“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust
This post is dedicated to my daughter who “got” Proust before she was twenty. I couldn’t get much further than the first sentence of “Swann’s Way” the first of seven volumes of “In Search Of Lost Time” (although, in my defence, the sentence was three pages long.)
I didn’t manage to read Proust’s novel(s) in English, let alone French, but with the help of my daughter I am better able than otherwise to enjoy and appreciate his (and her) reflections. As some wit remarked “they would rather visit demented relatives than read Proust”. I understand the sentiment and I am very lucky to have had some of his themes explained to me and discussed in contexts I understand.
Although memory, especially involuntary memory, is the main theme of Proust’s work, it is the idea that if we understand our life experiences and know how they affect us and change us, and we can use those changes to transform ourselves, that has me punching the air saying “yes!”
Now, I didn’t explain that very well, so I was really pleased to find this quote from Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.
I can apply that to so many of my experiences, from the traumatic to the seemingly trivial. And i think I can see how Proust spoke to my daughter. She was four when I damaged my spinal cord, and she adapted her life around whatever I could offer her. (As did my sons, and they too would probably “get” Proust if they ever decided to read his work.)
Some of my real voyages of discovery:
One of the most important lessons I have ever learned was after I lost my mobility – don’t let the things you can’t do stop you from doing the things you can do.
When my twin sons were babies I learnt that housework doesn’t matter. It will always be there, but your babies will grow up. (Or I needed to sleep more than I needed to vacuum.)
I learned that if I walked at the same pace as my toddlers we could all see the caterpillar in the grass.
Teenagers are extraordinarily receptive to exploring all sorts of ideas, from politics to ethics to science … They like to share their discoveries, and I learned to listen.
I learned that dreams come true, but my dream of walking has required determination, persistence and commitment. And creative thinking, by me or by others.
I have lots of art projects on the go all the time. I have learned that this is a good thing because something I read or hear or see adds to my experience and even the most subtle change can enlighten or inspire me to bring something more or different to what I am working on.
Writing focuses and clarifies my thinking, and often helps me look at issues from new perspectives.
I find myself wondering more and more how many opportunities I miss to learn about myself and others. This is not a bad thing. My mind is opening.
By expressing myself in art, no matter how skilled I am, I am translating to another medium an aspect of who I am and what I see. Art makes it easier to have new eyes.
I’ve also learned that those few words defining a real voyage of discovery have provoked me to think carefully about what “having new eyes” really means.