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How a Boring Commute Became Moments of Amazement

How a Boring Commute Became Moments of Amazement

I spend at least an hour and a half in the car every day. Forty-five minutes to work and forty-five more minutes home. Unless the traffic is bad. And then it’s so much worse. Commuting is the worst. I drive on the same route and stop at the same stoplights and pass the same buildings and same trees. Every. Single. Day.

But sometimes…

Sometimes I remember to really look out of my car windows and see the world as something new. Even though I’ve seen the same things time after time, the truth is, it’s always just a little bit different. And when I give myself permission to really notice, it’s almost always just a little bit miraculous.

Like today, when I looked out of my windshield and noticed just how crazy vivid green the world is around me right now. Growing up in California, summer was the brown time of year, the time when the land dried up and all the trees and grass turned “golden.” (It was totally brown. We just felt better saying “golden.”) But here on the east coast, the summer is lush with overgrown greenery everywhere I look. And looking just a bit closer, I see a few colorful leaves getting ready to fall off the branches. Everyday the world is just a little bit different and a little bit miraculous.

At a retreat I attended last year, our facilitator taught us to use “owl eyes” and “eagle eyes.” Eagle eyes, he explained, is focusing on a singular point, something so specific, we can see every detail, and the rest of the world will fade away. Owl eyes, on the other hand, is seeing everything in front of you all at once. He helped us find our owl eyes by wiggling our fingers in our periphery and extending them out to the absolute farthest point that you could still see them. It was quite a bit farther out than I realized my vision went.

The magic of this eagle-eye/owl-eye activity came when he asked us to pay attention to our thoughts in each of these moments and how they varied. Give it a try right now. Seriously, take a minute and give it a try. Like this:

1. Find one tiny thing to focus on, like a leaf on a tree, a crack in the sidewalk, or a shingle on a roof.

2. Try to find even more detail. Focus as closely as you can.

3. Then, try to widen your view. Hold your hands up on either side of your face, palms out and fingers up. Wiggle your fingers.

4. Slowly move your hands backward until they’re on the edge of your peripheral vision.

5. Notice how expansive your vision is in “owl eye.”

6. Switch back and forth between eagle eye and owl eye. Notice how you feel with each. Notice how you think with each. What else do you notice?

My thoughts, I found, mimicked my sight. In eagle eye, I thought in words and structure. In owl eye I thought in images and noticings, no words. Our thoughts match our vision. Or maybe, our vision matches our thoughts. Hmmm…

I’ve tried it since then and it continues to be true. The owl eye is especially challenging for me, a person of words and numbers, who processes thoughts through writing and understands the world in calculations and essays. Owl eye forces me to use a completely different part of my brain. It overwhelms me. I can only maintain it for a few seconds. My mind takes me back to words and numbers and then my vision snaps back to rapid eagle eye focus on the million individual things in front of me.

So, once in a while, when I remember to stop shaking my fist at other cars and sagging my shoulders at another red light, I remember that the world around me is different than before. I try to see it through owl eyes and shut the words out, just for a moment. And magic happens – I see changing leaves, I notice the spectacular decaying architecture around me, I feel connected to the million other exhausted frustrated, commuters on the road. And then I snap back and see the light and think about the number of minutes left in my commute.

But a little piece of the owl remains. A little piece of wonder is in my heart. Because my vision affects my thoughts. Or maybe my thoughts affect what I choose to see. Either way, it’s all improved when I take in the wonder.

Happy commuting.


Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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