Seeing What You Look For
I can tell what I am looking for by what I see. When I began hiking the southern half of the Continental Divide Trail last year, I often saw tents. They weren't really there, but I saw them nevertheless. I was alone with no one to talk with for as long as ten days at a stretch. I missed seeing people, and so as I walked along, my mind turned certain large rocks or tangled branches of trees into tents. Thinking I would have some human contact, I would pick up my pace. Then as I neared, I saw my folly. This happened numerous times, until I got used to being so alone and stopped looking for other people.
After I saw a black bear on the trail last year, every dark shape turned into another bear. The same thing happened this year after encountering a grizzly. I saw lots of bears that were not there. In the New Mexico desert, after I nearly stepped on two rattlesnakes, my mind made rattlers out of numerous long gray cactus remains.
I realize that I see what I am expecting to see. I’ve been an outcast much of my life, so when I meet a new group of hikers, I am primed for rejection. I see it in their short replies to my questions. I feel myself the outsider in any group I come upon. And so when I set my tent up for the night, I do not impose on the tramily nearby. I put my home for the night a short ways away. Then I am surprised when one of them invites me over to join them while they eat. I am floored when one follows me back to my tent site to get a picture and my contact information. I notice how I misread the groups feelings about me and resolve to do it differently the next time. But old habits are hard to break, and I find myself again assuming I am being rejected, when in fact I am being admired for being out here alone at my age.
I teach skiing to folks who are considered disabled. I’m really good at it. I think one reason for this is that I see potential in every one of the people I teach. And seeing it enables me to bring it out. I have taught people to ski expert slopes even when their parents thought they would never be able to ski independently.
I recognize that when I go into a situation expecting conflict, that is often what I get. I try to envision situations turning out positively, playing out scenarios of conversations before heading into them. It works amazingly well. Out here on the trail I see people as people and political differences become unimportant. I remind myself after being charged by a moose that every downed tree with branches looking like antlers is not out to get me. I try to clear my mind and see the best in what is really there. I don’t want to miss seeing something because I am looking for something that isn’t even there.