Have you ever noticed that when you are thinking about getting a certain make and model of car, you begin to see that make and model everywhere? This past summer, I spent more time than I ever had before swimming in the ocean where I live. In previous years, I’d swim in the ocean only a few times a summer. Why so few? Because the ocean in Maine is frigid. In the bay where we live it warms up on sunny days and at low tide, but the timing needs to be just right.
But last year I bought a 5 millimeter wet suit, and now I swim all the time. I head out with a mask and snorkel, and I see so much. Rock crabs and hermit crabs, periwinkles, sea stars, mussels, clams, sea urchins, rocks of so many hues, a forest of seaweeds, a garden of sand-buried sea worms with tentacle fronds emerging from their holes, waving in the current until startled, when they instantly disappear. It’s magical.
Many years ago when I was walking on the shore, I came across hundreds of sea stars, dead and beached on the ground. I wondered what could have caused this. Was it the dredging happening in the Union River that emptied into our bay? From then on I always searched for sea stars at low tide, eager to see them and feel assured that their numbers had recovered. Now, swimming out to the small island that comes and goes with the tide offshore, I saw dozens. And so I decided to count them. In my circuit around the tiny island a couple of weeks ago I counted 52 sea stars ranging in size from 1/4 inch to almost a foot across. Simultaneously, I counted the rock crabs – 75 of them. I saw all these sea stars and rock crabs while swimming for only 20 minutes. And it struck me that while I would periodically notice something new, mostly I saw what I was looking for.
Which reminded me of a story of an old woman sitting on a stool on a road between two villages. One day a traveler walked up to her and asked, “What kind of people live in the village to the north?” The old woman asked the traveler what sort of people he’d encountered in the village to the south, and he said, “Oh I met the worst people. They were greedy and rude and mean. They were thieves and liars and cheats.”
“I see,” the old woman said, “I’m afraid that you will find the same kinds of people in the village to the north.”
The next day another traveler approached the old woman asking, “Can you tell me what sorts of people are to be found in the village to the north?”
Again the old woman asked what sorts of people the traveler had found in the village to the south, and he responded, “I met the most wonderful people! They shared everything they had and opened their arms and their homes to me. They were kind and loving, gracious, and honest, and good.”
“Oh,” the old woman said, “You will find exactly the same sort of people in the village to the north.”
I love this story, and I loved experiencing for myself what it feels like to find what one is looking for.
So my tip for today is this: Ask yourself what you want to find today, this week, this month, this year. Answer this question for yourself wisely and with hope and vision. You will find what you are looking for.
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: “Solutionaries”
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach“
Get tickets now for the October 13 NYC debut of my 1-woman show — My Ongoing Problems with Kindness: Confessions of MOGO Girl – at United Solo, the world’s largest solo theatre festival.
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