Tiny pinecones, Where’s Waldo and training myself to see

by Alice Dommert
December 1, 2019

Tiny Pine Cones

Often this odd assembly of objects, experiences and ideas begin to swirl around each other in my Alice in Wonderland mind. They seem to group in threes. This recent assembly included the search for tiny pine cones on a morning walk, the Where’s Waldo books and training myself to see.

It began with the tiny pine cones. Each morning I go for a walk on the same path in the woods near my home. Often when I enter the woods I am distracted in thought and then something catches my eye—a colorful leaf, a mushroom, a bird, the markings on a tree trunk.

Sometimes whatever catches my eye is there only for a flash. Sometimes I realized it’s something I have walked passed many times. The tiny pine cones caught my attention and my delight. I smiled as I remembered making fairy houses on walks in the woods with my children. At first, I saw just one. Then one more. I picked them up and tucked them into my pocket.

The next day when I came to that spot, as if on autopilot I felt that same surge of delight. I began to look for more tiny pine cones. I bent down and got closer to the ground. I looked under leaves. And I found quite a few more than I had the day before. The following day it was as if I had special pine-cone-seeking googles. Even before I got close to the spot, or bent down, they seemed to pop out against the grass. I returned with both coat pockets full of pine cones.

Where’s Waldo

The memory of the Where’s Waldo books had begun a few days earlier with the cold weather and one of my favorite long-sleeved shirts. It has bold red and white stripes like Waldo wears. In the Where’s Waldo books, Waldo in his red-striped shirt is hidden among all kinds of different scenes—the city, the beach, the ski slopes and the zoo.

When my children and I would read the book on the first page we would search and search, almost convinced that Waldo was nowhere to be found. Then we’d spot him. On the next page, it was easier. Page by page it was as if we were training our eyes to “see” Waldo.

So what was happening? Were fairies coming out each night to leave more tiny pines cones for me? Were the stripes on Waldo’s shirt bigger and bolder in each subsequent page so he was easier for us to find? Not likely.

This phenomenon has a name, it’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon also known as frequency illusion or recency illusion. This is what was happening for me as I looked for pine cones and my children and I searched for Waldo. It’s what happens when a thing you’ve just noticed, experienced or been told about suddenly seems to be popping up everywhere.

Positive Emotions And Rewiring My Brain

When I found the first pine cone it felt good. I experienced joy as the discovery and feel of that pine cone in the palm of my hand connected to positive emotions from a joyful memory. The next day, just being in that place, on that path, at that time of day, I was triggered (in a good way) to seek out that same experience of positive emotions, to find more pine comes, to feel that joy again. In repeating the act of looking for the pine cones I was also honing my ability to see them and rewiring some of my brain connections.

Then it dawned on me. This is what I’ve learned to do with life. Often this training of looking, seeking and finding certain things in life is something we do with little awareness. It starts with a set of beliefs and a mindset constructed day-by-day through repeated actions and thought patterns.

My own beliefs were built upon the roles I was playing. We all play roles, the victim, the taskmaster and many others. I had trained myself to look for and see the things in life that would validate the “rightness” of my roles, my beliefs, my mindset. I thought feeling right would feel so good. It rarely did. It was the opposite. Being right was exhausting and I felt disconnected and disappointed, over and over again.

With my fatigue, the steadiness and surety of my roles, beliefs and mindset began to quiver. It took me a while to get honest and real with myself. It was heartbreaking and old fears bubbled up that were scary and terribly disruptive. It was not the house or the life I thought I had built. It was not the house, or the life, where I wanted to live

Maybe it was not that others were disappointing me, but that I was disappointing myself? Maybe I did have a role in how my life unfolded? Could I own that I was looking at and seeing life in a certain way? I decided that exploring this discovery in the same physical spaces and routines of my daily life would not be easy. I wanted a new place, a new environment, a new perspective.

Shaking It Up In A New Place

Travel does that for me. It shakes me up and down, side-to-side and even upside down where all the contents of my pockets, and life, tumble to the ground. A new level of awareness bursts forth to navigate the new physical geographies I encounter. Along with this physical navigation comes the feeling of spring arriving in the landscapes where “I grow ideas in the garden of my mind” as Mister Rodgers would say.

When I first visited Costa Rica in 2015 the stimulus of the beauty and power of nature was like a tornado clearing my mind and all my senses of the dust of my old patterns. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes, the entire sensory experience was as if I were being blown sparkling clean and getting rebooted at the same time. Every day I ate delicious healthy food, practiced yoga, had time to rest and connect with others. I felt unrushed and present in ways I’d never experienced before.

Clarity emerged around things that had been buzzing in my head for months along with new ah’s and insights.

When you experience even a sliver of clarity, a sliver of understanding and feeling a new way of being, it is the toehold needed to make that a new and supportive pattern in your life.

I did not realize it at the time but in that week, in that place, with those guides, I was training myself in new habits of body and mind, learning what was possible, really feeling what was possible.

This was the training ground for a new vision of what I wanted to look for, and find in my life. I could see the new house, the kind of life, I wanted to build.

The Right Guides And New Training

As I was looking for those pine cones and honing my vision to see them, I remembered just how much my vision has shifted since that time. I did not do it alone, no one ever does. I have been lucky to be a student of some of the very best guides who sensed my aspirations to grow.

They helped me engage my body and mind in new habits of actions and thinking patterns. They helped me up when I stumbled, brushed me off and reoriented me back to my own unique North Star. They believed in me. Most importantly they showed me how to be a real and delightfully imperfect human being.

With their help I’ve learned how to look for and see within every environment, every red-striped Waldo shirt and every tiny pine cone, life’s always present shimmering moments of wonder, beauty and delight.

This week as we move into the last month of the year here are a few things to think about.

What places help you to discover new ways to see?

Who are your guides providing new training and accompanying you along your way?

Which everyday practices help you stay oriented to your own unique North Star?

If you are ready to explore a new place with some new guides, join us to Train to Thrive on our Wholebeing Journey in Costa Rica, May 2020.

Alice Dommert

Alice Dommert

Founder, Wholebeing Architect

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