Enriching Exposure

One of my grand ambitions when I was younger was to build a lifestyle that would allow me to just sit around and read all day, if I wanted to do so.

I still experience a small thrill when I realize, today, I can generally set things aside and hunker down with a book until I’m ready to reascend to the surface of life.

There are tradeoffs associated with re-delegating hours to that sort of undertaking—engaging with someone else’s words, thoughts, stories, and ideas for extended periods of time—but it’s worth nudging work aside to become truly absorbed, sometimes, even if that nudged work will still need to be done later (and perhaps at a less convenient moment).

For me, soaking up a book—or anything else, really: longform articles, short stories, narrative-heavy video games, blogs about random passions—is like stepping into someone else’s mind for a moment, seeing the world through their eyes and relearning the shape of familiar things as translated through their experiences, knowledge, and biases.

That’s a gift, a treasure.

Like meandering around a place or thing or concept to take it in from different angles, seeing gaps and shadows and density and imperfections I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed (or been in the position to see) from the point-of-view I was born (and have grown) into.

My future standpoint is enriched by this exposure; you can’t unsee what you’ve perceived in this way, and that means simply becoming aware that other people see things differently nudges us toward a more expansive, three-dimensionalized awareness over time.

That doesn’t mean we like what we see or believe what we see or even value what we see, but we’re aware of it, integrating its possibilities into our heuristics and larger, interconnected sense of the world. We’re more conscious of the fact that though we’re living as if things are one way, other people view the world from another angle—that’s valuable, actionable, empathy-inducing context.

Travel, for me, serves a similar purpose as books. As does conversation, and even just hearing from folks I don’t know or barely know: strangers from the internet who are out there somewhere, living their own full lives, generously offering me a few moments of their time and a window into their world.

I encourage the people who engage with my work to write me, to tell me something about themselves, because that helps me broaden my range and sense of things the same as a good book or trip to an unfamiliar country.

I also try to stipple my life with novelty, randomness, and opportunity, while setting aside enough time and energy and resources that I can pursue the things that catch my attention, jump out at me, surprise me, or prove to be jarring enough that I suspect exploring them further would be beneficial to my long-term growth.

We all have different desires, tolerances, and capacities for these sorts of undertakings, but I tend to think this type of exposure is similar to the stresses and strains that break down our muscle tissue when we work out, setting the anatomical scene for stronger, tougher, more resilient regrowth.

Just as difficulty can stoke fortitude and grit and (importantly) an appreciation of previously overlooked and non-difficult everyday circumstances, subjecting ourselves to perspectives, ideas, and realities that jostle and stress and challenge our own can leave us at times a bit exhausted, but in the same way a challenging conversation that strengthens a friendship, exploring a city where we don’t speak the language, or reading a book that’s just a hair beyond our current capacity will tend to exhaust us.

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