Foxes are creatures of dawn and dusk, my favorite times of day; those between times seem filled with magic. Our eyes see what is usually hidden under the bright light of the sun or the dark of the night. This mama fox visited me last night just as the sun was setting, inspiring thoughts on vision, both literally and figuratively.
Just the other day I was pondering the idea that we so often see what we expect to see instead of what is actually there. Our brains are built for just that. I lifted the following from Wikipedia:
The blindspot, or physiological blind spot, orpunctum caecum in medical literature is the place in the visual field that corresponds to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through it. Since there are no cells to detect light on the optic disc, a part of the field of vision is not perceived. The brain fills in with surrounding detail and with information from the other eye, so the blind spot is not normally perceived.
It’s odd to think that a portion of what we think we are seeing is really our brains providing information that isn’t really there. Brains are amazing.
It is also true that in familiar surroundings we tend to let our imaginative brains do all the work, and fail to see small changes in our environment. We assume because we’ve seen it so many times before. That’s what inspired Poe’s short story The Purloined Letter. And, there is that old saying “If it were a snake it would have bit me.” What aren’t we seeing? Quite a lot, I think.
Although this is true for all of the senses (smell, touch, taste, hearing) we have become a visually oriented culture and receive most of our input from media. How often do any of us take the time to “stop and smell the roses?” Or, in the visual arena, look at them?
There is an old Zen saying, “chop wood, carry water,” which means to do what you are doing and keep your attention there. No multi-tasking allowed! Although it is made to seem so, multi-tasking is not necessarily a virtue. How much of life are we missing this way? Where is the depth of our experience when we merely skim the surface of what we encounter?
Foxes see differently than humans. They have rods instead of cones, and though they can’t distinguish colors as acutely as humans, they see better in the dark. Their senses of smell and hearing are much better than ours, too. Which is why, when pondering fox medicine, I began to think of all that we are not taking in with our senses.
This brings me to art. In order to be creative or appreciate art, our senses and our emotions must be engaged. Art done well will not allow you to skim the surface, it will drag you down to the depths or have you soaring to new heights. To me, that is its purpose. Slogans and sound-bites are what we are fed through our media, and that creates a shallow human being.
In fox mojo, we are called to move through the unseen places. It’s part of how we make our lives a work of art. When we integrate the information that our senses are giving us instead of feeding off input from those with financial or political agendas, we get a better sense of the real world we are living in. We can translate that information into anything we like, helping us to make sense of life (a very confusing proposition these days).
Nicholas Carr wrote an interesting article on how the internet is rewiring our brains. You can find it here: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/07/carr.internet.overload/index.html
Now, being somewhat of a geekie person, I love my MacBook and my iPod (though not so much my cell phone). I am not in favor of returning to those pre-technology days of my youth. BUT – I think we need to spend an equal amount of time with ourselves, integrating and observing our world and each other. Depth is required. Balance is needed.
It’s easy for me as I live in the mountains. While writing this blog, I have stopped several times to watch the goldfinch delicately picking at the catnip flowers. Time in nature creates that interior balance, but there are other ways to do so. Mostly it’s just about “chop wood, carry water.” See what you see, hear what you hear, and so on.
So take even one of those eight hours we Americans spend peering into a screen, and look around you with fox eyes. Smell with your fox nose. Hear with your fox ears. Shape-shifters have all the fun, you know!