Sunday, August 23, 2009

To see, and not to see

I once went on a walking meditation with my yoga teacher training group along a pebbled beach in Costa Rica. We scattered in our own directions and I walked off slowly, attempting to feel each surface of my bare feet make contact with the earth. My head was cast downward, an ear poised to take in the sound of crashing waves. My eyes also looked down, not scanning but not exactly staring vacantly into regions of the rocky and shelled expanse. I began to detect subtle movement below me. Letting my gaze linger in a spot revealed seemingly thousands of tiny crabs, bustling along in their shells.

I was amazed how from a macroscopic point of view this shore surface appeared still and sparse of life when in actuality there was a dynamic existence. I suppose the crabs moved only as I approached, sensing the vibration of my steps. For as I walked by they shuffled then shortly after, returned to stillness. I felt like a cartoon character that nervously walks a museum, convinced that the eyes of the portraits follow them.

I began to wonder about the things in our own existence that go unnoticed..phenomena in nature, subtle characteristics and changes over time in places, and in people..It occurred to me how dependent reality is upon perception. What is experienced in any given day depends largely on perspective.

Just as switching from a macroscopic to microscopic view altered my experience at the beach that day, it molds my daily reality. An eye for intricacy has allowed me to find beauty where I might not have otherwise seen it. Conversely, being lost in detail has led me to see ugliness. When I was an adolescent I had an odd habit of looking at a feature of my face in the mirror, usually my nose, and staring at it to the point of being horrified at its relative size. I only understand now that the most beautiful nose of the most beautiful person can be grotesque if you stare closely enough at it, or long enough at it.

Can I train this lens to zoom in and out to produce a representation of reality that is nothing but beauty?

I ask myself this as tomorrow I leave for Istanbul, where I lived for a year and struggled with an unhealthy perspective to the attention I received being a foreign, black woman. Clearly, had the experience been only negative that city would not keep calling me back. However I do still become anxious when I think of returning. It’s becoming clearer that whether Turkish or foreign, man or woman, people just stare. But in the past I felt the world was looking only at me with careful inspection, or with awe like a squeamish person that is nonetheless captivated by a surgery on television. This mind trained itself to see every look, and interpret it as negative although it may stem from harmless curiosity.

What would happen if I removed the inconsequential from my field of vision? Would what I choose not to see disappear?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Win none, lose none

A friend once related a saying of her Grandmother’s to me, “Close your eyes and you will see what is yours in this world.” In adopting a somewhat nomadic lifestyle over the recent years, I’ve gradually abandoned attachments to many objects and luxuries. However, peeling myself from human relationships has proved a more difficult process.

A month ago a discussion between a different friend and I escalated to an argument. She withdrew, becoming icy and dispassionate and I left her home seething with anger. Although I left at the time, I am less inclined to put an indefinite end to communications with people that I have grown to care about. I am grateful for the growth opportunity that comes from working through differences. Therefore, weeks later, after a useless layer of pride was shed I approached her. She told me in person, and later in writing that she does not want me in her life, that she never considered me a friend, and never would.

I remember when I had a wisdom tooth removed last year. I leisurely sat in the chair, and before I said ‘Good morning’ they were injecting my gums with anesthetic. Then I heard cracking sounds, followed by a tugging sensation, and suddenly I was looking at my tooth in this mans gloved hand. I left the office and burst into tears, at last decompressing from the violence of that process and the swiftness with which it had transpired.

Such was the shock of approaching a friend in the spirit of joy and forgiveness and being met with unforgiving coldness.

Multiple rivers contribute to the ocean of remorse I presently feel. I am genuinely surprised at her reaction. I mourn the fact that I am sealed from her life, and that she does not see me as someone worth knowing. Or is this painful because fate was decided by words I never meant? Perhaps the weight of my angst rests in the truth that there is absolutely nothing I can do.

Whether you think it is right or wrong, wise or unwise, people exercise their will and do exactly what they want to do. I would love to say that she is a cruel individual, and that this adds to a wealth of evidence that an attitude of mistrust toward pursuing human connections is safest. Yet something within warns me, “Don’t let this experience close your heart to people. Don’t let it close your heart…”

After we spoke for the last time and the tears had slowed I sat down on a bench. Instinctively protecting my heart, I hugged my legs to my chest and rested my forehead on my knees. Just then someone grasped my knee as if to wake me from a nightmare. Bewildered, I looked up to see a woman on the phone smiling warmly at me. I did not wake. Still without words she caressed my shoulder, as if to say ‘Wake up! It’s really going to be ok.’ I felt a revived sense of consciousness like my hand had been on a hot stove the whole time and the heat, supplied by this kind individual, finally reached my awareness.

I am grateful to that woman who not only perceived a stranger’s sadness, but took the leap to give comfort. I feel myself becoming lighter as I let go of that person whose friendship I thought was permanent. And I smile at the richness of this human exchange, despite its transience.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Water, please?

I paused before the refrigerated beverage section at Whole Foods, amazed at the colorful chaos within the neatly stacked choices. The glowing display resembled a giant smiling mouth, proudly exposing shiny rows of teeth. Only the teeth were bottles of teas, waters, smoothies, and other organic elixirs that promise antioxidants, weight loss, energy boosts, relaxation, detoxification, stronger bones, probiotics, Omega 3’s,..and in spite of this heap of choices, mental clarity.

A sinister looking gothy hipster girl stocks the drinks. Through peripheral vision, or perhaps simply a feeling, I perceived a perpetual frown directed toward scrutinizing customers, for whose pleasure she was completing this very task. I also sensed a mild annoyance at my presence, standing beside her and looking baffled. She has seen thousands of people in a day stop and look with a similar expression. They ponder, proceed toward the shelf, pick up an object, and methodically read the labels of each product before placing it into the cart.

It seemed as though many minutes of desperate searching passed before my eyes fell on a bottle of seltzer, my reason for entering the store. I reached for the bottle, too exhausted to extract the relative importance of lemon, lime, plain, orange, or raspberry. Although anxiety had dissipated I nonetheless lingered at the other end of that consumer tight rope, releasing a mental sigh.

‘Watch out,’ I heard the goth girl warn, just before a shopping cart materialized from nowhere and tapped me in the rear. The driver swerved out of the way not angered, simply indifferent and too hurried to acknowledge my apology. I had been abruptly transported from one reality to another, not unlike the sensation of ears blocked with fluid that suddenly pop, and the cacophony of the world becomes a part of perception once again.

Considering the casual nature of the warning and the ease with which the woman dismissed our minor collision I concluded that I was in the wrong. I was driving on the wrong side of the road, head on with opposing traffic.

Upon returning from a lengthy trip abroad I often experience discombobulation amidst my own culture. The most recent trip was taken to Costa Rica. There I spent two months developing a relationship to nature, paralleled by a growing understanding of my self. I returned to urban living a month ago and have since felt like an alien observer, studying commonplace technologies and accepted social behaviors with fascination, perplexity, and occasional dismay.

This environment offers constant stimulus and so many options that threaten to envelope the self that I gradually began to know and trust.

I wonder, will I find the balance between walking these streets with others while remaining conscious of and confident in the individual willing each step?