aperture of life (mini-📝 21/100)

Today started off as a pretty shitty day. I haven’t been this thrown off from my baseline in a while. I woke up to find out that our apartment storage unit had been broken into and my new road bike stolen :/ (side note is that it seems like i’m unfortunately making an annual habit of getting money scammed/stolen from me..?)

In photography, aperture is the description of how open the lens of the camera is. The larger the aperture, the more light the camera takes in and vice versa.

In life, we constantly adjust our aperture depending on how we’re feeling and where we are. We oscillate between a small aperture, obsessing over one event that made us upset, and a large one, contemplating the entire meaning of our very existence. When things shake us significantly out of our baseline state of happiness (either positively or negatively), it’s easy to narrow in to focus just on that event. In the case of a bad event (say a bike getting stolen), it’s natural to want to obsess over it, to rage against the unfairness of the world or break down all the things you could’ve done differently to prevent it. When something good happens, you might expect that you should obsess over it and fully enjoy it, but obsessing over it is very different from being fully present to enjoy it. If you close your focus to just the event, it’s easy to start to compare everything in your life to this perfect moment, to constantly be disappointed by the imperfections and bumps of daily life. You’ll find an urge to try to optimize all parts of life for this level of happiness, to extinguish any potential for disappointment or failure or rejection.

Both mindsets taken to the extreme lead to a scarcity mindset towards the world and ultimately disconnecting from the world and its surrounding community. Whether you are raging against all the things in the world that you can’t control or shielding yourself from all the bad things in the world that you can’t account for, both attitudes are one of nonacceptance of reality and of the nature of life itself.

The solution is to broaden the aperture of life. I originally heard about this concept from Dustin Yellin, an amazing, mind-bending artist, in his interview on the Tim Ferris Show, where he talks about his methods to increase the aperture of life. He describes increasing aperture in life as crucial to how he finds continual inspiration for his work. By taking in more of life and the surrounding, you start to see all the infinite detail that life contains (from the patterns on a leaf, to the layout of cities, to the sensation of a breeze on your body). When you widen your aperture to take in all of this texture, how can you be caught up in a bad event or the perfection of a memory? In the face of such infinite beauty and definition all around you, it feels silly to inhabit a mindset of scarcity. Yellin talks about some ways he’s utilized to widen his aperture, including psychedelics, meditation, nature, and people).

One thing I never learn is that I need to widen my aperture when I get stuck on something narrow. My natural instinct is to push through the mud, to invest effort until the wall in front of me bends to my will, when a lot of the time I just need some time away from the narrow frame to re-orient my focus. When I catch myself obsessing over a bad outcome or daydreaming over a more perfect situation, I need to reset the camera and remember the incomprehensible amount of things in the present that I have to be grateful for and to enjoy in the now.

I think pessimists often have a very narrow aperture. They focus on the specific things that could go wrong and convert that judgment into a judgment of the whole, rather than absorbing the world that the idea presents. I prefer a life of abundance over one of scarcity. One of infinite games rather than finite, zero-sum ones. And one of runs outside along the waterfront, soaking in the warm sun and the frigid wind, the ambient chatter and the screaming cars, one of embracing the pleasant and the not so pleasant rather than one of sitting inside brooding over my lost bike and the memories it entails.

To widening my aperture and appreciating ever more of life’s infinite beauty and intricacy.

a view I was appreciative of during my afternoon run along Embarcadero.

This is the 21st installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here or view my evergreen, longer pieces on my website.