Are original ideas possible? Mark Twain thought not. In his autobiography he said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
I like the kaleidoscope analogy. I got one as a Christmas gift when I was 4. Here’s a photo to prove I wasn’t too excited about it — I’m the one on the left, a too-soon-dismissed Spirograph, already opened and on the floor at my feet. It sure didn’t look like much… My face reads, “Mom, you got me a cardboard tube?!?” And… what did my sister Karen get (far right)? It looks like wine! Probably not wine, since she was 2, but hers definitely looked more fun to me at first glance. Baby Julie meanwhile appears genuinely excited just to take in the action and enjoy the unwrapping and the pretty paper and lights.
My mom’s face tells me she put a lot of thought into our gifts and that we would each learn to appreciate what we had been given in due time, even if we didn’t understand how to use them immediately. Yes, hers is the face of a woman who read up on Dr. Spock’s advice and took her parenting very seriously, and lovingly. I am grateful for the many gifts she has given me over the years, both the kind you open (like toys) and the less tangible, but more meaningful — the gift of fueling my curiosity and nurturing my desire to grow spiritually, to write, to use my ideas to make a difference in the world, to honor my instincts and fully explore my gifts.
Side note: my dad took the photo, so even though he’s not literally “in the picture”, he is the reason I’m able to access this memory today. Our family has been lucky to have him throughout our live, thoughtfully recording our shared events and special moments with words and images. Kids today have parents who do that with Instagram and Facebook. You can probably tell by the look of the photo that this was pre-Internet…
Later, in my room, holding my kaleidescope to the light, I was introduced to wondrous worlds of color, pattern and movement that took my imagination to another realm. I learned to appreciate my gift. It felt exciting and beautiful, but also familiar. I had seen these patterns before — when I closed my eyes tightly, rubbed my eyes or even stood up too quickly — I could see patterns that looked very much like those inside my childhood toy. Now I know that phenomenon is called a phosphene, the experience of seeing light without light actually entering the eye. The word phosphene comes from the Greek words phos (light) and phainein (to show).
I am still learning to use my gifts. I approach the process with curiosity, humility and sometimes, in community, inviting others to “play” with me and explore their own gifts. Last week I hosted a week-long experiment I called “Social Lights”. It was for me, a light-filled exploration into sharing ideas, images and inspiration with a group of like-minded others that I am anxious to do again soon, and perhaps, often, depending on the response I get.
Whatever happens, I believe I will forever remain “The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes”, looking for new and exciting patterns that arise from combining the intention to see something beautiful with the desire to co-create and share ideas with others. If I prove Mark Twain wrong and manage to find one of the few remaining original ideas out there, great. If not, I most certainly will enjoy my journey. I can’t lose!
Blessings to you on your journey.