I love metaphors and have been working with a new one. It came as I was watching a short video in which a health care professional was explaining how Alzheimer's Disease affects vision. She talked about how, when we are young, we have great peripheral vision. As we age, it decreases a bit, but remains pretty good; unless we suffer from dementia. She explained that as people's dementia increases their peripheral vision decreases - moving from normal range of vision, to a "binocular vision" and finally, as the brain loses its ability to process information, to "monocular vision."
Try this where you are. Use your hands to create "binoculars" and peer through them. Look at your desk, look at your space, peer out a door. Now, close one eye and see how it is to have "monocular" vision. Imagine living like this all the time, never seeing beyond what is right in front of you - never seeing what is right beside you. How do you feel? How would it affect your ability to make decisions, to experience life?
I've been reflecting on this a lot for the last several days. There are times when it is completely appropriate to put our heads down and focus on the task or situation before us. The danger comes when we never step back, look up, or wonder about the wider implications of what we are so focused on. The danger is that our focus becomes all we know of the world. The danger intensifies when our actions result from seeing only a tiny piece of the reality we live in. Courses of action created by people with narrow vision, with their heads down, can cause great harm. We all know this. Think of business plans that serve the next quarter's earnings while gutting long-term productivity; laws that seek to protect the rights of the few without weighing the cost to the many; traditions that become dogma satisfying our need to be right while separating us from one another. The list goes on, but this binocular/monocular vision is not inevitable. It may be something we have entered into as a response to all the busyness of our lives and all the information we are bombarded with all the time, but it is not a long-term strategy; it is nothing more than a reaction to stress. The good news is that we can stop reacting, put down our binoculars, take a breath and a good look around. We can, if we are willing, do the work of regaining our peripheral vision.
Interestingly enough, it is only by looking inward and acknowledging what we find there that we can regain our ability to dream big dreams, hold an expansive vision of our life and work and see the implications of our actions to the "big picture." Self-awareness gives us a wide-angle lens. We know where we stand in the great scheme of things, we understand that our actions and non-actions, words and silence effect outcomes. With the vantage point of self-awareness we see clearly and without ego-attachment, we develop what my teachers have called "holy detachment" and we begin to make choices and decisions that are healthy, sustainable and creative.
More and more I can see (pun intended) that the deep work of self-awareness gives us panoramic vision. It allows us to see where we have come from, where our own shadow lies, what the world's terrain looks like, and what course we might chart for a healthier world and a life filled with purpose and meaning. What do you see?