Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reset Sunday: Deep Sight

the curious passion flower in my yard

For much of the time, we walk through life and only see the idea of the things around us. When I open my bedroom door, I don't SEE where the paint has chipped slightly along the edge or the little residue of fingerprints or the slight variations in cream color. Mostly, I briefly and almost unnoticeably THINK door and continue on my way. Of course, if we truly saw everything thing around us all the time we would probably take an hour just to transverse the vast territory between the bedroom and the kitchen. So the mind's ability to simplify, categorize and name is definitely appreciated but probably takes the driver's seat more often than is necessary. This Reset Sunday is all about awakening the sense of sight and seeing how it activates both your sense of full present awareness and your imagination.

First, find a plant. It can be as simple as a blade of grass or as complex as a passion flower or as grand as an eucalyptus tree. It can be a potted plant or bouquet of flowers in your house or something you discover in a park or yard. If you want to make day of it and you live somewhere warm, check out a botanical garden. I think I might go to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, Huntington Gardens. If you feel comfortable drawing or even if you feel uncomfortable but adventurous, I suggest you bring a pen or pencil and draw the plant as you are practicing seeing it. The process of drawing can really engage and awaken our sense of sight. Don't worry about the drawing being good or right. The process is the practice and you can always recycle the drawing afterward.

Sit before the plant and let your body and your face relax and soften. Deepen the breath and settle in. Allow your eyes to go on a little adventure. Start following the lines of the stem, the leaves, the petals, the buds.  This is a slow journey for the eyes. Let the small space expand into an entire universe. When you have covered every nook and cranny, start again and see what miniature miracles you missed the first time. If you are drawing, follow the the edges of the plant with you pen on the paper. Record every subtle shift in curvature and shape. Below is a brief guidebook for this journey that points out some attractions to be alert to on your visual journey.
  1. Texture: You don't have to touch something to get a feeling for texture. Your eyes can feel it as well. Does it appear soft, prickly, smooth, velvety, mooshy, powdery, pointy, slimey, cool, hard, feathery, or something that may not have a word but only a feeling? Explore the textures as they change with your eyes and record them with your pen.
  2. Color: Observe the subtle shifts in color. You can name them if it helps (oh, that green is edging on blue here and yellow at the tip of the leaves) but you can also just enjoy the sensual experience of the plant's color palette unfolding before you.
  3. Light and shadow: Where is the plant obscured in darkness and where is the light so bright it might be dissolving the edges of the leaves or petals? Where is light creating transluscene and where is the absence of it creating a deep opaqueness?
  4. Weight: Do the leaves appear light and airy or ponderous? Is the weight of a giant bloom bending the branch? Where is the plant reaching upward defying gravity and where is it bowing and tilting towards the earth?
  5. Negative Space: Notice the strange organic shapes that are created between the leaves, branches, and stems - unique puzzle piece of sky or wall or whatever fills the background. Some shapes may be surprisingly angular and geometric while others will be curved and meandering.
  6. Shapes: Observe the shapes that the plant itself makes. Maybe the leaves are extended ovals or hearts, or long uneven triangles. Maybe the branches are making T's or Y's. Many shapes will seem unnameable but that will only make seeing them more of an adventure.
After this journey of sight, your imagination will have a pile of visual gifts to play with. Try free associating with some elements that you really loved seeing. Maybe the powdery quality or the pollen at the center of the bloom reminds you of snow made out of sunlight. Or perhaps, the way the branches reach upward inspires a feeling of flight and freedom.  Let this part be light-hearted and playful. Look! Is that a flower a fairy helicopter? Is that a winking man in the bark of tree? Are those petals twirling like dervish?

The first part of this practice, the  seeing, is the meditation. The second part is the arena of imagination and self-expression. Have fun with this and notice how activating your deep sight may change how you see everything else as well.

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