To Find Something, Don't Look For It

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Awakin FeatureBetween takeoff and landing, we are each in suspended animation, a pause between chapters of our lives. When we stare out the window into the sun’s glare, the landscape is only a flat projection with mountain ranges reduced to wrinkles in the continental skin. Oblivious to our passage overhead, other stories are unfolding beneath us. Blackberries ripen in the August sun; a woman packs a suitcase and hesitates at her doorway; a letter is opened and the most surprising photograph slides from between the pages. But we are moving too fast and we are too far away; all the stories escape us, except our own.

We poor myopic humans, with neither the raptor’s gift of long-distance acuity, nor the talents of a housefly for panoramic vision. However, with our big brains, we are at least aware of the limits of our vision. With a degree of humility rare in our species, we acknowledge there is much we can’t see, and so contrive remarkable ways to observe the world. Infrared satellite imagery, optical telescopes, and the Hubble space telescope bring vastness within our visual sphere. Electron microscopes let us wander the remote universe of our own cells. 

But at the middle scale, that of the unaided eye, our senses seem to be strangely dulled. With sophisticated technology, we strive to see what is beyond us, but are often blind to the myriad sparkling facets that lie so close at hand. We think we’re seeing when we’ve only scratched the surface. Our acuity at this middle scale seems diminished, not by any failing of the eyes, but by the willingness of the mind. Has the power of our devices led us to distrust our unaided eyes? Or have we become dismissive of what takes no technology but only time and patience to perceive? Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful magnifying lens.

A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist. But he said to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed. The revelation of suddenly seeing what I was blind to only moments before is a sublime experience for me. I can revisit those moments and still feel the surge of expansion. The boundaries between my world and the world of another being get pushed back with sudden clarity an experience both humbling and joyful.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist and a poet. Excerpts above are from her book: Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it? Can you share a personal story of a time you had the sublime experience of a revelation by being open to possibility? What helps you stay open to possibility?

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19 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jun 30, 2020 Lawrence Mohammed wrote:
    Having volunteered five years ago on a whim for a community project whose concept energised me, much to the disdain of my girlfriend at the time who felt I had neither the time nor space to do this, I ended up starting a separate (and unrelated) social enterprise in order to keep this community projects momentum going. The result? Halting a huge arts and education project I had been working on and had invested all my money in, for something I hadn't planned to do nor something I would have had the courage to do. The head said no, the heart said yes and I simply went with how I felt and what seemed to be flowing 'through' me; whether ideas, 'chance' encounters, funds, opportunities or community needs I could meet. What helps me stay open to possibility are daily practices I have adopted, also the knowledge that the more I learn, the less I know and if grounded, I should pay attention to how I feel. The social enterprise has since gone on to win awards and is in huge ... [View Full Comment] Having volunteered five years ago on a whim for a community project whose concept energised me, much to the disdain of my girlfriend at the time who felt I had neither the time nor space to do this, I ended up starting a separate (and unrelated) social enterprise in order to keep this community projects momentum going. The result? Halting a huge arts and education project I had been working on and had invested all my money in, for something I hadn't planned to do nor something I would have had the courage to do. The head said no, the heart said yes and I simply went with how I felt and what seemed to be flowing 'through' me; whether ideas, 'chance' encounters, funds, opportunities or community needs I could meet. What helps me stay open to possibility are daily practices I have adopted, also the knowledge that the more I learn, the less I know and if grounded, I should pay attention to how I feel. The social enterprise has since gone on to win awards and is in huge demand. The arts education project may happen in the future, but I am neither attached or defined by it any more which has been extremely liberating.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jun 30, 2020 thea nietfeld wrote:
    Making friends wherever I am involves being open to possibility. One cannot know in advance who will become a friend kor know whether the other is open to friendship. Recently, I explored living on The Farm intentional community in rural Tennessee. While I did not choose to live there, the moments of friendship and some ongoing connections reminded me of the beautiful uniqueness that attract us to each other.

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    On Jun 20, 2020 Elaine Gotfryd Noonan wrote:
    To live in the present moment, while being aware of the past or projection of the future, requires an openness to the revelations and discoveries along the way. Pursuing ideas or interests without limiting the types of experiences or visions of what my seeking will look like is important for me; in this "open hearted and open minded place", I recognize a new idea or opportunity as it is revealed in the present moment. If I have a preconceived idea or paradigm, I may totally miss what opportunityis being brought into my life....something greater than I could not have imagined. Recognizing any filters (past life experiences) in my perception of any given situation, that may be projected in the future, is an aspect of of what I am taking into consideration in any given moment. When I needed a job to raise my family, I had no experience in a library or as a librarian. I remained open to this new possibility and I had since gone on to pursue a Masters Degree in Library Science an... [View Full Comment] To live in the present moment, while being aware of the past or projection of the future, requires an openness to the revelations and discoveries along the way. Pursuing ideas or interests without limiting the types of experiences or visions of what my seeking will look like is important for me; in this "open hearted and open minded place", I recognize a new idea or opportunity as it is revealed in the present moment. If I have a preconceived idea or paradigm, I may totally miss what opportunityis being brought into my life....something greater than I could not have imagined. Recognizing any filters (past life experiences) in my perception of any given situation, that may be projected in the future, is an aspect of of what I am taking into consideration in any given moment.

    When I needed a job to raise my family, I had no experience in a library or as a librarian. I remained open to this new possibility and I had since gone on to pursue a Masters Degree in Library Science and completed 21 years as a District wide School Librarian.

    What helps me stay open to possibility is the joy and love of life, and the infinite possibilities that exist. I am excited to be a part of a vast world or opportunity anddo not want to limit myself to old thinking or habits that will prevent my growth and development. I want to contribute more to our world through the growth of personal consciousness and that reflection in the world as I see and experience it.

    Thank you
    Elaine Gotfryd Noonan[Hide Full Comment]

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    On May 29, 2020 Usha Shetty wrote:
    I loved the every bit of it.

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    On May 24, 2020 Pia wrote:
    Such a beautiful passage. I remember watching an interview between Oprah and Lady Gaga where Lady Gaga said to get answers to questions she would just pray to God for the answer to be revealed, for God to show her how she is meant to serve. I am very much at a cross road now where I am looking for answers as to how I am meant to serve and find purpose outside of home. My first instinct is to make lists and talk to people but this reading has reminded me that I may find what I'm looking for by not searching and being open to messages that may show up. Thank you for some clarity.

    1 reply: Thea | Post Your Reply
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    On May 22, 2020 Jane wrote:
    Love this piece and every comment with it. On a mundane level when I can't think of a word or a name and I 'wrack my brains" fretting and frothing - when I let it go and stop chasing it, it usually comes to me easily. I also like Alan Watts' quote from "The Wisdom of Insecurity : A Message for an Age of Anxiety" ''The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.''

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    On May 21, 2020 Gururaj wrote:
    Becoming aware , suddenly, that I am aware , is also a shift or widening of sorts in perception.

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    On May 20, 2020 Kay wrote:
    Wonderful article! I have at times practice this and what I hope to find comes to me at its own time.

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    On May 19, 2020 Dauntlessoul wrote:
    My open to possibility mantra: We always make the best choice, or we'd have made a different choice. We are where we want to be. We always get what we want. At times we don't understand what we get, or why we want it. We want, deeply, anticipation in the present. The gift, desire, opens itself.

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    On May 19, 2020 Anilkumar Pandit wrote:
    Indeed looking for something is by itself narrowing our vision, and looking for it through external sensors is tunneling it further.
    Granted that this approach does provide an in-depth understanding, but its like going into a mine looking for coal or diamond, but at the cost of missing the entire earth.
    However for personal breakthrough, we need to go far beyond the seen and the un-seen, to the un-seeable! Developing ourselves far beyond the faculty of mere seeing to merge and feel the unison.

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    On May 19, 2020 Shyam Gupta wrote:
    Many times, when weare looking for a solution to a difficult problem, itout of eludes us no matter how hartd we try. But having kept the problem aside, suddenly , out of nowhere, the solution emerges.
    Our overcharged mind,has limited scope to accomplish, but a quiet and a still mind can acheive unimaginable results.We can find newer meaning when we cede control of our mind to our higher self.
    I can remeber SN Goenka, ji's audio , telling us to stop looking for bliss during Vipasaana meditation, Just concentrate on the breath, observe the senasations and if the practice is strong enough, bliss wil be there.

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    On May 19, 2020 Mr Satish Kanabar wrote:
    They say that the best way to gain something is to lose it. I think very often when we are undertaking a task, we can get busy thinking of the past or what we want to gain from the action, ie about the result and thus the future. Rarely are we focussed entirely in the task at hand and thus not able to give it 100% effort and thus miss out on the enjoyment the task can actually provide but also the best result we could have.

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    On May 15, 2020 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I deeply resonate with the basic message of this thought provoking passage authored by Robin Wall Kimmerer: " To find something, don't look for it." In Indian philosophy, there is a concept of the Third Eye. That eye reveals the glory and awe of the vastness of the universe. We get a glimpse of it when let go of the limited capacity of our worldly eyes . Worldly eyes sadly create boundaries that separate us from the oneness of life. When we let our inner spiritual eyes open, the truth is revealed. Our inner world expands and welcomesthe guests coming from nowhere. Unconditional love, open-heartedness and open-mindedness open the doors for the unnamed guests to come. I have had glimpses of such experiences more in my childhood than in my adulthood. I am very fond of spending time with nature. When I was a child I used to sit under a tree that I had planted in my back yard. Sitting under the tree doing nothing and expecting nothing to show up, I used to get glimpses of the ... [View Full Comment] I deeply resonate with the basic message of this thought provoking passage authored by Robin Wall Kimmerer: " To find something, don't look for it." In Indian philosophy, there is a concept of the Third Eye. That eye reveals the glory and awe of the vastness of the universe. We get a glimpse of it when let go of the limited capacity of our worldly eyes . Worldly eyes sadly create boundaries that separate us from the oneness of life. When we let our inner spiritual eyes open, the truth is revealed. Our inner world expands and welcomesthe guests coming from nowhere. Unconditional love, open-heartedness and open-mindedness open the doors for the unnamed guests to come.
    I have had glimpses of such experiences more in my childhood than in my adulthood. I am very fond of spending time with nature. When I was a child I used to sit under a tree that I had planted in my back yard. Sitting under the tree doing nothing and expecting nothing to show up, I used to get glimpses of the beauty unfolding enriching my inner life. When I walk mindfully in nature or do sitting Mindfulness Meditation I get such glimpses that create feelings of wonder and awe.
    Reading about such mystical experiencesis one thing. For experiencing the mystery of life I need to keep my mind and heart unoccupied and open to receive blessings coming from the unknown space. This openness helps me to the possibilityof receiving such gifts. There is a wise saying in Sanskrit."Tad dure tad antike". What you think is far, is right close you." Do not look for it outside. It is dwelling inside of you.
    Namaste!
    JagdishP Dave'[Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Sheila | Post Your Reply
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    On May 15, 2020 David Doane wrote:
    Sometimes we are so busy seeking, striving, chasing, or whatever that even our own story escapes us. Thoreau said when you stop chasing the butterfly it will come and sit on your shoulder. Many times I have struggled in writing something, and it's when I take a break that a better way of expressing occurs to me. I hear of people who stop seeking the right partner, and then find one (sometimes the one they're already with). Seek and you shall find; I think seek means be open, not goal obsessed. 'Looking for' is a putting on blinders, which help in some seeking and get in the way of some finding. As for having the sublime experience of a revelation by being open to possibility -- is there another way? An example, my being open to Eastern thinking opened a new world for me and I continue to have sublime experiences of revelations about life. What helps me stay open to possibility is my knowing that possibility is alive and exciting and is the ground of discovery and wisdom... [View Full Comment] Sometimes we are so busy seeking, striving, chasing, or whatever that even our own story escapes us. Thoreau said when you stop chasing the butterfly it will come and sit on your shoulder. Many times I have struggled in writing something, and it's when I take a break that a better way of expressing occurs to me. I hear of people who stop seeking the right partner, and then find one (sometimes the one they're already with). Seek and you shall find; I think seek means be open, not goal obsessed. 'Looking for' is a putting on blinders, which help in some seeking and get in the way of some finding. As for having the sublime experience of a revelation by being open to possibility -- is there another way? An example, my being open to Eastern thinking opened a new world for me and I continue to have sublime experiences of revelations about life. What helps me stay open to possibility is my knowing that possibility is alive and exciting and is the ground of discovery and wisdom.[Hide Full Comment]

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