Amy's Whimsical Musings

Treading on Dreams: The Art of the #lookdown

Stephen Hawking has just recently passed away, and we are reminded of his quote:

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet…Be curious”

I often wonder whether he nicked that idea from the “Father of Roman poetry Quintus Ennius:

“No one regards what is before his feet; we all gaze at the stars”

With all due respect, I’d have to challenge these gentlemen. As much as I find it important to #lookup (I have an entire series of Instagram photos tagged with this), being in a perpetual state of wonder means scoping out all directions, even those oft neglected ones upon which we tread. And I want to be in a perpetual state of wonder because that’s how I grow in my creativity.

Part of my #lookup series, taken in Honolulu

I speak about “Wonder Walks” a lot as I present about cultivating a creative mindset. At times you might have a purpose, and these are superb pedagogical strategies for inquiry-based learning experiences. Check out the work Dr. Gillian Judson is doing with her #walkingcurriculumMy friend Honoria Starbuck the “teaching artist” takes her university students on wonder walks for inspiration:


However, you can get it wrong, even with the best intentions. Many of us were appalled at this worksheet @matt_karlsen posted, dubbing it the “disimagination machine”:

My comment was:

Why squash the opportunity for a child to sketch what he sees- like, you know, DA VINCI? And this is so limiting – they’ll miss other cool things of wonder if they’re focused on finding these “right answers”…

A big part of creativity is being able to really notice something – to take it in  and internalize it. National Geographic “explorer-in-residence” (how is that for a title?) Sylvia Earle muses:

“Look at the bark of a redwood, and you see moss. If you peer beneath the bits and pieces of the moss, you’ll see toads, small insects, a whole host of life that prospers in that miniature environment. A lumberman will look at a forest and see so many board feet of lumber. I see a living city”

How do we get from being a lumberman, blinded by the task he’s fixated upon, to an explorer who can spot a living city in the forest?

Taken in Whistler, B.C. Canada

We inhabit a hurried paced world, where multi-tasking (if that’s even possible) and our propensity for productivity tear away at our ability to live in the moment and relish our surroundings…the smile lines around the weary cornflower blue eyes of the grandmother on the train…the way the light floods just so into elegant beams across the afternoon floor….the sixty different shades of moss on that rock wall you pass by on your way to school.

I thought this could be a metaphor for something

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why” – Eddie Cantor

Although I’m a naturally observant girl even during the daily grind (in fact, people are often annoyed when I pause to take a photo of some seemingly insignificant piece of scenery), it’s when I travel and wander alone that I really feel as sense of freedom to find the Wow in the Now. I take Franz Kafka’s description to heart:

“The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll ecstasy at your feet”

Recently on a trip to Vancouver, Canada and Australia I decided to make a point of archiving some of the magnificent surfaces beneath my boots, and entitled the series #thesebootsaremadeforwalking.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” – Henry David Thoreau

I even wrapped it up with one last shot at the Honolulu airport as I returned home from my journey…can you tell which photo that is?

There is actually a very cool Instagram tag :#ihavethisthingwithfloors if you are interested in other travellers’ moments under feet.

Perhaps my favourite “catch” happened in a little suburban street in a quiet neighbourhood in Vancouver…it was ironically raining, too.

Tied with that is a little guy I almost missed in Melbourne put there by a cheeky street artist:

I hope you will take some time…even if just a few moments on your daily to’s and fro’s…to #lookdown. You never know when you might find something dreamy, like this “twisted unicorn” I spotted in Canberra.

“…I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” – William Butler Yeats





3 comments on “Treading on Dreams: The Art of the #lookdown

  1. David Theriault
    April 30, 2018

    Lovely read. As usual. Thank you.

  2. aarondavis1
    May 5, 2018

    It is fascinating to think about this idea Amy, having been in the middle of a conversation when you spotted your unicorn:


    I had a similar experience with Alan Levine when I met up with him in Melbourne:

    “Pick Your Lift” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0

    Having followed both of your work for some time, it was intriguing to see it all unfold serendipitously in real time.

    In part I guess this falls under the wider notion of transparency, yet is somehow different. It is the context that often sits outside of the page (or post). Rather than worrying about which ‘tool’ the artist uses, it provides an insight into the life of the artist.

    When I think about my own habits, I feel I am curious when it comes to the digital world, but could be more open to the physical world. For example, I recently discovered an initiative via Ian O’Byrne where trees in Melbourne are assigned an email address. To be fair, I love to go walking, but am often to busy in thought to notice the thriving world around me, let alone at my feet. This initiative at least helped call that out.

    I found this the best thing about your sessions in Canberra. It is almost as if they provide ‘permission’ to somehow let go and be curious.

    Maybe like Adrian Camm’s ‘permission to innovate’:

    Maybe you could give out literal permission to be curious cards?

    • amyburvall
      May 5, 2018

      OMG I lOVE that idea! Maybe even “Reminder to be whimsical” cards! Might design them today! Thanks for all these comments and links…fascinating about the trees.

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