Sunday, June 8, 2008

Simply seeing

"How much virtue there is in simply seeing" - H.D. Thoreau

At the Kalahari Desert in South Africa last year, I found myself the witness of a blanket-ceiling of blue crowning above a flat line of concrete with no obvious end, surrounded by hills of barren red sand.

It was all I could see at first. I glanced on occasion at my husband, looking for signs of disappointment in the elusive eyes that scanned the landscape outside the car window. After all, it was I who had insisted on the Kalahari over Capetown. It was I who was looking for a different experience. "A work in progress", Pieter, our guide, said - of me, I thought, or the landscape, but no - of the road, it turns out, which, sure enough, ended in a pit of gravel, but not before Pieter let some air out of the tires. Well before that though, when the road still seemed as infinite as worries and possibilities, Pieter abruptly stopped the car in the middle of the road. "I want to show you something," Pieter said. I put down my notebook as I opened the car door. Pieter glanced back at the notebook and remarked: "everyone does something: video, photography, speak on recorder. You write." I wondered what would happen if I didn't do anything.

The silence was screaming outside the car; the space around the car was slowly closing in. "Look up," he said. Up where? "There." Above us, power lines. On the power lines, a cotton candy-shaped bird condo at least 3 feet wide. And sure enough, a white blur quickly tucked its wings before gliding into a small round hole, one of dozens of black dots that if connected would form crooked and somewhat parallel lines. As we held up the gaze, Pieter directed it to notice other critters by their movement instead of their color, to detect which and how many birds were allowed inside the bird suites. The storyboard puzzle of the sociable weaver slowly became visible piece by piece. All that was required on our part was patience and, well, simply seeing.

Yoga teachings also provide tools for simply seeing. Because we live inside our heads so much, planning, rehearsing, conceptualizing, we can easily miss it - what we are looking for. Is it beauty? Is it laughter? Is it intrigue? Focus your vision, inner and outer, and see what happens.