Reframing the Unpleasant
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
In my class last summer, a student enthusiastically raised his hand, bursting with excitement to share what he called his 'epiphany.'
I was teaching a summer class for young people in the substance education program, Natural Highs: Healthy Alternatives to Drugs and Alcohol. By this particular day, the core curriculum had already been covered, so I was free to teach whatever I wanted. I decided on a series on awe and wonder.
We had just completed an exercise where I had given the students Easy-Macro Lenses, simple magnifying lenses that fit over a camera phone. We had gone outside of the building and everyone was given 15 minutes to explore the world through these lenses.
As we exited the building, we went outside to what looked like a most ordinary scene: an old cement building near a parking lot that had a few cars in it, a patch of partially dry brittle grass, a few bushes with cobwebs, and a small lone tree. I was a bit nervous if they’d even be able to find anything exciting in this very drab setting. Apparently I wasn’t the only person with these concerns. “What are we supposed to look at?" asked a student hesitantly, standing back from the scene with a puzzled look.
Almost as if in response, a student that was crouching over the edge of the grass gasped, “guys, come here, you HAVE to see this!” Some rushed over to check it out while others had already started exclaiming about something that they had found.
“Wow! I can’t believe what I'm seeing! This is amazing!”
“Dude, I had NO IDEA my eyeball looked like that! It's like a supernova explosion!”
I smiled to myself. As worried as I was that maybe we should have ventured farther to a more scenic location, apparently there was no need for that. In such a seemingly bland and ordinary setting, magic was awaiting!
It took a great deal of effort to get everyone back inside the classroom and get them to stop excitedly talking and clamoring to share their photos. Once I got their attention, I asked if anyone wanted to share with the group what they had experienced and what they had learned from it.
I called on the student that had nearly jumped out of his seat to raise his hand. He could barely get any words out, he was so excited. He took a deep breath as some of the other students giggled in response to his enthusiasm. He said he had had an epiphany. For much of his life he had been terrified of spiders. Today, while looking at the grass through his lens, he found a spider’s web. At first he was apprehensive. Then he got taken over by the beauty of it. As he slowly moved his lens, he could see rainbows of light glinting off the tiny elegant strands. The intricacy of the design of the web captured him. There were even tiny drops of water glistening on the threads, suspended in mid-air. As he sat with the beauty, he realized some creature had created this!
While most of the students were moving around to look at one thing after another, he spent the whole 15 minutes sitting with this web. Then he spotted a tiny spider on the very edge of the web. Much to his surprise, for the first time in his life, he was able to see it with new eyes. What had once been his enemy, was all of a sudden a masterful artist, a living being in its own right, a creator of beauty. He found himself whispering to the spider, "thanks buddy."
If this student can reframe what had been one of his greatest fears and enemies, spiders, into masterful artists, what else could we reframe?
Unfortunately I don't have any photos from that student, but here are a few webs I've captured with the same lens on my phone. The above photo is from Patrick Kelley. I invite us all to get curious about that which we find unpleasant, and how we might reframe it to find even a tiny moment of beauty or appreciation for it.