Looking Up

November 07 2017 – Leigh Brown

Looking Up
Looking Up

How Lifting Your Gaze Can Brighten Your Day

I make my living as a Lighting Designer. For those unfamiliar with the title, it means that every time you walk into a room and turn on a light, someone decided what light needed to go there and how you would control it. Someone even decided where to put the switch. The same thing applies to every streetlight, and, more dramatically, to every bright display you see in a store, every store window, or the rainbow of colors that are so prominently splashed across building facades in nearly every modern city.

That oversized twinkling Christmas tree in the local park? A Lighting Designer probably had a hand in that, too.

One of the things that comes inherent with a career in lighting is that you find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time walking around with your head tipped back, gazing at a wide variety of ceilings, facades and skies. It’s just something you learn—or are taught—to do, like a fashion designer peruses magazines or a writer reads. It’s not only how we gauge our own skills against those of others in our field, or how we learn new techniques or approaches, but also how we experience the world.

Good lighting is a subjective experience, rooted strongly in emotional responses, which in turn are rooted in a profoundly personal accumulated bank of impressions, experiences and emotions built up over each individual’s lifetime. So, a lot of that looking up is emotional.

For example, if you walk into a room and notice it feels particularly inviting, you look around—mostly up—to see how that feeling was accomplished.

It’s not really about the lighting. The lighting is only important because of the emotion it creates.

It’s the same for the weather. If you notice one afternoon in the middle of October that it suddenly feels like Spring, you immediately start looking around and analyzing to try and figure out why your emotional instinct says “Spring”, and what factors are causing it. That random tidbit may become valuable some day down the road when a client wants their space to feel soft, yet energizing.

So, I spend enough time looking upward to have noticed an unconscious benefit to the practice that has nothing to do with lighting or design or the work I do.

When I look upward, it makes me happier.

Looking Up

Yup. Trust me, I know exactly how odd that sounds, yet it’s true. When I notice myself looking upward, inside a tall atrium, out on city streets, in the mountains or even watching the shadows play across the ceiling in the office, I find myself quicker to smile and let go of whatever momentary tension may be tugging at my thoughts.

There is surely a whole litany of reasons behind this effect that a psychologist, anthropologist or neuroscientist could elaborate far better than me, but I think there are three factors that stand out as obvious suspects, and that have enough relevance to bear mentioning here.

First, looking up from the ground or the strictly horizontal plane literally expands our view of our own horizons and broadens our awareness of the larger world. Given the universal presence of gravity, the human view toward the earth very rarely rises above six or seven feet. Mine personally tops out at five feet between eyeballs and ground. That makes for a limited field of view.

Our horizontal view is frequently impeded by buildings, cars, walls, or even trees and hedgerows. Looking up, however, can take us to the tops of skyscrapers, distant mountaintops, over fields or oceans or into the infinite sky. Even indoors, looking up typically raises your eyesight above monitors or cubicle walls, leading toward windows if you’re lucky, or at minimum the far corners of the room.

The trope of looking into the stars to gain a sense of emotional perspective has become cliché for a reason. The wider your view and sense of the world, the smaller your own perceived place becomes, and therefore the smaller any challenges you’re currently facing seem.

The second factor, strongly tied to the first, lies in the practice of mindfulness, or

being fully present in the current moment.

Moving through our daily lives it’s easy to get lost in the endless cycle of tasks and deadlines, hurtling from one responsibility to the next, without pausing to take a breath or appreciate where we’re standing at any given moment. Shifting our gaze upward naturally pulls our attention out of the frustrations and to-dos and back into the world around us. Even the mundane reflection of sunlight on the far wall can encourage us to pause and take a moment to notice where it’s coming from and whose screen or cell phone it might be bouncing off of, rather than continuing on our mindless stream of performance.

These moments of mindfulness have been proven to soothe our brains and calm our emotions, and who wouldn’t take a little of that?

Third—and you’ll see why I’m partial to this one—is that, more often than not, looking up fills your field of view with light.

Outdoors, the sky glows, by its very nature, even on the cloudiest day. Indoors, most of our homes and offices rely on a blend of ceiling, wall and table mounted lighting to wash our floors and work surfaces with the appropriate brightness for various tasks—thanks again, gravity—which places the vast majority of fixtures above eye or desk-level.

As a species, we are conditioned to appreciate light, as sight is arguably our primary way of discerning the world around us. We gather around campfires in the darkness. We “oooh” and “aaah” over fireworks in the night sky. We give our children warm, friendly night-lights when they’re afraid of bad dreams. We will drive long distances just to spend a night away from the city, gazing at the stars, or looking over the bright, twinkling streets in a valley below us.

Light, particularly when it gently twinkles or glows, lifts our emotions and makes us happy.

The simple act of looking upward can give us more light, more mindfulness and a more open awareness of the larger world and our place within it. It can bring a little more joy into every single day, and the hardest part is just remembering to do it.

Stop your reading, pause for just a moment and give it a try right now.

I promise you won't regret it.


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