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Lenses

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Eyeglasses have been around since the late 13th century, and they’ve been regarded as a marvel and a godsend since the beginning. While I don’t need glasses, I can certainly imagine that merely looking through a tiny circle of glass to bring into sharp focus things that had just been blurry feels like nothing short of a small miracle. And, of course, it didn’t take long for us to discover that bigger lenses could help us peer into the stars to understand them better, and that smaller lenses could help us see minuscule things otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Lenses of all sizes are amazing.

But that’s the thing about lenses: one size does not fit all. The same lens that allows me to see the inner workings of a cell will blur the clock hanging on the wall beyond recognition. The binoculars that help me see across the Grand Canyon won’t be of any help if I want to make out the features of Mars. And so it is that we need multiple lenses in life, because they each have different strengths and limitations, and they each bring different, important things into focus. 

You have internal lenses, too. Emotional ones. Motivated by a desire to see happy things and hang onto positivity, perhaps you tend not to see pain or difficult things very clearly. Or, perhaps motivated by fear, you zero in on the potential threats to safety or security in your life, missing out on the good and peace-bringing things all around you. We all do this, and whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have a default lens: the way we look at the world when we’re not thinking about it. The thing we tend to focus on. You’re doing it right now, whether you know it or not. 

Any professional photographer will carry with her an assortment of lenses, because she will tell you there’s no lens that works for every situation. (If she only brought one lens, it’s time to stop hiring photographers off of Craigslist.) But just like a good photographer, you’re allowed to carry more than one lens!

If you haven’t already, take a moment to think about what your default lens might be. See if you can give it a name. Is your lens Power, and you’re always on the lookout for how you can maintain the most control over a given situation? Perhaps it’s Fear, and you’re forever looking for what could go wrong. Perhaps it’s Competition, and you’re always gauging how you measure up to those around you. If you just want to have a good time and hate getting bogged down by details, responsibilities, and the pain of those around you, your lens might be Pleasure. 

Naming your default lens is important because you probably never have! And only once you’ve named it can you begin to appreciate how well suited it is for certain situations, and how hopelessly inadequate it is for others. A sharply focused Fear lens, for example, might genuinely help you stay safe when caught in a thunderstorm while camping, but it’s going to be a bummer to look through while celebrating your friend’s birthday at an amusement park.  Or, always looking through the lens of Pleasure might make you the life of the party when times are good, but also might mean that no one wants you around when they’re struggling, because you simply can’t enter into their pain with them. 

Once you’ve named your default lens, identified what it brings into focus, and also identified what it obscures from your vision, you can begin to consider developing and wearing additional lenses. If you are always wearing a Critical lens, for example, and you notice that you can’t accept complements because of it, consider what it might feel like to wear and lens of Compassion toward yourself. Even a lens of healthy Pride about what you seem to do well and offer to others. What strengths or gifts of yours with that bring into sharper focus than the lens of Criticism? What would that help you see or acccept about yourself? 

Every lens will have inherent strengths and limitations.

No lens is more or less valuable than another.

You are allowed to carry with you as many lenses as you’d like.  

So, if you ever feel stuck in a situation or an emotion, check in with yourself and ask yourself what lens you’re wearing. Are you only wearing it because it’s your default? Is this the most helpful lens for this situation? Would a different lens help you see more clearly the things you need to take in at this time?  

I remember hearing the story of a young child who got glasses for the first time after having poor eyesight since birth. He was a little apprehensive about it, because, having looked through the imperfect lenses in his eyes for his whole life, he had gotten along okay and literally didn’t know what he was missing. But on the way home, he began to marvel at the world around him. Clouds had texture! Trees had individual leaves that moved with the wind! Birds flew high overhead in beautiful choreographed formations! Those things and more had been all around him his whole life; the lenses in his eyes just hadn’t let him see them. 

The idea of focusing on the things you usually don’t can be intimidating or scary. The bad news is, until you do, I guarantee you’re missing important details all around you. The good news is, like the boy who reluctantly tried on his new glasses, you’ll probably find your world enriched by what you discover, and the breadth of what you can see and take in will become more complete. More true to the way it actually is.

Whether this idea of shifting your internal lenses makes sense to you or it sounds like an impossible task, we at Neuma are skilled optometrists of the mind and spirit. In a safe and supportive environment, we’d love to help you identify the areas of your life you need to see more clearly and how to bring them into focus, all without the annoying dilation and funky sunglasses for the car ride home. 

Zach Meyer