01 June 2011

Eyes that Don't See

When I first started Scuba diving in the Red Sea, the pattern was this:  head out along the reef, and when the regulator showed I had used up half my air, turn back. Later I saw some slides of that same reef taken by a master diver, and they were enthralling. When I asked him what his secret was (I was sure it must be his late-model camera with its $10,000 underwater housing), he said: "I just hold still and look. After awhile I can start seeing things. After awhile longer, I see even more things. Then I press the button, and then I look at my regulator-gauge."

I was walking with my wife down a forest path several days ago when she abruptly stopped and said "Beauty!" This is still disconcerting to me after all these years: conversation interrupted, rhythm broken. I turned back and she was bent over looking at the ground.  "What," I asked?

"A spider."  A who?  Sure enough, there was a tiny, elegant black wolf-spider on the ground. With a pine needle she spurred it off the path, because a family with several children approached.

I can be walking with Louise most anywhere, and she will abruptly stop and take a photograph. She will see things that I do not, and when I stop and reorient my mind, it's always a pleasant surprise to me.

I've not always been so focused on the task at hand to miss the beauty surrounding me. After spending graduate school and post-PhD working frequently in the desert, I came to appreciate the beauty there. What someone from the forests of Virginia might find desolate, I could find immensely aesthetic.  Like the iconic twilight-bioluminescence transition in the movie Avatar, after awhile you can become aware of more than you first see.  My recollection of the Venezuelan jungle is like this, and I only regret that I didn't take more photos while I was there.

The point I wish to make here is that wherever we are - walking, sitting still, in a conversation - we can still choose to be more aware of our surroundings. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to see the elegance and beauty in a grasshopper, but Louise is already there.  On my part, it usually requires stopping, something not natural for a very linear, ESTJ personality.  I'm always trying to get somewhere.  I invariably miss what I'm traveling through in the process, and there is a lot more in between than there is at the end.

Hold still a minute.  Breathe.  Look again.  See.


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