Monday’s Meditation: On What We See & My Dead Tree
The tree in front of my house is dying. Actually, I think it’s already dead.
It’s a small tree–a young tree–with birch-like bark and almond-shaped leaves and it’s directly in front of my house.
My desk is positioned against the window, and its street view often lures my eyes away from the screen in favor of languid people-watching. Since the tree is directly in front of my house, directly in front of my desk, it is centered squarely in my field of vision.
I spend most of my non-client hours staring at that tree is what I’m trying to tell you.
And I’m also here to tell you that up until a week ago, I had no clue it was dying. Dead.
I was sitting outside, blogging in the sunshine, when my neighbors arrived home.
“We were just noticing that tree looks like it’s a goner,” one said to me, after we’d exchanged pleasantries. “Too bad.”
And then I looked at it, this tree I’ve been staring at for hours, for days, for weeks, for going on something like two or three years now, which is when I got this desk and moved it directly in front of this tree, this tree that’s etched into my brain; I looked at it and saw they were. “Oh! Wow,” I said. “Yeah.”
It’s the height of summer, after all, and the trees on either side and all around it are dense with leaves as green as peas. In comparison, my tree looks a spindly old man. Most of the branches have yielded their adornment, and the rest are gingerly holding on to some orange-brown rigor mortis leaves. It’s a terribly sad sight, this tree of mine, so sick and skeletal in the melody of a late summer afternoon.
“How long’ve you been like that, buddy?” I want to ask. “When’d that happen, anyway?”
Because as for how long its been dying, or been dead, I can’t say.
Whether the process has been gradual or happened overnight, I’ve no clue.
But I’m telling you: it happened in front of my eyes.
There’s a point I’ve been trying to make around here since the very beginning of this blog, an argument as to why clutter happens and pervades for as long as it does; a warning. My tree is merely the latest illustration of the way in which familiarity is blinding.
What we look at most is what we begin to see the least.
It isn’t because we’re lazy or inattentive to the details, but that we can only be attentive to so many details at a time. To conserve energy, our brains like to let the scenes of our everyday blend together, to take them as a given. Unless there’s something shockingly strange amongst the scene, we hardly see it at all.
Our brains are like Gmail filters, really, that, by default, send all those non-novel sights and sounds to some de-prioritized folder that we almost forget exists. What it shows, first and foremost, us are the differences, the new developments, the unfamiliar.
And all it takes is a little peek, a slight shift, or a neighbor, to remind us of what we’ve gone slack on remembering: the details of our everyday are still there. They may need our attention. They may be in trouble, may be sick or dying or completely dysfunctional.
The only chance we have at taking care of them is by enabling ourselves to see things clearly, once again, through the constant introduction of change, big or small. And, too, we awaken our vision by inviting outside perspective to help guide us when the terrain has become, for us, all too familiar, and, therefore, ironically unnavigable. Then, we need only pose the question: “what do you see?” to have every obvious realization come hurtling our way.
*Side note: Tree, soon to be RIP, is standing in front of what is now, ahem, my old house. Because I bought a house, Simply family. That’s the big news of the day. And yes, this is shaping up to be a real grown-up of a summer, what with that certain trip to Greece and now this latest real estate development. If there’s an adulting award, I really hope one of you nominates me. Tune in next week for my pregnancy announcement (JUST KIDDING), which is certain to put the odds in my favor. But seriously, this move may mean posts are spotty or non-existent this week. Fear not, I’ll be back right quick.
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