We are What We See

I was recently perusing the current issue of Bon Appetit magazine that included a lavish 42-page spread on summering and eating in Italy. Ten pages in, my mouth was watering as I poured over the vibrant images of decadent desserts and savory lunches. I could almost smell the aroma of the dark coffee in its delicate, artisan mug, and taste the calzone that sat next to it. I vicariously basked in the Mediterranean summertime sun. Sadly, all of this was not actually happening. I was not in Italy enjoying this summertime feast (bummer). But my body was reacting as if it was. 

Consider that, as we move through space and time, our eyes are constantly taking in information from our immediate surroundings. Our brain helps us by filtering out information that it deems irrelevant so that we are not having to consciously and inefficiently decide what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to (this is called selective attention and here is a classic video demonstrating what it is). However, as a consequence of this unconscious filter, we are actually not aware of most of what we are being exposed to in our immediate environment. 

The catch… our body is aware. Just as my mental and momentary cross-Atlantic trip demonstrates, the information coming through our eyes, integrated with the memories in our mind, contribute to both physical (mouth watering) and emotional (joy/relaxation) experiences in the body. Indeed, according to Ayurvedic medicine “digestion starts with the eyes.” So, just like the old saying “we are what we eat,” it might be helpful to bring awareness to what we see and whether what we surround ourselves with on a daily basis positively impacts our body, mind, and spirit.

So pause for a moment and take a look around. What do you see? How is your visual experience showing up in your body? Do you notice warmth and levity or tension and heaviness? Perhaps an unexpected emotion arose? Perhaps a cascade of memories or nothing at all. Perhaps you noticed an aspect of your environment that you had not noticed before. No wrong way to do this. Simply bring in some awareness to what your brain may have filtered out of your attention. 

You might be surprised about what you learn. I usually am! And only our experience can really tell us what is nourishing and what is not, and it will depend on the particular moment in which we are experiencing it. On my refrigerator, for example, I had a post-it note stuck about eye level with the word "SPACE" written on it (with the intention of reminding myself to take the space I needed in that moment). One day that post-it note fell off and I laughed as I noticed that I actually enjoyed the empty space it left behind on the fridge more than the literal reminder. Sometimes words/signs/book titles can elicit an unhealthly emotional reaction, even if the intention of the message is to create the opposite. Take a look at the following sign I have seen around lately: 


The overall message is a wonderful one. But for me, the presence of the word “hate” feels jarring, dark, and heavy. So despite its intention, by bringing the word “hate” into our visual field, this sign means hate does in fact have a home... in my body. If I was not aware of this experience within my body, I might have popped this sign up on my wall or front lawn with the intention to promote love and peace. 

The magazines we read, the books we keep on our bookshelves, the news and music we listen to, the advertising hiding outside of our conscious awareness, the people that cross our paths on the streets, the energy of a particular building we walk into, ALL of these have an impact on our health and wellness. I read Bon Appetit because (except for the hit my confidence takes knowing that I will likely never create most of the complex recipes) it makes me feel good. In contrast, I know that People magazine happens to be unhealthy for my body, mind, and spirit, so it doesn’t come into my home. I don’t listen to the news much anymore, just enough to stay informed. I am selective about the TV I watch and stay away from overly-sexualized, violent shows (which means I am not watching much TV). I avoid being exposed to harsh, hateful, crude language, which means I also try not to use it myself because it doesn’t make me feel good. Just like that bag of Doritos that might taste totally satisfying in the moment, the short term benefit is not worth the negative and longer-lasting effect on my digestion, on my energy, and even my mood. 

Instead… I work with the intention of surrounding myself with love and light. With tremendous help from Marie Kondo and her book entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, my husband and I strive to take pause with every object that comes into our home and consider whether it would be of better for us to see it every day, better that it be kept but stored out of sight, or better that it be passed along to a new home. The same applies at work. My colleagues often remark on how peaceful my office feels, which I attribute to a clutter-free desk and minimal, but meaningful, objects within the space. A handwritten card from my husband, a photo of my daughter, a mug from my honeymoon in the shape of an elephant graciously holding my pens, a lively plant. As much as is within our control, we can set the intention to take steps to bring health and joy into what we see. And I use the word intention meaningfully, as I do with each post. Just as life continues to roll on, so do the ceaseless piles of laundry waiting to be folded and dishes waiting to be done. But maybe some fresh flowers or a softly burning candle to sit next to the inevitable clutter can add a little nourishment to our space while we tidy up. 

The Take Away

Everything we see, even if we are not aware of it, shows up in and is ultimately processed by the body, mind, and spirit. Just as we strive to eat local, organic, unprocessed foods because of the health that it brings to our lives (body, mind, and spirit), it can be healthful to consider what “pollutants” we are digesting with our eyes. 

Ready to get started? Check out my list of Ten Ideas for Bringing Health to Your Environment or reach out and we can see what work we can do together.

Ready to dive in deeper? My trusted colleague, Micheal Spencer, offers Home Energy Purification through her online business Let's Purify. Her background in counseling, together with her compassionate approach and nuanced insight, make her an ideal partner to work through some of the heavy "lifting" when it comes to bringing health to your environment. She is a gift. 

Beauty can be anywhere. It is up to us to invite it in. 

Caitlin ClarkeComment