Bonus: it’s fun, too.
An obvious, yet mind-bending, fact about life is that we only know what we know.
What don’t you know? What are you wrong about? What are you on the verge of understanding?
Have you ever had an epiphany, when the puzzle pieces of life seemed to snap together and, briefly, it all made sense? Doesn’t this tell you there’s more than we realize?
We’re all struggling to understand, and we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Life is mysterious, and unfortunately, we don’t get to peek inside anyone else’s head to see what’s going on in there.
What if Bob knows something we don’t? What if Mary is happier than we are? What if our status quo is hurting us, rather than helping us?
Well, we only know what we know. It all comes back to this one simple fact. So, what can we do about it?
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine forwarded a blog post from a website called Raptitude. In it, the author describes a simple exercise any of us can do at any time to break ourselves out of our normal way of thinking and to see the world a little more clearly. As soon as I read it I was inspired to try it. Lo and behold it did shift my perspective.
It’s incredibly simple. Obvious, almost. Yet, not something I would ever have thought to try.
The next time you’re alone in a coffee shop or walking through the mall, pretend that you’re not there.
That’s right. Pretend you’re a ghost and you’re walking through the world but aren’t a part of it. When someone looks at you, pretend that they’re looking through you, like something behind you caught their eye.
But, don’t stare. I mean, you’re not actually a ghost. Don’t be creepy.
Observe your surroundings. What do you see? Advertisements, goods for sale, doors, windows, trees. Now that you’re a ghost, what do these things mean to you?
Observe the people around you. What are they doing? What are they preoccupied with? Are they laughing? Are they engaged in serious conversation? Are they in a hurry?
Continue observing in this way for a couple of minutes, and then slowly bring yourself back to reality. You really are in that coffee shop or in the mall or wherever you decided to try this little experiment.
You really are alive.
Why try this?
From this strange perspective, you might feel a brief sense of separateness from what you previously considered “normal” or “every day”. You might find that when you just observe, there is less judgment, less prejudice, and less bias.
You might even think, this is what the world will be like when I’m gone — when I’m dead. Everything will go on.
You might feel a shift in your mind.
The thing is, our regular experience is layered with assumptions, bias, and habits of mind. We think what we experience is some kind of “truth”, but it’s much more complicated than that. We carry with us everything we’ve ever experienced into every moment. As a result, we see each moment through a unique and coloured lens.
By pretending you’re not there you’re not just removing yourself but all that baggage, as well. The result? The world seems a little simpler, more relatable, more interesting, and more beautiful.
With no You in the world, what does it look like? How do things change? What’s different?
The first time I tried this I felt intense relief. Finally, I didn’t have to feel self-conscious. I stopped wondering what others were thinking about me — like whether my jacket looked worn or I walked with a crooked posture. I didn’t need anyone’s approval. I could just be.
And with a mind less focused on me, the world came into focus.
I noticed the light shining in through windows. I noticed people smiling and laughing. I saw concern and worry on people’s faces. I heard music and awkward conversations.
When I took myself out of the world, I experienced something both familiar and foreign. Familiar because I recognized emotions and objects and sounds. Foreign because everything seemed so beautiful and everyone felt so relatable.
I realized I am often so preoccupied with my thoughts and my emotions I forget to see the broader world. Yet, there it is, all the time.
All those people, living all those lives, feeling all those emotions, thinking all those thoughts. Just like me.
I felt closer to people than I ever had, yet I knew there was also an infinity between each of us.
I will never be inside another person’s head. No one will ever be inside of mine. We all struggle through life alone, stuck in our heads, always wondering whether what we’re experiencing is unique to us, wondering whether something about us is broken.
What this little experiment helped me realize is that we’re all in this boat together. All of us, traveling through stormy seas, together, yet separate. With no one else to rely upon but each other.
Pulling myself out of the world was a fascinating experiment. It helped me to realize that there are other ways of looking at the world, there are other ways of being.
This is something I’ll continue to do, now and then, to remind myself not to get too caught up in me and to remind myself that there is a whole world out there that I am often blind to.
I hope you give it a try. If you do, let me know how it goes!
Thanks for reading!