Perception

It’s still dark when I open the back door to let in the cat, but something calls me to step out into the cool stillness. At the edge of the concrete, like Moses, I slip off my sandals and step onto the hallowed grass, cold and wet with dew. I tilt my head back to admire all those little lights above: ancient Orion, unblinking Venus, along with a slow satellite and an early morning Southwest flight.

That’s what reminds me that what I’m looking at is not the low vault of a planetarium, but the faint whispers of a boundless universe swirling dizzily through space. Fiery suns whose light has been traveling through space for thousands of years to reach my eyes as delicate glimmers barely visible. Immeasurably vast, incomprehensible, yet appearing to me as a flat dome. Even the fourth dimension of time is invisibly there, for what appears static is really constantly changing. Stars have burned out and died, others been born by now, but all I see is what glint of light has happened to reach me, right now, from so far away.

Reminds me that this day, this moment is also a snapshot, an impression, of what happens to have reached my senses right now. I see with my mind, not my eyes. The part of me that sees sits in a dark room like a projectionist, reading and interpreting illusions projected onto a flat screen. Like any storyteller, the details I notice are selective, curated to support the story I am telling myself.

Sitting in my room now, I watch the sun rise — another illusion, for it is earth that turns this particular spot to face earth’s star for a few hours. So what is a day? Is it several hours of daylight in which to get my work done? Or is it just the time it takes for this planet to rotate halfway as it continues its never ending orbit around our solar body? In space, there is no day or night, only constant motion, a twirling dance of light and shadow.

But this line of thinking makes me dizzy and disoriented. Let me come back to my body, to my eyes and ears. I hear the rasping call of a bird outside my window. It seems just a pleasant nature sound, a musical soundtrack for the greater reality of my life. But if I paid attention, I would see a mockingbird crying out a warning to a blue jay, protecting its territory. All day long, in the trees around my house, hundreds of small dramas among its creatures: adventures and battles and discoveries. And underneath the birds and squirrels and pets, there are the insects with their own myriad lives and deaths, their own stories and dramas. And underneath that, the slower lives of the trees and plants — so many worlds within worlds.

Yet here I sit, so limited by what I choose to see and hear, by the comforting perspective of the three belt stars and the rising sun and the birdsong. It’s not that my perspective is not true; it’s just that it is a tiny, tiny, miniscule speck of truth swimming in a sea of Truth.

Is it to feel myself . . . connected to
the whole, vast sum of everything?
As a single drop of rain falling into the ocean
is at once cloud and raindrop and ocean?

What does this mean? What lesson can I draw? Is it a caution not to take my own point of view so seriously? Can I really be Right and everyone else Wrong about which way the toilet roll should hang? Is it to give others the benefit of the doubt, that the universe from their point of view is not the same as mine? Perhaps to be curious and compassionate about what they have seen and heard and suffered inside the darkness of their own minds? Is it to feel myself, not just a tiny speck isolated within my own senses, but rather somehow connected to the whole, vast sum of everything? As a single drop of rain falling into the ocean is at once cloud and raindrop and ocean?

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