2 min read

Reflections on Mindset and Framing

I recently had a chance to visit the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. It's a curious system of caves with various stalactites and stalagmites and interesting rock formations, located in the ancient seabed in the mountains.

I found the experience enjoyable, but at times it felt slightly underwhelming because of the lack of color variety. One could say that a cave is a cave, after all.

As I descended into the earth, I started playing with different framing and mindset adjustments. On the surface level, my experience boils down slowly walking into a dark cave on a path.

Going one level deeper, I started to appreciate the incredible volume of work that went into creating the pathway that I was on. It was smooth concrete with metal guard rails the entire mile down. There were lights placed to illuminate the rock formations from the most appealing angle, and various signs with educational texts. Given that this was in a cave, all of the materials must have been carried in by hand or at best wheeled in. Some of the passages were narrow and I could tell that they were carved out by hand.

Thinking about it even deeper, I realized that the cavity that I was descending into was the vacuum created by the absence of a truly incomprehensible volume of water that used to be the body of a sea. I was walking into a geological crypt, seeing the bottom of an ocean as it slowly receded it into the earth over the aeons. It no longer became just a cave, but rather a unique experience with sights, smells, and sensations that can only be experienced here.

Going even one level deeper, I started ruminating about the relative time scales of events. Some of those stalactites grew at most a fraction of a millimeter during the entirety of my lifetime, and with luck will continue growing long past the human race expands into the universe. If my entire life is but a fleeting moment on the geological time scale, what do my accomplishments mean? Which one of my creations will stand the test of time, and what failures of mine will fade into oblivion?

Reframing this walk lead to quite curious ruminations. I have noticed similar anecdotes from other events in my life. A boring party can turn into a fascinating anthropological event. Misfortune at work can highlight the incredible nuances of human collaboration. A failure of plans can lead to novel spontaneity. I'm really enjoying exercising this muscle of gratitude and appreciation and rumination about the different mindsets I can simultaneously maintain in an experience.

In a way, all of the viewpoints are correct. I spent an hour walking in a dark hole. I spent 60 minutes traversing what took years to build for humans. I spent 3600 seconds walking through the tomb of an ancient sea. And finally, I spent 3,600,000 microseconds walking past growing structures to which I myself am but a fraction of a moment.