• Amy Burvall

Treading on Dreams: The Art of the #lookdown


Stephen Hawking has just recently passed away, and we are reminded of his quote:

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet…Be curious”

I often wonder whether he nicked that idea from the “Father of Roman poetry Quintus Ennius:

“No one regards what is before his feet; we all gaze at the stars”

With all due respect, I’d have to challenge these gentlemen. As much as I find it important to #lookup (I have an entire series of Instagram photos tagged with this), being in a perpetual state of wonder means scoping out all directions, even those oft neglected ones upon which we tread. And I want to be in a perpetual state of wonder because that’s how I grow in my creativity.


Part of my #lookup series, taken in Honolulu

I speak about “Wonder Walks” a lot as I present about cultivating a creative mindset. At times you might have a purpose, and these are superb pedagogical strategies for inquiry-based learning experiences. Check out the work Dr. Gillian Judson is doing with her #walkingcurriculumMy friend Honoria Starbuck the “teaching artist” takes her university students on wonder walks for inspiration:


However, you can get it wrong, even with the best intentions. Many of us were appalled at this worksheet @matt_karlsen posted, dubbing it the “disimagination machine”:


My comment was:

Why squash the opportunity for a child to sketch what he sees- like, you know, DA VINCI? And this is so limiting – they’ll miss other cool things of wonder if they’re focused on finding these “right answers”…

A big part of creativity is being able to really notice something – to take it in  and internalize it. National Geographic “explorer-in-residence” (how is that for a title?) Sylvia Earle muses:

“Look at the bark of a redwood, and you see moss. If you peer beneath the bits and pieces of the moss, you’ll see toads, small insects, a whole host of life that prospers in that miniature environment. A lumberman will look at a forest and see so many board feet of lumber. I see a living city”

How do we get from being a lumberman, blinded by the task he’s fixated upon, to an explorer who can spot a living city in the forest?


Taken in Whistler, B.C. Canada

We inhabit a hurried paced world, where multi-tasking (if that’s even possible) and our propensity for productivity tear away at our ability to live in the moment and relish our surroundings…the smile lines around the weary cornflower blue eyes of the grandmother on the train…the way the light floods just so into elegant beams across the afternoon floor….the sixty different shades of moss on that rock wall you pass by on your way to school.


I thought this could be a metaphor for something

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why” – Eddie Cantor

Although I’m a naturally observant girl even during the daily grind (in fact, people are often annoyed when I pause to take a photo of some seemingly insignificant piece of scenery), it’s when I travel and wander alone that I really feel as sense of freedom to find the Wow in the Now. I take Franz Kafka’s description to heart:

“The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll ecstasy at your feet”

Recently on a trip to Vancouver, Canada and Australia I decided to make a point of archiving some of the magnificent surfaces beneath my boots, and entitled the series #thesebootsaremadeforwalking.



“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” – Henry David Thoreau

I even wrapped it up with one last shot at the Honolulu airport as I returned home from my journey…can you tell which photo that is?


There is actually a very cool Instagram tag :#ihavethisthingwithfloors if you are interested in other travellers’ moments under feet.

Perhaps my favourite “catch” happened in a little suburban street in a quiet neighbourhood in Vancouver…it was ironically raining, too.


Tied with that is a little guy I almost missed in Melbourne put there by a cheeky street artist:


I hope you will take some time…even if just a few moments on your daily to’s and fro’s…to #lookdown. You never know when you might find something dreamy, like this “twisted unicorn” I spotted in Canberra.


“…I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” – William Butler Yeats

#wonderwalk #creativity #photography #curiosity #mindfulness #lookdown #australia #Vancouver #amyburvall

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