“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
As a traveler who feels that exploring this beautiful world is an important way to stay open-minded, curious, and grateful, I have struggled with this famous Proust quote. In fact, I would say that seeing new landscapes gives me “new eyes” to see and appreciate the familiar upon my homecoming. But last week, in an instant, I “got it.”
As I was gathering up my blocks and straps after a yoga class, I looked down to discover that my wedding ring wasn’t on my finger. I panicked and texted my husband, who was working from home, to ask him to check to see if it was on my dresser. In reply, he sent this picture. While it was a huge relief to confirm that I hadn’t lost my ring, but simply forgotten to put it back on after my shower, that doesn’t explain why I couldn’t stop looking at the picture.
Nothing in that image is new. I’ve had the ring tree itself for most of my life. It was a gift from my godmother at some point in my pre-teen years. Except for the wedding ring itself, nothing in the image is even especially valuable. (Let’s just say, I’ve always been a girl who appreciates “pretty” just as much as “real” in my jewelry.) If I look closely, I can pick out specific earrings – the ones that an old friend’s sister made, the ones that were a birthday gift from a friend here, the ones from my mom – and seeing them in a photo makes me happy.
But that’s not really what captivated me either. Days later, I think I keep looking at the picture because it is so pretty! To me, it looks like an image from a home and garden magazine – one I would have (in the days when my old house was new and I spent a lot of time thinking about decorating) torn out because I wanted my own home to look like that.
I think I keep looking at the picture because it is a wonder and a mystery to me that something so beautiful could be sitting (and has been for decades) on my very own dresser and, even though I stand there every single day, I never even noticed! My husband’s photo gave me “new eyes” to see a very old, very familiar landscape as if for the first time. And, to be honest, I’ve found myself using these “new eyes” each morning to soak up the beauty of that little ring tree in the “real world” too.
My yoga practice has taught me the importance and the power of staying clear-eyed and keenly observant of things that are ridiculously familiar. If I don’t, you see, I could miss all of the tiny changes that comprise the transformation that yoga creates in my body as I move and breathe each morning – the slow (glacial even) opening of my hamstrings, the miniscule feelings of developing confidence in an inversion, the fact that I am (a little) stronger each day.
If I only noticed the big changes – when I could do a new thing well, or hold a posture for the full count or touch the floor with straight legs – my practice would be very dull and uninspiring indeed. It is the ability (I’d go so far as to call it a skill, actually) to see the baby steps along the way that keeps me unrolling my mat day after day. It is this that makes my practice seem brand new each morning. It is these “new eyes” that make my incredibly familiar practice seem like uncharted territory because I’ve never practiced today before.
So, no, seeing my husband’s picture was not the first time I’ve had the epiphany that “new eyes” can make even the most familiar sights seem unfamiliar. Not only do I practice this skill on my yoga mat, but I do it a great deal as I wander around my little corner of the world. Where I live is as spectacularly rich in natural beauty as any place in the world I’ve been fortunate enough to travel. It’s not unusual to find myself pausing to gawk at my favorite tree on the way to church or the creek where I like to walk my dogs just as I do when I’m in a brand new place.
Travel and yoga have taught me that even the tiniest things deserve to be seen (really seen!) and relished. Travel and yoga have taught me to feel profoundly grateful for the opportunity to see with “new eyes.” My husband’s little photo, taken on the fly, somehow brings this experience to an even deeper level. Somehow, the intimacy of the image – of my personal baubles in my bedroom – gives me “new eyes” to see more than my surroundings. I feel like, for a moment at least, I have “new eyes” to see my life.
The gratitude I feel in response to seeing with these “new eyes” is more than “I’m so lucky to get to see this.” This picture somehow makes me feel profoundly lucky to be here in this one, specific, small life. And this, I suspect, is exactly what Mr. Proust was saying all along.