thinking with pictures – metaphors that let you see the subject from new angles

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Guide to life – look ahead, look around, look back

photo of walking path at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

Looking forward on one’s path, often head down and mind preoccupied

Walking along the perimeter to a part of the Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, some wonderful scenes of the city, the North Sea, and the hillside itself came into view. Treading the well traveled path where grass had largely been turned to packed dirt, I would stop periodically to shift my focus from the ground surface and nearby 10 to 20 feet ahead of my way. This seemed to be analogous to one’s path through life itself in which most people fall into a routine for workdays and weekends. People keep on the path and are alert to changes only within the smaller arena of their routines, very seldom looking up or looking back. So one lesson of this morning’s walk is to pause from time to time in one’s routine day or one’s stage in life, or indeed within the complete arc of a lifetime and possibly going even wider to encompass the host of ancestors that one forms a part of. In this pause is the chance to look up and to look back instead of pressing ever onward, eyes fixed to the immediate conditions.

slope of Holyrood Park

same path but now turning to look up from trail

trail at Holyrood Park, turning to view the landscape behind

same path but now turning to look back

The other insight coming from the morning walk concerns preoccupation; this time not the field of focus, but instead what fills one’s mind. Some of the individuals walking or running displayed earphone cords dangling to phone or music player, either moving to a soundtrack of one’s choosing, or perhaps radio broadcast, or selected podcast that holds the person’s attention. As a tourist, the city’s physical and social environment is a novelty, something fresh and able to hold one’s attention. But for a nearby resident who is commuting to work or school, the separation between home and destination, between one’s own time, and the time that is being paid by employer is a sort of emptiness which can usefully be filled by recorded or streamed electronic content.

The result is a disconnection between the things going on all around the person (weather, history, animals and plant cycles) and what preoccupies the person’s mind. In other words, a person rooted to a place may be blind to its wonder. But a person not native to the place may be blind, deaf, and dumb to the wonder and local meanings, too. Perhaps the most vivid experience filled with meanings and possibilities comes from the perspective of a person in-between native and newcomer; a person who has gotten acquainted with the people and places but who is not yet taking for granted the sights and sounds that the long-time resident may be ignoring or seeing past.