Two fish and awareness

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?”  The two young fish say nothing.  The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

These are the words that David Foster Wallace used to begin the Commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

I find this a great short story.  How often do we find ourselves just going through the motions in life, missing out on what is really happening around us?

It is so typical to go through life in an unconscious mode.  We go about our daily routines, our 24 hours in a day, without really being aware of what is going on.  We can all relate to driving from one place to another and not remembering anything about the drive.  How about listening to someone speak or being in a meeting yet remembering almost nothing that was said later on?  Right now, they are painting the Dayton Marriott, but I can’t remember what the old color was even though I passed by it hundreds of times.  Might there be some person in our life that is looking for support, but we don’t see “the water”?

There is so much going on in the world around us, but we are in too much of a hurry to notice.  So that begs the question, What is your “water”?

The training I received at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland talked a lot about awareness.  The idea is that a coach’s role is to help the other person understand the “here and now”.  Only by grasping what is happening right here, right now, can we choose to make change.  This applies to life with or without a coach.  How often are our kids, our neighbors, our work colleagues or spouses trying to tell us something that we miss?  Heck, think about what WE try to tell OURSELVES and miss out on.  We are all besieged by a lot of messages and thoughts.  It is hard to understand where we are right now.  But it is critical for success, happiness and piece of mind.

Wallace in his speech talks about how we need to be “conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience“.  We are all capable of “constructing meaning from experience”.  Sometimes we feel like the world is against us, for example, when we are in the “slow” line.  More often we ascribe no meaning to things that happen around us.  It takes time and effort to construct meaning from those things going on around us.  But what “water” are we missing by not putting in the effort?

If you want to read the entire commencement speech, it is available here.  It is relatively short  –


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