A while ago, I wrote about the topic of ‘Listening’ (here, if you’d like to read it again). The idea has been growing about a piece on each of our senses and how they help us to interpret the world…
What does your world look like? Glance away from this screen for a moment, gaze about. What do you see?
Now open your eyes again (this will make sense if you know the work of Terry Pratchett). What do you really see?
This isn’t cosmic nonsense. When I look around now, I see the small home office that I’ve made for myself, books everywhere, a futon piled with comfy blankets, a bag full of ritual gear… it’s easy to go down the path of ‘oh Gods, I’ve got to tidy up!’ But that’s not seeing what’s there – that’s catching a glimpse and interpreting it into something, based on my own expectations. My mind is adding what it ‘should’ feel on looking around, based on what I expect to see.
If I stop those runaway thoughts and look deeper, I see a small sanctuary, a place created with a certain intention, each random thing holding its own story: a much-loved book from my childhood. My first piece of knitting. My dirty running shoes. A beautiful painting on the wall, gifted to me as ‘just scribblings’.
And beneath that? The old house that contains it all, with its 200-year history, from guardhouse to home. My time here has barely scratched its surface, but I’m adding my tale to it, as I pass through.
Sherlock Holmes summed it up in one way: ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’ Holmes was able to take one look at a room and see everything in it, making connections based on logic and deduction (or induction). If something was not there… well, he might have noticed that too. Holmes is remarkable for his skill in observation. He’s certainly not the norm.
As mentioned, Terry Pratchett takes this a little further: ‘First Sight means you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking.’
Pagan folk often talk about ‘The Sight’ (as in seeing ghosts, spirits or generally apparitions beyond the regular physical world), but how many of us even really use our First Sight correctly? Do we see, or do we assume? Second sight therefore being truly thinking about what we are seeing…?
Sight, like every one of our senses, is most keenly felt when we do not have it. In a totally dark room, or when blindfolded or ill – we suddenly realize its value when it is gone. The trick is to remember to use it well when it would otherwise be taken for granted.
I would have difficulty typing this if I could not see. As it is, I’m using reading glasses to help. But I’m seeing the words in my head before they appear on the screen – writing, composing, then transmitting in a form that satisfies me.
You are reading the words and interpreting them, based on what you’re currently thinking. If your mood is cross, they may seem ridiculous. If you’re interested, they may provoke further thought. I have no way of controlling this as I type, save for doing my best to express myself accurately. And, in this way, I’m speaking to you, encouraging you to see and feel what I am seeing and feeling.
Words connect us. Shared experience connects us. However, two people seeing the same thing may understand it entirely differently – which is why a truly shared experience is so valuable. That ‘click’ moment, perhaps ‘wow’ or other gasp to pause and reflect – is that not Second Sight? The realization that our sense of vision has brought us together – as we see a stunning sunset, for example, or even a simple amusing internet video?
As a song can touch our heart and stir our emotions, so can simply looking, truly seeing. It’s nice to touch, but we don’t have to – we can reach out by observing.
I believe I used the example once before of a long journey or commute. When I travelled to London daily for work, I would be crammed onto a busy train, sitting I was lucky, or standing squeezed in amongst other tired and hot workers. The air would be thick with those frustrations… but I used to try and distract myself by looking around, properly. The trees outside the window, flashing by. Birds racing the train. Even inside, a girl engrossed in her book, a man smiling and nodding in time to his iPod. Tiny stories playing out.
Today, in my part of Derbyshire, England, it’s raining. A lot. After a lovely sunny weekend, people are complaining. Out there on the hill, walking the dogs, I was drenched. And laughing. Seeing the rain cascading down, the clouds scudding across the sky, the incredible greenness of leaves and grass…
A couple of weeks ago, in the same place:
A playing field, at the top of a hill. Very normal, with goalposts for the local children’s football team, a pylon in the distance. Hedges keeping everything contained, nicely cut grass.
I walk there every day. The ground has been bursting with dandelions, that turn into puffy clocks to blow away before the farmer returns to cut them down. The hedges contain rabbits; the trees hold ravens, sparrows, pigeons, and even sometimes a family of kites. In the picture above, a rainstorm has just passed – if you look carefully, you’ll see the rainbow.
If we follow the easy, lazy modern encouragement to be cynical, this park could be considered boring, a place for local teenagers to hang out, a waste of space. It could be anywhere.
Or it can (and does) hold so much potential, for exploring, running, playing – being. The dogs know it. I see it through their happy eyes, as well as my own. And the wildness is just a step away, arching down the hill via the untrimmed paths, the scratchy blackthorn bushes… who knows what.
You can impose your own perceptions onto things, declare them true or false, real or imagined, valuable or worthless – or you can just let yourself see whatever is in front of you. It’s amazing what you might catch a glimpse of, if you take yourself out of the way enough to see what’s really there.