Choosing What We See


In the latest Sandra Bullock movie, Bird Box, a shadowy alien invasion causes mass suicide to sweep the planet. For no apparent reason people suddenly, without warning, leap from a building or step in front of a truck. It is Malorie, played by Bullock, who somehow realizes the cause of it all: the shadowy supernatural beings can only force you to kill yourself if you look at them.

Malorie survives by blindfolding herself and her two children. They move by touch, sound and scent. No matter how fearful they become in the presence of evil, even when it seems the only sane and practical way to defend themselves is to at least peekand see where the enemy is—they don’t. It is possible to be face to face with Gorgon and live, if only you refuse to open your eyes.

Bird Box is a powerful reminder: what we look at matters. By directing our attention toward some things, and avoiding others, we are actually determining which version of reality we will live in. William James wrote, “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

Often we live as though our experience just is. We don’t have a choice. When we feel angry watching a bitterly partisan news program, or depressed scrolling through an endless procession of peak experiences in our Face Book feed, it doesn’t occur to us to ask, “Did I actually agree to attend to this?” When we live on auto-pilot we lose the ability to assent to or dissent from certain things. When our life is directed only by the wildest winds blowing in our world we forfeit our own souls. Take care what you notice, for that will shape your mind.

The whole point of a daily spiritual practice is to decide each morning, This is what I will attend to today. This is what I will notice. Goodness. Beauty. Humility. Forgiveness. Love. Sure, we can’t help seeing all the shiny dark objects dangled before our eyes, but we don’t have to notice them. We can’t help being blown by the mindless winds, but our inner compass can draw us back to the course we have set for ourselves day after day after day.


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