Finding inspiration: the familiar vs. the unfamiliar

You’ve just sat down at an inlet – the sort of place where it’d be good to fish, where the water is calm, where a fish would like to turn off from the current to rest. The water is pure and clear, and so long as there’s no glare, not a sunken leaf or wandering crawdad is obscured. You sit yourself down, rolling up your pants to dip your feet into the shallows, and as your toes reach the bottom you notice all the nuances of the riverbed: its soft texture, its earthy color, a myriad of rocks of different hues and shapes. For a while you sit and think, renewed by the realization of the subtleties, until you slowly become aware of your stillness, and try as you may, you begin to have the urge to drag your feet through the mud on the riverbed.

What was at first an urge transforms into an action, and before you know it the clarity of the water has been replaced with a a static, unappealing brown pool with no visibility of what is under, but you keep stirring it up. Lost a little in the change, it’s not long before your perception shifts from trying to see the bottom to noticing the surface – the reflections.

The underbelly of a canopy tree appears to the left, rattling in a midday breeze, and you notice the clouds in migration through an otherwise blue sky, until finally you see your own reflection; your face closer to the water for clarity of the mirrored world. For a time you sit like this, dragging fingertips across your rippling face, distorting your perception of self, only to have it reappear as it was. After what seems at the time like an endless moment, the debris of your restlessness has settled, and you’re content again in stillness. What’s different now from before is that you are now able to recognize both aspects – the depths and the reflections – so you can shift your gaze to see both. Human minds work in cycles though, and at some point you’ll be back at the river. But things will have changed in the riverbed, and you’ll get reacquainted with them until you find yourself needing a change, so you’ll drag your feet through the mud as a distraction.

The familiar is the place where one puts their feet, and looks at all the nuances, while the unfamiliar is where one goes to be reminded of their scale in the world, to have it turned upside down, and to distort their self-perception only to see it formed again before their eyes. In this way it’s possible to find boundless inspiration; cycling always been a state of calm, and exploration.

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