The other day while waiting for a show to start in an auditorium, I noticed that just about everyone in the audience was looking down. Usually at their phones.
When I walk on the street, I see the same thing. People looking down. At the sidewalk. At their phones.
I do it, too.
But I’ve been trying to do it less and here’s why.
Many years ago, I attended a workshop that was facilitated by an Ojibwa medicine man. He told a story about a walk he took in the woods. He was plodding along, head down, lost in his thoughts, when he heard a voice say, “Look up!”
He turned to see the source of the voice but couldn’t find it. Figuring it was one of his spiritual guides, he decided he had better look up.
He didn’t see anything miraculous. But he did see the sun as it came through the tree branches, the squirrels in play high overhead, leaping from limb to limb, and the intricate patterns the lacy leaves made to form a canopy over him.
I’ve never seen anything miraculous, either. But I have always valued what I learned so long ago from that medicine man. And I try to remember to look up occasionally. Here is what happens for me, and what will happen for you, too, when you start looking up.
1. Getting out of your head. As we all know and have experienced, we spend a lot of time in our heads. We have to think a lot on our jobs and as we go about our day.
But sometimes we get trapped in our heads, too. So, as we’re walking along looking down, we’re thinking, thinking, thinking.
Thinking about work. Thinking about what to have for dinner. Thinking about the fight you had with your spouse.
Doing something different, something as simple as looking up, breaks this thinking pattern. It gets you out of your head and into the world around you as you see things you hadn’t noticed before.
The interesting piece of architecture high on the outcropping of that building. The way the birds rock slightly to keep their balance on that thin wire above you. The silver-white track that airplane leaves against the blue sky.
Suddenly, you’re not in your head anymore. You’re not worried about the future or regretful about the past, you’re right here, right now, in this moment.
Wow, you never knew your head was so confining, did you?
2. Widening your focus. I can tell when I am doing it.
I’m walking along, looking at where my foot is going to land next, and I’m stuck.
I’m locked into some thought and that’s all that is happening in my world. That thought.
My focus is so narrow that I’m oblivious to anything else.
But I’ve trained myself now to catch myself when I’m doing this. I notice my shallow breathing and my head at a certain angle and it cues me that I’m doing it again. I’m physically looking down and in a mental tunnel of my own making.
As I catch myself, I take a deep breath in and raise my head to look up.
Again, there’s no miracle. No writing in the sky that solves the problem I’ve been thinking about. But it does widen my focus.
As I see an ordinary white cloud and notice that, really, those edges are quite pretty, I’m reminded that the world is a big, open place.
And so is life.
I become aware of how narrow my focus has been and realize that, like that ordinary cloud, there may be something else to my problem, perhaps a pretty edge I’ve never noticed before.
3. Remembering that there is always more. Looking up, I am reminded that there is more.
More than just the pavement in front of me, the problem in my head, or even my life as it is now.
As I look up and notice cobwebs in the corner and leaves swirling in the breeze and the brightly colored shirt someone is drying on their apartment balcony high overhead, I realize that there is always more.
More opportunities in front of me, more chances to do good in the world, more time to take a deep breath and feel the air whoosh into my lungs.
Instead of being stuck in the rut of my own patterns where less-ness prevails, I see that the world has more than I ever thought it did and so I must have more, too. And that brings me joy.