Take a look at these two unedited images. What do you see?
I took these last week during our family vacation. One photo looks beautiful, serene. The other, blurry, dark, and dreary. Both can speak a thousand words to the viewer...but those words probably won't accurately reflect the actual experience.
In the first photo, all I see is stress.
This was one of the last mornings I'd have on the beach, and the sunrise was stunning. However, my camera lens had fogged up from transitioning from the air conditioned condo to the humid outdoors, and there was nothing but time that could clear it up. I pulled out my cell phone, frustrated, knowing I wasn't getting near the quality of photos that I could be getting...and that with each passing moment that my camera didn't defog, the sunrise slipped one moment closer to being complete. (Yes, I was aware of the irony of missing out on the moments because of my focus on the cameras. That didn't lessen the stress.)
I see the second photo and I smile every time.
This was a moment of strength, determination, and sheer beauty. This was our last day at the beach, and I was insistent that I was going to do my morning walk one more time along the shore. That morning, however, it was pouring down rain. With still a light spirit, I headed out barefoot onto the sands, letting the strong wind and rain pelt my face, and reveling in being the only person on the expansive beach. I had my cell phone wrapped tightly in a plastic bag just so I could keep track of time. At one point, I noticed something moving ahead of me. (It was hard to look up because the rain was so strong.) That something was a peaceful heron (or crane?), staring out at the ocean. He and I just stood there, alone together, listening to and feeling the water. This image is taken with my cell phone, through the wet plastic bag, as he flew off - just as a reminder for me of this moment.
You have to be careful of how you interpret a photo, whether that photo is in print, digital, .... or simply in your mind.
You take thousands of mental pictures a day - instant Polaroids of what you see before you. You mind then creates captions (labels, descriptions, judgments) for these photos, which you dutiful read. And then you act based off what you read. And you create your life, one action at a time.
You do this in milliseconds, often without noticing, again and again and again throughout your day.
You read (think) the caption about the person approaching you on the sidewalk, the storefront, the new town you drive into.
And after you read, you make a decision about how to interact with that person or that place. Again, this often happens without you even noticing it.
You've heard the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover". Easier said than done. You judge (or at least examine and make split-second decisions) every single thing you encounter in a day. This speedy decision making is beneficial in some ways. You can't pause to consider every crack in the sidewalk, or to have a conversation with every person you pass.
What is harmful is forgetting that you are holding the camera in the first place.
When you assume that the mental image you are taking and the captioned thoughts that result accurately reflect what is "out there", you discount all other interpretations of the situation.
This leads to actions based on bias, judgment, and a life lived closed off to curiosity and true understanding of the wisdom around you. Seem extreme? Such are the consequences of forgetting about that little camera.
As always, the only way through this is practice. Every day, in your own mundane life.
As you go about your day, try waking and reminding yourself of your camera.
Whenever you pass a stranger, or a familiar building, or your spouse, think, "snapshot".
Instead of being the character in the story, step back as a reader and read what you just captioned for that person / place / thing. How accurate was your interpretation? Are there other possible perspectives you could take?
As you become more aware of how you automatically caption each moment, play with those words you use. What if the stranger wasn't "annoying and in your way" but "a fascinating person that, if you had the chance to talk, would teach you a great deal"? You still may not stop to talk to them, but I bet you at least feel better as you pass by...and in turn, act a bit kinder to those around you.
Little moments of awareness such as these can make profound changes in your experience of your mundane life.