Are You Living Your Life With Blinkers On?

10/13/2011 07:27 pm ET | Updated Dec 13, 2011

Blinkers. Blinkered.

Just two words, you might think.

So why is your future is at stake?

Because wearing blinkers leads to being blinkered.

We put blinkers on a horse to focus its attention straight ahead. Blinkers screen out distractions and improve safety. Blinkers increase the speed with which we make progress to our destination.

Being blinkered, however, suggests our vision is limited and we are missing something important.

Why does this matter?

First, we are not horses and can focus just fine without limiting our perception.

Second, awareness -- our experiential "peripheral vision" -- is often the best way to find a life path.

Third, this is a life and death issue.


In spite of our humanity, we sometimes wear strategic blinkers to pursue our goals. We prize speed and efficiency, but we sacrifice awareness, intuition and flexibility. That's another way of saying we cramp our own style of living.

At the same time, we can blinker death out of our world view. Perhaps a little spooked by death's reputation for finality, we sacrifice all the life-enhancing understanding it can bring.

Mid-blog warning: If you are a horse or if you don't care about life and death, you may want to stop reading now as this probably doesn't pertain to you.

If, however, you are one of nearly 7 billion humanoid life-forms inhabiting this plant, you might want to think about two ideas.

"Everything's invented."

This comes from a wonderful book by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander called "The Art of Possibility."

The Zanders tell the story of the shoe factory that sends marketing scouts to Africa to check out an opportunity for new business.

One sends a message back: "Situation hopeless. No one wears shoes."

The other has a different view: "Glorious business opportunity. They have no shoes."

The point here is that the stories we tell -- influenced by the blinkers we wear -- define our approach to life as well as describe it.

Here is how the Zanders put it:

Every problem, every dilemma, every dead-end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view ... Create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear ... We do not mean that you can just make anything up and have it magically appear. We mean that you can shift the framework to one whose underlying assumptions allow for the conditions you desire.

The Zanders speak here of the power of personal narrative. The first step to opening up new possibilities is to lose the blinkers, set your own framework and tell your own story.

"Die Before You Die"

This comes from a remarkable book by Michael Meade called "Fate and Destiny -- The Two Agreements of the Soul." Though most people acknowledge that death is the ultimate destination, they put on their blinkers and look the other way. They do this out of fear, out of lack of understanding and because our current consumer-oriented culture finds no value in death -- except if you're an undertaker.

Meade suggests that death stands not at the end of human experience, but smack in the middle.

A healthy awareness of death makes the breath of life more pertinent, more immediate, and all the more precious. Death used to be called the great teacher of life; for in knowing something about death people came to value life more distinctly. The point of considering the role of death in life isn't to be morbid; rather, facing one's own mortality may help clarify one's role in life ... Life and death are deeply entwined with one constantly turning into each other. Each transformation in life requires a little death to be complete. In the big scheme and long sense of it, life leads to death and death secretly leads back to a renewal of life. That's the mystery that nature tries to reveal and fate and destiny depend upon. For those reasons people used to teach young folks about death, so that they might better understand the fateful and inevitable encounters that await them when they enter the marketplace of life, and so that they might better understand the imperative to become oneself.

No matter how compelling the focus or goal we might choose -- money, career, beauty, fame, even romantic love -- if we need blinkers to pursue it, we will limit our experience. And the thing most limited by the blinkered approach is the ability to ad lib, to adjust our plan according to new experience, to lead a full life.

We are marvels -- all of us. Our capacity for understanding, growth and problem-solving is deep and evolving. But to open the door to these possibilities we must first be aware that the door exists. To consider a new way, we may have to let an old approach die, sloughing off the old skin and letting a new one grow. As Meade writes, transformation often relies on these little deaths.

If that sounds like too big of a step, then why not take off those blinkers and examine them. Just for a moment. What assumptions come with them? What part of life do they limit?

But be careful. Questions often change our perception far more than anything else. Simply asking what your blinkers do for you can open new possibilities of understanding which can change how you see the role you play in life.

Our ancestors knew the truth well. Meaning and redemption come not from limiting what we see or experience, but from appreciating the whole.

I leave you with this poem I wrote:

Lungs, princes, planets
rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall.
All is made to continue
and the continuing is all.