Finding the Joy in the Picture
by Jennifer Paros
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
~ Mark Twain
I was all bent out of shape - over something I cannot now remember - feeling crummy yet still determined to get out and run some errands. As I got in the car and put my seatbelt on, I determined to at least try to feel a little better though the momentum of frustration and unhappiness was strong.
As I drove, I started counting backwards to calm myself. At first, I went through the numbers at a sprint – eventually I walked through them, and finally I meandered, taking my time and even slowing my breathing. Like a dog free of its owner and running towards traffic, my mind ran back to the problematic thoughts again and again and so I had to call it back, again and again.
I came to a four–way stop next to the entrance of a grocery store. One car took its turn and then pedestrians started crossing on the crosswalk before me. Slowly more people came, rather wayward and unfocused. I accepted the situation with tentative patience when, just as I thought all was clear, a man with disheveled hair and five o’clock shadow arrived pushing an empty grocery cart. He began his journey. With his broad smile, which seemed mildly crazy or drunk, he started pushing his cart erratically across the street.
Then, I noticed him look down. My eyes followed and I saw a tiny little girl sitting underneath the cart, happily having a ride. He hadn’t been distracted or talking to himself, he’d been playfully checking on her. I laughed at the sweetness of their exchange and he turned and smiled broadly at me, aware I had seen the girl. He had found someone else with whom to share his delight. I felt flooded with appreciation; his tenderness and kindness were palpable to me.
I realized that if I had maintained my frustration I would never have seen the girl – she was easy to miss. I might very well have seen only my initial assessment of the man. I could have been left stuck with the first “truth”. My attention to my thoughts structures my experience; it allows or disallows my understanding and therefore my level of compassion in every moment.
It’s a difficult argument to make, of course, because everyone’s thoughts and their investment in them are determining their experience as well. So, to one who never sees the little girl because of his/her focus, she does not exist.
I shut my eyes in order to see.
~ Paul Gaughan
When I was a child, I often tried to find the objects in the Hidden Pictures puzzles. Sometimes, I’d spot a few obvious things right away but then often I wouldn’t be able to find any other items. I would scan the picture inch-by-inch, pouring over it. Eventually, as I relaxed, another object would reveal itself to me – the pencil in the curtains or maybe a banana in the top hat. Bit by bit, where once I was convinced there was nothing, a new something would come into focus, come into my awareness.
Creative work is the process of going from nothing to something – from seeing nothing to seeing something. We determine what resonates with us, feel into it, and from there ideas and images arrive to match and reflect that focus. We translate this internal experience through words or perhaps in pictures, and soon we’re able to tangibly witness what we focused upon. Our clarity in what we are tuning to internally determines what we create externally. Our clarity and choice of alignment determine what we’re able to see, let in, and experience in our day-to-day lives as well.
Like the Hidden Pictures puzzles, there is joy present in every picture, though we may have trouble spotting it. And when we’re not seeing it, it is normal to feel compelled to make powerful arguments for why it’s not there. But our ability to see it is more in our control than we might think- once we learn how to focus to our benefit.
We can deliberately streamline our attention in ways that make it easier to find what we want. We don’t have to encourage the momentum of thoughts that feel bad by chasing them. Life offers us constant choices. We are focusers; and the thoughts with which we fill our attention create the lens through which we see, determining at each moment whether or not we’re able to find the joy in the picture or not.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.