confused woman

Have you ever had a relationship end suddenly, unaware that your partner was unhappy? Have you looked in the mirror and wondered what happened to your health? You may have forgotten how long it has been since you last spoke to your family? It easy to lose sight of what is important. Life is busy, demanding and at times confusing. We can become lost, disconnected and forget what matters.

Our ability to lose sight of the essential things in life is a common tendency in modern society. The importance of awareness in our lives was famously highlighted by renowned author David Foster Wallace. In a 2005 commencement speech to graduates of Kenyon College in the USA, Foster Wallace used the following scenario to convey his messages about life:

Two young fish are swimming along and come across and older fish who is swimming the other way. The older fish nods at the younger fish and turn towards them, saying “Morning boys, how’s the water?”. The two younger fish continue to swim on puzzled by what the older fish has said. Confused, one of the younger fish turns to the other and says “What the hell is water?!”.

fish in water

The simple scenario presented by Foster Wallace offers incredible insights into life. It proposes that sometimes the most obvious and important things in life are right in front of us. Despite this knowledge being available, people often find that the most apparent and central realities are the hardest to see and discuss. While seeming simple, at times it is the total obvious that we neglect to speak about.

Our tendency to miss the obvious can often be attributed to the inclination to be self-centred and self-absorbed. We become so focused on ourselves that we forget what is of importance. We are self-absorbed to the point of blindness, focused on everything, yet nothing at the same time. The things that we often ignore, avoid, or take for granted, are most commonly those that matter. We look for reasons to support our beliefs and place to much power on the external environment. We perceive that our happiness is dependent on matters outside of our control, making little effort to examine or correct things in our lives.

This is evident when we stay jobs that we are dissatisfied, feeling that we have no choices or that it is too difficult to leave. A lack of awareness can prevent us from seeing unhappiness in our relationships, instead spending our time distracted through sources such as television. While, eating for comfort and temporary happiness may result in us ignoring the warning signs that our health is deteriorating.

We must ask ourselves, what are the obvious things, the ones that are right in front on us that we failing to see? It may be in relationships, finances, work, health, friendships, or any of the other areas in our lives.

To overcome the tendency to miss the obvious, our focus needs to shift from self-absorption to awareness of the present. We need to step outside of our own wants, desires or beliefs. If we are consumed by these things, we are never able to be present in life, instead our bodies are present in a situation, yet our minds are somewhere else. We need to develop the ability to see what is right in front of us, what is occurring for us and others on a given day. How often do you take a moment to stop and breath, to ask someone how they are, to step outside in the sun, or just observe life?  Take the time to develop simple awareness, an awareness that observes the essentials and the learning that is hidden in plain sight. We look properly and ask the right questions, the answers can be right in front on us.

What is your water? What is the thing in your life that you have been unable to see?