SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
March 01, 2020
Looking vs. Seeing: Appreciation is Active
At anchor, Kaiarara Harbour, Aotea Great Barrier Island
Though I would not consider myself a negative person, I would be lying if I said the label hadn’t been slapped upon me from time to time. Believe me when I say that I have made significant attempts to improve my “negative aura,” which is why I have—to this day—filled out every single page of the daily positivity journal my mother gifted me for the New Year.
When I embarked on this rather atypical study abroad experience I was coming off of a pretty rough year. I had just spent an entire summer by myself in Boston and returned to school with the hopes of improving my general mood, only to encounter a slew of health problems and—yet again—a disappointing and unfulfilling artistic experience at the School of Theatre. Essentially, for me, setting sail meant abandoning the failure and misery I had experienced in the dismal environment that is Boston, Massachusetts. (Looking at it now, maybe the daily positivity journal was a good idea.)
Needless to say, sailing provided the opportunity to relieve my heart of malice and afford myself a plethora of memories worth appreciation. Fortunately for me, I think it might be working! My mood is better than it’s been in years, and I’ve engaged in some noteworthy introspection that has left my mind feeling rejuvenated and relieved. I have seen more impossible marvels in the short time I’ve spent on this trip than I can count on both hands. Ranging from midnight bioluminescence, to wild dolphins,to a sky full of stars I didn’t even know existed. I speak truthfully when I say: the things I have seen here are nothing short of remarkable.
Upon witnessing so many incredible and extraordinary wonders these past few weeks, I have stumbled upon an interesting observation. It seems that the human experience—adaptive as it is—builds up a sort of tolerance to the spectacular amazements of the universe. Believe me when I say: I deleted all of my social media, and swore off communication with a vast majority of my friends before embarking on this journey, because I truly wanted to turn my attention outward in order to appreciate the natural wonder of Planet Earth. Though I don’t think my efforts to wane off distraction were entirely in vain, I will say that merely eliminating distraction is simply not enough. I still find myself taking for granted the natural beauty that I encounter, literally, every single day.
My initial response to this observation was frustration, but my second response was curiosity. Why is it that when I completely remove modern technological distraction from my life, and simultaneously place myself in an environment replete with once in a lifetime opportunities, I still find myself taking my situation for granted? After probably 20 minutes of drifting into space, lamenting my inability to manifest any gratitude within my life, I arrived at the answer to my dilemma: appreciation is active.
Prior to this adventure, I had perceived appreciation as something that happens to us. We encounter some extraordinary stimulus and are overwhelmed to the point of gratitude. I do believe this is true in outstanding circumstances, however when these outstanding circumstances become routine, the whole experience can fall into the monotony of familiarity. In order to thwart this harsh reality we must turn appreciation into something active. It must not be something that happens to us, but something we actively do.
There is no clearer example of this idea manifesting into reality than when I reached the top of the ship’s foremast (AKA “trucking the mast”) a few days ago. Though the trek to the top was slightly physically demanding and sufficiently terrifying, the views from the top of the mast simply cannot be beat. I spent about an hour and a half on the foremast looking out at a completely empty ocean, actively appreciating the moment surrounding me. This type of appreciation can be turned on actively by the psyche. Whether looking at vast expanse of an open ocean, or a small laboratory bucket filled with the tiniest squiggly-wigglies, there truly is a beauty in every moment. Not every painting needs to be a mural, and not every song needs to be a symphony. There is a subtle magic to the simple things.
The problem with eyes is that though they force us to look they rarely invite us to see. Yes, we may be looking out at the world around us, but are we really seeing anything? Are we really taking in a fully sensorial experience of the rare and fleeting phenomena that is: life as we know it? In my experience the answer has often been no, and I owe it to the ocean for giving me the chance to change that.
- Ashby Gentry