“Where you stand determines what you see and what you do not see; it determines also the angle you see it from; a change in where you stand changes everything.”
So said Steve De Shazer, the psychotherapist founder of solution focussed brief therapy. Before that he worked as a jazz saxophonist. And before that he was trained as a classical musician.
So he changed where he stood a good few times in his own life.
I guess that’s a big part of why we run trails. It lets us see different things in the world, and to see our lives from different angles for a while. Imagine that you’re going to run a new trail.
Change in perspective ahead, hooray!
“Doef, doef, doef,” goes the hard surface as you make your way toward where the tar terminates, and the trail starts.
Your arms are swinging, your heart is singing, and your back is waiting for that first little trickle of sweat.
You’re a trail runner and you are going to run a new track.
Today you won’t run in a straight line down the block until the corner when your only choice is to turn left or right down the next straight line.
It’s freedom, not the routine Thursday route.
Today you won’t be in that same old long group training run where you have to listen to Pierre’s repetitive advice. Or his squeaky shoe. (Same thing, maybe).
No. Today you’ll be a traveller who tours trails.
You’re bold and brave. You’ll see a little path and take it.
Now stop imagining and think about how you think. Think about where your thinking stands, and how that determines what you see and do not see, and the angle you see things from. Epictetus said, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.” Brave words for a man who was born a slave, whose name means ‘acquired property’ and who was maimed by his master.
Yet he went on to become secretary to Nero after which he gained his freedom and founded his own school of philosophy.
So why not take your view of things on a trail run too – give it a chance to see things differently.
There is more.
More to the world than you can take in. More to the story than you can read. More between your car seats than you remember eating on that road-trip.
None of us ever sees things the way they are. There is always more.
That’s not because things are multiplying like bunnies. Although some things are multiplying like bunnies. Take bunnies, for example.
There’s also Pierre’s squeaky advice which multiplies even faster than bunnies. The reason none of us ever sees things the way they are is because we select what we focus on. We do it automatically and very, very fast.
We focus on some parts of the scene or story and give them more of our attention. Also, we deselect some aspects of the event or situation. This decreases their influence on how we make sense of things.
And – shocker alert – we invent some bits to fill in the gaps so that it all makes sense to the map we already carry in our heads.
Then, even if you and I may focus on the same aspects of any reality, we may interact very differently with them. You may think positively, I negatively. Perhaps you think about the future, I about the origins. You about its usefulness, I about how it reminds me of my first car.
That, in turn, leads to how we feel and what we decide to do.
Yip – we create our feelings and actions in this way. (And, we can create other feelings and decisions by focusing on other things and interpreting things differently.)
For example, a runner I know loves trails. Her sister loves the road. Roadie wants to get into trail running so out they go to the forest. After jogging along for a while they come to a long hill.
Because they’re standing in the same place at the bottom and both have to run up the hill, they both focus on it. They see its gradient, the stones and the erosion grooves. Neither notices the view with its green trees or the homely smoke twirling up from a red brick chimney.
Trailie thinks about the hill as an old adversary. She starts to feel determined and slightly combative towards it. This makes her aware of her time, pace and heartrate. She remembers the article she read on hill running and shortens her stride, lifts her chest and drives harder. But Roadie is interpreting the hill as a trip and slip hazard she’s not used to. She feels somewhat fearful, even a bit intimidated. This makes her observant and slightly cautious. So, she slows down and drops her head to see directly in front of her feet.
Do you see how they make meaning by what they focus on and the view they take on it? And all this is happening really fast in their subconscious. Unless they make it part of their self-awareness. Because if you know that what you focus on and how you think about it sets up your feelings and the actions you take, you can choose more deliberately, in any situation, what you see and don’t and how you interpret it.
There are so many different perspectives you could have. You don’t have to focus on the same aspects of the same story all the time. You don’t have to interpret them in the same way. You don’t have to go around the same set of feelings again. Desmond Tutu said. “Forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you've closed the curtains.
But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.”
Take your thinking on a trail run where it’s not either left or right. Explore. Be bold and brave. Activate your sense of adventure in the way you think.
Get your brain away from its squeaking shoe.