top of page

Can't see the sunset for the trees

What to focus on? The beautiful sunset? Or the starkly beautiful trees? Sometimes life is like one of those optical illusions -- is it two faces, or is it a vase? A duck or a rabbit? An old woman or a young one? Looking at one of these images is fun even if a little disconcerting. It's called multistable perception. When an image is too ambiguous for us mere humans to recognize with a unique interpretation, we cycle back and forth. It IS an old woman. No, it's not, it's a young woman.

While these little visual exercises can be amusing, there are times in daily life when things feel irreconcilably ambiguous, even downright overwhelming. So, what do you do when life gets multistable?

Well, I suppose, look at both. See the sunset. And see the trees. But know that, unlike optical illusions, life isn't always a light-hearted, fun exercise. Life can be multi-, multi-, multistable. So while you're noticing the sunset and the trees, notice more. Notice what is blocking your way, as well as what graces your journey. And find pleasure in simply noticing what you notice...alternatively known as gratitude. Or find the humor. Or just be in the "now."

For me this week, I am noticing my sisters. I am noticing my husband's return to good health. I am seeing my friends, my work, my obligations. I am grateful for the sunset and for the trees; as well as the grass, road, sidewalks, homes, schools, fields, streams and buildings in between. I'm reframing what can feel like dismay and overwhelm at instability to gratitude for the multistability.

It's all there, all the time. It's ambiguous and multistable. Stability feels threatened. But that's just a moment in time, because, as I said, it's all there, all the time. And, as I've said many times, I always have a choice.

In his honor today, I shall paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence." Put another way, it isn't either the sunset or the trees but it's making the most of your existence. Or, as my daughter reminded me this week, Neil Gaiman put it this way: You get what anyone gets -- you get a lifetime.

And that's a good thing.

bottom of page