It’s hard to remember that whatever we do, we are affecting something or someone. When we eat a bite of food, or speak to someone we don’t know, or even stand and watch a leaf, a bird, another person, we are affecting things around us and affecting things farther away from us that we have no idea we are affecting. If we are planning to affect someone in a specific way; to give them a gift, help them with a project, ruin their day, we tend to be a bit more aware of the effects of what we are doing because we want everything to happened as we planned and hoped it would go, but even with very careful planning and using foresight we have no way of knowing that the phone would ring precisely the wrong second or that a dear friend happens to appear to rescue the object of our ire. But during our execution of events we may have caused just those things. Planning rarely seems to be completely effective in any circumstance; choosing to accept how events proceed and enjoying the variation made possible by seemingly unconnected acts opens us up the inevitability of the effects we are producing all the time. With this awareness, shouldn’t we be more responsible about our smallest actions?
When we work a job on the night shift, we feel the fatigue of an upside down sleep schedule; when we train and train and train for an athletic event, we feel fatigue; when we’ve given it all on an all-nighter studying for a test or writing for a deadline, fatigue fills us. Fatigue is a specter we all strive to avoid, but being human, we can’t do that all the time. We don’t even notice the most enervating and debilitation kinds of fatigue even as they are happening. They are insidious and therein lies their danger; we’ve been attacked and don’t care. For what gets to us most at first may seem like good thing, we are not reacting in such a volatile way, we are protesting wrongs, we are not taking stands about anything, important or not. We’ve become mindless, tranquil souls, drifting in the sea of public opinion and not really caring how we feel, because it really doesn’t matter, nothing matters. This terribly dangerous because, not only do we suffer (though we probably don’t recognize that) but everyone around suffers as well. Usually a swift kick wherever will serve to get the juices flowing again, but if not stronger measures are called for. Aren’t they?
Sometimes it is very easy to clearly see the objects of our attention, sometimes it is very difficult; what is much more difficult is to be able to determine is the cause of any obscurity at any given time. It is relatively obvious to discover that cause if we are trying to look at or observe something physically; we may be trying to see a landmark through fog, catch a glimpse of an item that has fallen into the water, or spot a bird or animal in the branches of a tree. In these cases we know what we are up against and have a good idea of what we are up against. It is less easy to define and defeat more vague obscurities such as: a theory or concept that is just evading our grasp, the reasons behind another’s behavior toward us, or even understanding our own behavior. To understand and find resolution of these hidden or camouflaged things we must make some effort and have the willingness to pursue that effort in order to find closure and move on; though it is not easy, it is very satisfying to rid oneself of the niggling feeling that all is not quite the way it should be. Shouldn’t we first acknowledge these niggling feelings, then define and release them?
When we look into, watch others looking into, or observe anything placed in front of a mirror, or any other reflective surface, we assume that that mirror is showing us an exact representation of ourselves, others, or anything else found in front of it. While we know intellectually that there can never really be a completely faithful mirror image portrayed due to imperfections in the reflective surface, the light source, and other outside factors, what we usually fail to take into account is that our halves don’t match and that we don’t generally perform a complete inspection of our selves or our apparel so that when we look in a mirror we are often taken a little aback by what we see. We also tend not to scrutinize objects or other people closely enough that a mirror image will be close enough to identify them.
We stumble over the matter of perception almost every time we look at and make judgements about a mirror image. We may think we know what we look like, but there have been many times that we’ve glanced in a mirror and wondered who that stranger was standing there; or have looked in a rearview mirror and not been able to judge the distance from or make out what kind of car we see there; or reached for a vegetable in the market and bump our hand against the glass. Unlike looking in a pond or a puddle that we know has ripples and other distortions, we make assumptions about man-made reflections when should look at all reflections with a grain of salt or with admiration for the artistic license taken by these inanimate objects. Wouldn’t honing observational skills help us modify our assumptions?
We form many pictures in our minds of how we believe or want to believe the world really is. This helps us to make things around us look better, to make people we love seem more loving and kind, and to present ourselves differently than we really are. We generally forget, or never let into our consciousness, is that we are not the only people using this strategy; everyone sees things differently intrinsically and everyone strives to create or maintain the illusions already existing in their minds. What seems even stranger, stranger than everyone’s different perceptions, is that we mostly tend to and want to keep our perceptions to ourselves. We seldom talk about the shade of blue we’re seeing, or the background we behind a stand of flowers or behind the backlit form of an animal or bird, or even the bird or animal themselves. If we did speak from our perceptions it may be that myriad misunderstandings could be avoided and avoidable. What a change in society that would make…however we are inviolably individuals and therefore must be satisfied with our individual perceptions, though we could make a much stronger effort to take note of and ask about other people’s perceptions. Doing so might even lead to a more understanding world or town or school or family. Is there a reason we shouldn’t share more?
Being confined is a sensation and experience we rarely feel comfortable with, though confinement can be a relief from responsibility and its stress at times. An inordinate amount of confinement exists only in our heads, but holds us just as forcibly as if we were living in a barred cage or a locked room. We create these shadow cells or more long-term prison cells from striving to meet expectations: our own assumptions and others’ make up the bars. In reality these bars are insubstantial as shadows or fluid as water; we have the ability to free ourselves at any time. However we must want to free ourselves before our created bars will melt away leaving us free to go on and living with no encumbrances. This does not mean that we should throw off all sense of responsibility, there are responsibilities that are inherent in some of the actions we’ve already chosen and it would be worse than negligent to ignore them once the commitment has been made. Being confined behind invisible bars or by shadowy constraints are a different matter; through paying attention, making a decision, and following through on our decisions we can eliminate these perceived confining elements and free ourselves up for more enjoyable and productive pursuits. A way to get to this first step is to be able to recognize these nebulous bonds; this requires an unbiased and clear look at what is keeping us confined in a certain place. That clear and unbiased look wouldn’t hurt, would it?
The contrasts between objects and the contrasts between ideas are very much the same. Contrasts are sharp delineations between anything and they can be complementary or completely opposite. Complementary contrasts can be more alike than we know and only appear contrasting to the brain, though they may really be different versions of the same thing and may occur within the same frame of reference. In the photograph there are contrasts between colors, between the stillness of the trees and the movement of the water and the teal, and between what our eyes want to see and what they do see. What we perceive our eyes to see are upside down trees, what our retinas really see are right side up trees. These differences in perception accompany all our senses and especially our thinking. What we may observe about behavior or another person’s thinking may not be what that other person is doing or thinking at all. Most of the time we make the assumption that what we perceive and think is correct, and we make those assumptions based on a single, quick impression and forego a moment to stop and really look at or think about what is happening. There are occasions when split second thinking is necessary, but not the majority of the time. We may find upon a little thought that what we assumed was a major contrast in perception is really very close to what we think and feel, and only presents itself in a different manner. We miss out on a lot of pleasures and friendships by assuming contrasts rather than complements and hurt others, both human and non-human. We also assume that contrasts in behavior point to a positive versus negative dichotomy and this is another assumption that costs us more than we may think it does. Just because something is different than we’re used to, or appears that way, doesn’t mean that thing is wrong or bad. To avoid assumptions and embrace contrast with openness is a way to invite more people and more ideas into our lives. How would life look or be interesting, exciting, or stimulating without any contrasts?
To you and all of yours: I wish you an Interesting, Exciting, and Stimulating New Year.