Seeing Without Seeing (Expat Week #065)

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ~Confucius

The Artist Supplies

The Artist Supplies

I have been struggling with writers block the past few weeks. It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized the problem that sourced my lack of topics. I was sitting in the back of my car for the 40 minute ride to work when I realized that India had ceased being the constant source of surprise it had been during my first year living in this country.

Family of 4 on Motorcycle

Family of 4 on Motorcycle

The unusual had become routine. The crazy had become every day. I no longer was shocked by the poverty of barefooted, rag clothed children begging for coins with a knock on the car window and a look of desperation in their dark liquid, brown eyes, no longer noticed the garbage strewn everywhere with the stalks of smoke rising from one of the many fires lit in a vain attempt to burn it away, stopped tensing up when vehicles hurtled toward us going the wrong direction in our lane passing within inches while horns blared cryptic warnings in a language I had just begun to understand. A family of four on a motorcycle that used to make me worry about the kids no longer caused a raised eyebrow.

Orange Flower

Orange Flower

In short, I had lost my ability to see. It seemed that my color world had faded to monochrome. I do enjoy monochrome imager but it’s not my preferred way of living life. I am one that likes to experience vibrancy in all aspects of life.

My eyes still worked but they are simply tools to transmit light to the brain. It’s a purely physical process. Real seeing requires more than eyes. It is the heart that interprets the physical sight into seeing. My sense of wonder was missing which tells me the light no longer penetrated through to my heart.  I no longer felt India.

Had my heart become calloused? I don’t think so. At least, I hope not. I had spent years of my life with a calloused heart and never want to return to that disconnected state.

I believe I was not seeing because I am experiencing acculturation, the process of adopting the cultural traits or social patterns of another group. Some of my evidence for this process is that I have unconsciously adopted the head bobble and some of the hand movements locals used to communicate with each other. These changes were not a conscious decision. I didn’t even realize I was adapting until one of my colleagues started laughing when I head bobbled.

I believe, in many respects, this is a positive in my life for it tells me that I have the ability to move beyond the culture in which I was raised. It tells me that I am not completely jingoistic, that I am adaptable. It tells me I can see the good in other cultures, that I can evolve as a human being.

Thus, not seeing can be viewed as a natural progression from living here for more than a year. Routinely encountering the unusual has moved it toward the mundane. The change is inevitable. I guess, I should view as good that I no longer feel India because it means I have become one with my environment. I am becoming settled in. But, for me, becoming settled in leaves me feeling deeply unsettled.

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. ~Bill Bryson

For a long time in India, I lived – joyfully lived – this Bryson quote. As much as I want to be comfortable in my adopted land, I don’t want to become so comfortable that my sense of awe is tempered. In truth, I miss the energy that routinely infused my creativity muscles while I was living here and everything was new and decidedly uncomfortable.

My personality needs to live uncomfortable. The artist in me needs to continually see the unique in the ordinary, the subtle in the cacophony that India throws at me every second of every day. This most easily happens when I’m living uncomfortable. My art stimulates my lifeblood and keeps me mindful, vital, aware as I walk the streets of India or sit on my balcony processing my experiences. For me, expressing myself through my art is a key component in a life well lived.

It is because I have been able to cultivate the ability to grasp some of the amazing in the possibly mundane that I have not once grown bored since I moved here in March 2013. Though, I must admit, I have been uncharacteristically restless the past few weeks which aligns with my last blog and a period marked by a significant drop off in the number of pictures taken. I have let myself become artistically lazy.

So, today, I sat at my local coffee shop and did not leave until I had completed this blog. It wasn’t the topic I had chosen to write on, rather, as I started writing the creative muse took control and guided me to the acculturation understanding.

And I carried my camera the entire day but only with a fixed focal length lens. Zoom lenses allow me to change magnification and adapt what I see to normal vision. The fixed lens requires me to adapt my vision and see that which fits into the lens. This kind of forces creativity. Thankfully, the day was mostly overcast ensuring I had a wider range of objects to discover.

What I must do for my remaining time in India is thoughtfully, mindfully, heartfully view life in India. Try little tricks, as I did today, to ensure I don’t allow mundane to creep into my psyche. If I can’t, I might as well be sitting back home in the USA comfortably seated in my recliner missing the miraculous in everyday life.

Additional Pictures

About David A Olson

I often find my mind wandering to various subjects, subjects that make me stop and think. The blog, Musings of a Middle Aged Man, is a catalog of those thoughts I muse upon as I search for significance in life. I am the father of 3 children and the grandfather to 2. I spend my days working for a medium sized multinational corporation where I am an Agile Coach. I view myself as a Servant Leader, have a passion for leadership, particularly, in helping people develop their individual leadership skills and abilities. In October 2012, I went to India on business. After a week of being there, I still had not talked to or texted my 7-year-old grandson. He asked his mom, "Is Papa dead? He hasn't texted me all week." To facilitate communication now that he and I no longer live together, I started a blog for us to communicate. It's titled, "Correspondence Between Luke and His Papi". In April 2013, I moved to Pune, India on an 18-month delegation. It's an adventure that was 1.5 years in the making...The experience is captured on my blog, "The Adventures of an American Living Abroad" My two latest blogs are "The Learning Leader", a topic I have been studying since 1990, and "Lipstick on a Pig", a foray into the fashion sense of this middle aged man.
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