Costa Rica Lesson #3 – Changing Perspective Through Changing Environments

In our world today, we’re almost always engaging with digital devices. So much so that I’m almost certain you will be reading these words on a digital screen (unless this blog is being read to you aloud), and perhaps on your smartphone screen.

I’ll admit that my phone is often with me, and perhaps I do check my apps a bit more often than is really necessary. Although I like to imagine that I can multitask by engaging with the world around me while also reading or watching something on a small screen in a virtual world at the same time, I noticed a marked difference in my attention when–by necessity–I had to keep my phone and its camera tucked away or turned off for portions of our Costa Rica trip. We were traveling in the jungle and on the water, and since we didn’t have WiFi in most of the places we were, there wasn’t any way to check my email.  Additionally, and as a fun throwback for us to use on our adventures, one of my daughters had bought us all disposable cameras prior to the trip so I had no “need” to use my phone. I soon realized that just by virtue of having to wait to see how the photos develop, a different energy evolved while taking them, making us pause to really appreciate the minute details of our surroundings before pressing “click”.

Time slowed down.  Being disconnected from our digital devices was part of the change, but our usual rhythms changed pretty dramatically too: we were up and out hiking by 7am – up and down hilly jungle paths for about ten miles of adventures each day. Palpably, within a day or so it felt as though we’d been away for weeks.  Being immersed in an environment that captured and required our full attention was part of the mental shift that changed our sense of time, as were the dramatic shifts in the visual landscape, the physical energy we exerted and the mental acuity required to tasks in the moment. Even our adjustment to the warm temperatures and the cold showers meant that our minds and our bodies needed to make adjustments. I found myself listening better to the sounds of howler monkeys warning one another that a puma was heading toward them, and birds awakening and alerting one another to good and available prey.

Howler monkey warning sounds.

The shifts and the attentional differences meant that while normally, I might have vacillated between being in my physical environment occasionally glancing at the more familiar scenery and checking my phone or being interrupted by a notification, I instead found myself giving my full attention to the terrain I was walking and what the guide was telling us so that we could be on the lookout and spot different animals. And perhaps not surprisingly, although on our first day, I had trouble seeing some of the animals until they were pointed out to me, by the end of our adventure, I was able to spot many of them for myself.  I became acutely aware of seeing branches move high up in the trees, and came to differentiate between the squirrel monkeys, the howler monkeys, the spider monkeys and the white-faced capuchins. We spent hours looking for and finding sloths, or perezosos, as we came to know them, and while doing so, were also treated to sightings of macaws and tapirs and coatis. 

So for me, Lesson #3 from our trip is that changing environments changes perspectives, and by changing perspectives we have the power to change conversations and even relationships.

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