Want More Out of Life? Look Up!

About Bobbi Emel

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life's significant challenges and regain their resiliency. Download her free ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life's ups and downs. You can find her blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The other day while waiting for a show to start in an auditorium, I noticed that just about everyone in the audience was looking down. Usually at their phones.

When I walk on the street, I see the same thing. People looking down. At the sidewalk. At their phones.

I do it, too.

But I’ve been trying to do it less and here’s why.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop that was facilitated by an Ojibwa medicine man. He told a story about a walk he took in the woods. He was plodding along, head down, lost in his thoughts, when he heard a voice say, “Look up!”

He turned to see the source of the voice but couldn’t find it. Figuring it was one of his spiritual guides, he decided he had better look up.

He didn’t see anything miraculous. But he did see the sun as it came through the tree branches, the squirrels in play high overhead, leaping from limb to limb, and the intricate patterns the lacy leaves made to form a canopy over him.

I’ve never seen anything miraculous, either. But I have always valued what I learned so long ago from that medicine man. And I try to remember to look up occasionally. Here is what happens for me, and what will happen for you, too, when you start looking up.

1. Getting out of your head.
As we all know and have experienced, we spend a lot of time in our heads. We have to think a lot on our jobs and as we go about our day.

But sometimes we get trapped in our heads, too. So, as we’re walking along looking down, we’re thinking, thinking, thinking.

Thinking about work. Thinking about what to have for dinner. Thinking about the fight you had with your spouse.

Doing something different, something as simple as looking up, breaks this thinking pattern. It gets you out of your head and into the world around you as you see things you hadn’t noticed before.

The interesting piece of architecture high on the outcropping of that building. The way the birds rock slightly to keep their balance on that thin wire above you. The silver-white track that airplane leaves against the blue sky.

Suddenly, you’re not in your head anymore. You’re not worried about the future or regretful about the past, you’re right here, right now, in this moment.

Wow, you never knew your head was so confining, did you?

2. Widening your focus.
I can tell when I am doing it.

I’m walking along, looking at where my foot is going to land next, and I’m stuck.

I’m locked into some thought and that’s all that is happening in my world. That thought.

My focus is so narrow that I’m oblivious to anything else.

But I’ve trained myself now to catch myself when I’m doing this. I notice my shallow breathing and my head at a certain angle and it cues me that I’m doing it again. I’m physically looking down and in a mental tunnel of my own making.

As I catch myself, I take a deep breath in and raise my head to look up.

Again, there’s no miracle. No writing in the sky that solves the problem I’ve been thinking about. But it does widen my focus.

As I see an ordinary white cloud and notice that, really, those edges are quite pretty, I’m reminded that the world is a big, open place.

And so is life.

I become aware of how narrow my focus has been and realize that, like that ordinary cloud, there may be something else to my problem, perhaps a pretty edge I’ve never noticed before.

3. Remembering that there is always more.
Looking up, I am reminded that there is more.

More than just the pavement in front of me, the problem in my head, or even my life as it is now.

As I look up and notice cobwebs in the corner and leaves swirling in the breeze and the brightly colored shirt someone is drying on their apartment balcony high overhead, I realize that there is always more.

More opportunities in front of me, more chances to do good in the world, more time to take a deep breath and feel the air whoosh into my lungs.

Instead of being stuck in the rut of my own patterns where less-ness prevails, I see that the world has more than I ever thought it did and so I must have more, too. And that brings me joy.

What will you find when you look up?

Some Amazing Comments

comments

Comments

  1. I always used to look up during prayers in school assembly for similar reasons, but frequently got in trouble for doing so. When they are praying most people look down – but that means they are looking into entirely the wrong place!!! So I kept looking up regardless of what the teachers said, and I still do so 40 years later, especially when I am praying. A great article Bobbi. Thank you! :)

  2. This is a different perspective. I guess the idea is on widening your view of life so you can recognize more opportunities. This is what this article just did for me
    Moyo recently posted..What to do when you are not motivated

  3. I just tried this and immediately felt a shift of new perspective. You are right, we do tend to get lost in a narrow tunnel of thoughts when we are “looking down.” I love that this lesson came from a medicine man, too.
    Patti recently posted..The Little Gratitude Journal Has Powerful Benefits

  4. I love your site I always do a copy, paste and print to share your knowledge and words of wisdom with my clients and family members!!

  5. It’s a good thing there are some easy ways to make this happen naturally (e.g. positivity, meditation, etc…), otherwise I’d probably be stuck in my head, looking down, most of the time.

  6. I enjoyed the post about “Looking up”. I think it is sad that so many folk walk around with their heads down, it is bound to internalise their experience. Eye accessing used in NLP indicates that looking down triggers internal dialogue and the kinaesthetic centres. Looking up accesses visual experiences, memories to one side and future construct to the other. When I was working in Mental health it was very clear that folk who were suffering depression would keep their gaze on the ground. Encouraging them to look at something on the ceiling or horizon while introducing new concepts seemed to help folk to be more open to consideration.
    Going outside, or even standing at an open window, early in the morning; gazing at the sky, observing birds and clouds; taking some deep breaths , watch a spider in a dew-bespangled web or many other “little magics” helps the day begin on a positive note. Despite all the sadness and trouble in the world, there are still many “Little Magics”- seek them out and remember them. Loving thoughts to you all……Jenny.

  7. Love the post. I spend time on my terrace every evening, watching the changing skies and imagining all sorts of things. I also feel good, thinking that all the people I know across the world can also see the same skies and feel a deep sense of connection.

    I read somewhere that raising our arms with our fingers pointing up is an instant way to “up” our mood.

    So good to see you here, Bobbi!

    Thanks, Steve!

    Love, Vidya
    Vidya Sury recently posted..Book Review: The Shadow Throne

  8. I like the idea of this post. That we should get out of our heads and embrace everything that is around us. I am guilty of this sometimes myself when I walk down the road, but when I focus on the small things around me, I suddenly feel more relaxed.
    jamie flexman recently posted..Why You Deserve Everything You Get

  9. Bobbi, what a simple act to relieve the pressure that I feel (and I bring on myself)! It makes me sad that everyone looks down at a phone these days cut off from everyone and everything around us. Thanks for the reminder how easy it is to relieve the pressure and worry of life just by looking up – great post! =)
    Melissa Curran recently posted..Moving My Happy

  10. Great story and advice Bobbi. I have been someone who has always walked with my head facing down. Until recently I discovered it was because
    I was scared or fearful of making eye contact with strangers in case they wanted to say something to me? I subconsciously wanted avoid meeting new people for fear of rejection.

    Now having come to realise that I want to help others, I need to be looking ahead and up in order to be open to opportunities.

    Great story & so good to hear there are others who have gone through similar things and overcome them.

    Paul
    Paul recently posted..Personal Development

  11. I love this! Bobbi, you’ve put words to what I’ve been doing subconsciously. When I’ve been in front of the computer or in my head for too long, I ache to get outside. We live in the woods so walks are hikes. I frequently catch myself looking down and remind myself of everything I’m missing by having such a narrow focus. I usually have to stop to look up (otherwise I’d trip over rocks, branches and stumps). As soon as I look up and take in the views and beauty that surround me, I find myself saying, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” to the Universe for all the amazing things that make up where I live. This totally helps me to relax and be in the moment.
    Paige | simple mindfulness recently posted..6 Simple Steps to Create Your Meditation Habit – Finally

    • Yes! Isn’t that just it, Paige! I feel that same way when I look up walking down a street in the city. It’s like John said above, it’s a sense of relief when we widen our focus so much that we actually encompass what’s above us, too.
      Bobbi Emel recently posted..How to stop worrying

  12. I was prompted to write on this very subject this week too! I was working with a client who had been doing depression for a long time. She was so out of practice of looking up, that when I asked her to do so, she got dizzy. Her homework this week, is to take it gently and practice one small blink at a time. It makes such a huge difference and is so simple!
    Jackie Walker recently posted..Would you look up a kilt if it made you feel better?

  13. John, I agree with you: I feel a sense of relief, too, when I remember to get out of my head and look up.
    Bobbi Emel recently posted..How to stop worrying

  14. John Bulmer says:

    Bobbi

    This is a great post. I am out every day with my dogs going for a walk. For most of the walk the head is down, the eyes are focused and I am lost in my mind. Occaissionally the senses take over and I do as you suggest – I tilt my head up, unfocus my eyes and see what is about. The relief is rather magical.

    It is nice to read these words and be able to correlate them to my own experiences. It will be easier to recognize the trapped and focussed feeling because of these words. I am a seer, and I miss opportunities when the focus overrules the desire to see.

    Thanks

    jb

  15. Hi Bobbi,

    It’s really good to see you here. I’ve caught you “around town” as they say. Great post and advice. I love to look up so much I sometimes have to remind myself to watch where I’m going! ha!

    But, I do forget to breathe deeply. That’s a biggie for me. Just as we bring things into our souls by looking, we can do the same by consciously breathing.

    I also try “whole body” thinking. i catch myself thinking that thought is just in my mind/head. But our receptors and nerves and awareness is throughout our entire body.

    Good stuff, Bobbi, thanks and congrats for being here!

    Carmelo
    Carmelo recently posted..WELCOME TO CRITTER WISDOM

  16. Hi Bobbi,
    Such a simple thing that changes our perspective a lot.
    This post made me realize that I am always looking up when I feel happy and content.
    In nature looking up to the tops of the trees or the clouds floating by.
    If I am having a romantic meal at a restaurant I tend to look up at the ceiling and surrounds to take in the atmosphere.
    Otherwise I have my head down thinking.
    Priska recently posted..Your brain won’t retire if you give it a rewire.

  17. I loved this article…

    It’s such a simple thing but yet it’s so true that many of us continue to be locked away in our heads.

    I too, can put my hand up for one of those people that are constantly on the phone! :) Thanks for the reminder ;D!
    Brendan Baker recently posted..Get Busy Being Happy! The Benefits of Being Busy

  18. Hi Bobbi,

    I’ve been guilty of walking around with my head lowered, shutting out the world. I bet a lot of us are familiar with the feel of that posture–head bowed down by the weight of our own thoughts.

    I know, too, that it doesn’t take too much to step out of that. Looking up at the sky is a wonderful way to connect with spaciousness, and just noticing things around us helps, too.(I liked Justin’s ‘name 10 things’ suggestion)

    The title of your post would make a wonderful note to stick up on my laptop. That’s where I most need the reminder!
    Dave Rowley recently posted..a brief history of trees

  19. I love looking up… literally we live out of town and looking up allows you to clearly see the wonders of the night skies. It definitely puts into prospective the bigger picture of the universe.
    Lori Lynn Smith recently posted..Can you really give yourself a good Massage?

  20. Getting out of my head….I definitely need to do that. Right now would be the perfect time to begin.

    Great post, Bobbi :-)
    Dolly Garland recently posted..Becoming A Polymath – My Personal Challenge

  21. Hi Bobbi

    I wanted to welcome you to CYT and to thank you for writing a great article, a reminder that we need I think. I totally connected with ‘Getting out of your head…’ I spend a lot of my time there :)

    Thanks again Bobbi, I appreciate you writing for us.

  22. Justin,

    That’s a great idea about actually naming 10 things you see. I often encourage my clients to use their senses to ground themselves, but I really like the act of intentionally naming things. Thanks so much for the idea!
    Bobbi Emel recently posted..How to stop worrying

  23. Hi Bobbi,
    I am guilty of it too. I have a natural tendency to spend way too much time in my head too. I definitely recommend taking nature walks and just being in the present moment.

    One thing I do to ground myself in the present moment is to name 10 things I see with my eyes. It really helps to bring about present awareness.
    Justin Mazza recently posted..Camping with Bigfoot

    • Hey Justin,

      I dig your strategy to name 10 things you see with your eyes. My two year old son does this all the time with a sense of wonder and pleasure. Seems like adults can do it too and get something out of it.

      Bobbi,

      As I type this, I’m looking up from my laptop to search for friends walking by. I’ve camped out in downtown Minneapolis for the day – my old corporate job stomping grounds – having “office hours” where people can come find me outside a coffee shop. But where I’m sitting has a bit of a blind spot for the people approaching and I don’t want to miss them. So looking up has been my goal even before I read this today. And now that I’ve read it, I plan to spend some time looking up before looking back at this screen.
      Joel Zaslofsky recently posted..Why You Can’t Steal My Thunder and How to Create an Unlimited Supply

      • Hey Joel,

        Love your “office hours.”

        Make sure to look WAY up, too. What is in the sky? What is directly above you?

        Looking up is a great way to get out of the confines of your computer screen.

        Still, I’m glad you are looking at it so I could hear from you!
        Bobbi Emel recently posted..How to stop worrying

  24. Bobbi, it seems like this post was for me this morning. A short night and too many things that make my head spins made me anxious and a pain for my family. After dropping my children to school I went home (I work at home), stepped out of my car and listened to the birds that were signing while enjoying my English walnut tree as food and shelter. I did look up just before starting my day at the computer and then I read your article. Serendipity. Thank you; this will stay with me for a long long time.

    • Thanks so much for sharing that story, Marie-Josee! You are finding what many of us who have posted here have found: a sense of relief and wonder when we widen our vision and look up and around a bit.

      I love the serendipity, too!
      Bobbi Emel recently posted..How to stop worrying

  25. Funny timing, I got out of the house today and took a morning ride with my SLR to do just what you are talking about. I have spent too much time in my head lately. On the computer, making plans… all of it in my head. This morning I drove to a sea marsh, got out with my camera, took a walk , and just looked. I tried not to think, just look. I took a few pictures and absorbed all that I could see. I accomplished all three of you points – got out of my head, widened my focus, and was reminded that there was more. Now if I can retain the lesson.

    Dan Garner
    ZenPresence.com recently posted..Lessons Learned

  26. Wonderful indeed!

    I liked the lessons you shared that you learnt from the medicine man. :)

    I guess there is a lot of positive energy when we look up. It’s almost like we are able to feel and connect to a higher level, we are able to embrace the goodness and energy around us.

    And like you rightly mentioned, when we look up our heads get so much more lighter because we are able to think beyond what goes within our head. I guess the clutter reduces and you have thoughts that are much more refined and clear.

    Thanks for sharing. :)
    Harleena Singh recently posted..How to Find Happiness in a Marriage

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