions, I realize that this paradigm shift is one of the gifts of midlife. I’m sure some people do some shifting earlier in life, but, for most of us, it comes after we’ve tried and failed at more than a few things. We have to learn and experience a lot to grow as human beings. Reading is good, but all of the reading in the world doesn’t change me like a single experience can. We’ve all had the experience of telling somebody something over and over, and they never get it. One day, they look at you and repeat the very same words back to you as if it’s new information. I so want to say…I’ve been trying to tell you that forever. They have to learn it in their own time.

When I look back at how much work and pain and struggle I put into trying to make my life what I thought it should be, it makes me very tired. But, I had to do it. I am stubborn. I learn by doing and feeling. I love to read, but I really don’t learn that way. I often say that if I’d known how great my single life would be, I would have RUN to it. Instead, I fought, scratched, fixed, controlled and wore myself out trying to keep the end of my marriage at bay. That’s why I love that picture. The Beginning is Near is scrawled on the burned out, shattered wall. In the ruins of the simple, drab, daily remnants of a former life, the man looks out at the stars and the universe. I sense his awe as he sees it for the first time. He’s surely seen it every evening, but, because he’s let go of what is, he really sees it for the first time. The universe is expansive, colorful, magical, and infinite. An open mind is the birthplace of creativity and real knowledge – not just what is but what could be. Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet. It will come…..when you’re ready. Just keep learning and never...ever….stop.

4 Comments on “Seeing for the First Time….Preparation is the Key

  1. I cannot believe you chose that particular quote to begin your blog with. Right now, I am teaching Transcendentalism to my sophomores. We discussed that quote at length last Friday. Today we’re on to Thoreau (and I remember you liked reading him). The irony of it all!

      • I love it. The Transcendentalists argue that every man’s thought is as deep and as important as the scholars’. They also argue that we should live in nature as much as possible in order to be one with God. Emerson said that if we could only see stars one night in a thousand years, we would all be in awe of them. However, because they are there every night for us, we take them for granted. How true that is about so many gifts in our lives. And the fun part for me is helping remind my teenaged students that their thoughts are just as worthy as anyone else’s, and that they should take time to just “be”, and not be in such a hurry to “do” all the time.

      • I love that. You are so right. You are a gift to your students. You may be the only one telling them that. The point about the stars is well taken. I think the same about people. We take their awesomeness for granted. Just the fact that our spiritual beings are interacting on this planet should be awe-inspiring. We have so much more potential than we could ever imagine.

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