I fell in love with Santa Fe the minute I arrived, instantly dazzled by its rich history, a meld of Anglo, Native American, and Hispanic cultures.
Everything was refreshingly different. Unlike most American cities, it had unique architecture, a predominance of Territorial and Pueblo-Spanish styles.
I was fascinated by the contoured adobe walls, the focus of flat roofs, the vigas (beams), and the nichos (small arches in the walls for objects).
I was equally fascinated by the cornucopia of art celebrated almost everywhere I went, and I spent hours marveling at the exhibits at Meow Wolf, Santa Fe Plaza, and Museum of Internation Folk Art.
During my week’s vacation, I sampled all sorts of dishes that I had never had before like Posole, New Mexico green chile stew, and stacked red chile enchiladas.
In the evenings, lying in the hotel’s hot tub, I would chat with my friends about our trip to the Santa Fe Opera House, where we watched The Marriage of Figaro, or marvel at our experience at The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, or argue about what we liked best at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
In short, I had the time of my life.
I was happy all the time, loved everyone at first sight, struck instant friendships wherever I went, and transformed from an introvert into an extrovert. I also got lost frequently but thought it was hilariously fun.
Every day, I would spring up early from my big comfortable bed and go sit in the balcony to sip tea and catch the sun rising against the lavender sky, painting it a profusion of colors and hues.
When I came home again, I quickly fell out of love with reality, like someone who had just been abandoned by the love of their life. I passively watched my reality crash all around me, splintering the earth and the sky of my little world into shards.
Reality once again morphed back into its muted sounds, dull colors, and boring forms. I had returned to the trite, the familiar, the predictable, and, like a bad case of flu, it took me a week to recover.
The spontaneous, child-like state that I had once enjoyed now disappeared almost as suddenly as it had appeared when I found myself in an unknown and unexplored, where everyone and everything delighted me.
I can’t blame my sudden depression on some untoward event that pitched me into psychological turmoil. I just abruptly stopped feeling the love for life that I had relished only a short while ago.
I went back to my regular work, hung out with my friends, and visited my familiar haunts. Everywhere I went, I stared at walls, wondering why there was no art on display.
My brain is wired to notice common objects and recurring events in an environment until everything becomes familiar.
In this way, it successfully edits out reality, freeing up the psychic energy necessary to run the free-wheeling, often random and pointless mental chatter, that makes up my experience of life.
In other words, when I am no longer fascinated by people, things, or events, I resort to interpreting reality rather than fully grokking it.
As far as I can tell, based on what they say and how they behave, everyone experiences this desensitization to life. It’s called “ordinary life.”
The mind prefers homeostasis to unpredictability, and the body considers homeostasis necessary for life. Biologically, we need chemical regulation, thermoregulation, and osmoregulation to keep our various physiological systems running optimally.
Still, I’m beginning to wonder if this affection for the ordinary is a good thing.
Dull and Uninteresting
When we become desensitized to reality, then we become like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory about the cave. Since the prisoners were chained together and restrained from turning to look over their shoulders, all they could witness was the cave wall. Behind them was a parapet on which puppeteers performed and behind the parapet, a bright fire. Consequently, all the prisoners saw were the shadows dancing on the wall.
Experientially, desensitization to reality makes us dull and uninteresting to be around and neurotic when left alone too long. Just to convince ourselves that we can fog a mirror, we seem to have a constant need for stimulation from our drinks and our devices.
Culturally, desensitization results in collective stagnation. The only reason that civilization still continues to make progress is that there are always a few mavericks in every age who push the human race forward and who often end up being persecuted for upsetting the status quo.
Galileo, for example, was tried in 1633 by the Roman Inquisition and put under house arrest until he died in 1642. His crime was peering through a telescope and discovering Io, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto, the four gigantic moons of Jupiter.
Reclaiming Your Forgotten Inspiration
If you want to awaken your neglected genius, then you have to do one thing extraordinarily well: ignite your sense of wonder again, the wonder you enjoyed as a child before you were trained to see the world through the eyes of a lonely ego.
Geniuses are creative because they see the world afresh.
Here are two well-known examples from physics:
Newton’s theory of gravity, laws of motion, breakthroughs in optics, and the invention of calculus were developed because he saw the world afresh.
Centuries later, Einstein came along and developed special relativity, general relativity, and the idea of mass-energy equivalence, better known by the equation E=MC2. All these ideas and many more, like Brownian motion and the photoelectric effect, occurred because he, too, was insatiably curious and saw reality afresh. (Incidentally, did you know that on November 11, 1930, he and Leó Szilárd patented the refrigerator?)
True, these two intellectual giants may have had extraordinary brains, refined nervous systems, and perfect opportunities to birth their discoveries, but the inspiration behind their visionary thinking was an unmitigated sense of wonder and curiosity about the world.
I’d love to end this essay with a prescription on how you can start to see the world anew and begin to find it a rich and fulfilling place to be, but I do not know how to travel that road. I’m still trying to get back to Santa Fe.
So, instead, I will leave you with three questions:
- What would happen if you didn’t need to go on vacation to see the world afresh?
- What would happen if you could see the extraordinary in the ordinary?
- What would happen if you dared to dream up incredible ideas?
Beneath the surface of the quotidian, there is magic. But to discover it, you have to surrender your constrained adult mind and psychically return to the indefatigable curiosity possessed by the child you once were.
Everywhere you turn, the world is trying to make you conform, behave properly, and be as simple-minded as possible. But at every moment, you still have the freedom to turn your familiar world into something extraordinary by cultivating a fresh perspective about yourself, your life, your world.