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On Seeing, Part 1

May 1, 2013

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of [our] inquiry do not strike [us] at all” -Wittgenstein

Occasionally, I will labor (but hopefully not belabor) to share how radically ordinary behaviors like paying attention and fully using the gifts of our many senses, can create radically un-ordinary outcomes in our lives.  Here is one such story:

On Seeing

In my early 30’s I took the chance to study animal tracking and nature awareness with a number of powerful teachers and communities.  I traveled around the country for a couple weeks a year for several years and discovered, like Proust, that “The voyage of discovery lies not in traveling to new places, but in acquiring new eyes.” These new eyes sort took me down the rabbit hole and in a way, I never wholly came back- or actually I came back less hole-y.

In one my trips, I went to  Tom Brown’s Tracker School in New Jersey and after a few days of playing games and tricks, doing seemingly pointless observation exercises, telling stories, being pushed outside into the January cold,  working as teams, and enjoying the delirium of sleep deprivation (fun AND legal!) after a while, slowly, my atrophied senses began to wake up. 

Late one night, I was headed back to my tent for sleep after the day’s activity when I passed through a small grove of sapling trees, maybe red maples.  Earlier in the day, we had played a game at this spot where we were blindfolded and told to “meet” one of these same trees and try to get to know it really well.  And then afterwards, we were turned around several times, disoriented, and then led 50 feet or so away from our trees back into the forest.  Then we took the blindfolds off and were told to go find our original tree.  It’s a great game; “Meet a Tree.” 

Anyway, I was passing back through this little grove now and the full moon was out and shining down into it.  A tiny film of evening dew had fallen and frozen into a translucent skim of frost, which sparkled and glinted in the moon light and caught my eye.  I stopped.  I bent down to investigate. I sat down on the cold ground, and as my perspective changed, the moonlight shimmered and glanced on every edge of every brown stirring leaf and every frozen blade of grass.  I saw that the whole grove was bathed in a translucid lunar glow, and then I was sitting in Indra’s Net, which is the web of the universe, where the node of every intersection of two strands holds a pearl that infinitely reflects every other pearl.  Where nothing had been a moment before, by my attention, patience and willingness to pause and participate, I was swept into a scintillant sea.  I broke down and started to cry and did so for a long time. That night, I wept for the joy of the instant and for the sadness of wondering how many other instants I had missed during the years my eyes had been closed. 

In a while, the vision passed, I got cold and I went to bed. But the moment and the light never left me.  They still shine in me, in my mind’s eye and in my heart. And as I write this to you, that light burns brightly again, just as it did on a cold January night in 15 years ago in New Jersey, and I know it will never go out.

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