Learning to see

and choosing your view

Sunset at the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje) in Zadar, Croatia

Seeing is simple.

Open your eyes, look around, perceive and process visual stimuli. And yet, we know it isn’t as simple as that. We filter and block, we edit and disregard far more information than we retain. It’s essential, because we could not hope to pay attention to all the inputs.

It’s estimated that the brain receives 400 billion bits of data per second, of which the eyes receive 10 million bits per second. We are only aware of perhaps 2,000 bits per second. Just think about that for a moment. No wonder eye witnesses disagree. They all paid attention to different things.

Our brains are wired to take shortcuts and build theories to deal with all this data quickly. This can be helpful, but it also leads to biases, one of which is confirmation bias.

We all experience confirmation bias.

Thinking about buying a new car, maybe a blue VW? Suddenly you see VW cars everywhere, and especially blue ones, where you didn’t notice them before. It’s very useful to be able to home in on something, as long as we’re aware of how much we are ignoring.

Thinking positively in a negative world means operating with a particular filter in place. Look at the picture above. Beautiful, isn’t it? Tranquil and restful.

Now I fill in the gaps, adding more information from that moment. My stomach is grumbling, because lunch was hours ago. I am surrounded by too many people, crying babies, half empty beer bottles on the quay, screeching seagulls. My back aches, and I want to sit down. I wish there were more clouds, to make a better picture. I can hardly hear the Sea Organ, which is the main reason for my visit. I could choose this information, which is all true, and conclude this was a waste of time.

But look again.

It’s a beautiful scene. Gorgeous colours, the sun’s golden disc reflected on calm waters, and the distant sound of pipe music. The sea laps against the Sea Organ, playing a melody that is uniquely random and wholly calming. I am among a cheerful crowd, all come to salute the day’s end and welcome the night, and I have captured a reminder of that moment so that I can relive it at will. I choose to see natural grandeur.

Feels better, doesn’t it?

Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes NP, Croatia

The scene above recalls something from a dream, or a movie setting. My trip to breathtaking Plitvice Lakes NP deserves a post all of its own, but here’s one image. (The water is as inviting as it looks.)

I can focus on the heat, sweat running down the centre of my back, a strap chafing my shoulder, a nagging pain in my right knee, (you know, the one I injured years back), an itchy bite on my arm. Then there are hundreds of people on the one narrow boardwalk, pushing past me, pausing to take selfie stick pictures, and getting in my way. Also I’m out of water.

Or I can take a breath, and apply a positive filter. This is one of many breathtaking vistas, bringing to life scenes I had dreamed of long before. I am stunned by the aqua green of the water, overcome by childlike excitement, exclaiming ‘look at that!’

It feels like coming home.

One day I hope to return to Plitvice, where I remembered something important.

Sometimes, when it all seems too much, it might be time to look for the very thing I need.

If I pause for a moment and really search out the good, I can still experience wonder. On re-entering Real Life, a little glow will remain, and lend a rose tint to ordinary days.

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