The Awakening of a Peaceful Mind
What cameras help us see
I wonder to what extent this pandemic will help some of us wake up.
A review of the demographic statistics of who is succumbing to Covid-19 will help to make more of us aware of the ways that our country’s ever deepening economic disparities affect who has access to health care. As a result, we might encourage lawmakers to support policies that widen access to basic care, as many European nations do. Boston University’s Antiracist Research Center Director Ibram X. Kendi wrote a piece in April’s Atlantic that reminds us who Covid affects the most.
A review of how we spend our evenings – formerly our Pub Quiz nights, our movie (theater) nights, and our Poetry Nights –, that is, at home, might awaken us to the importance of visual, literary, and performing arts. We might imagine a future in which we take better advantage of all the cultural offerings of our home towns, and support those who seek to bring us joy and cultural stimulation, whether it is provided by a busker outside a coffee shop or the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble in a packed house at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Davis, California.
A review of how we have been forced to spend our time may reveal to us how we would prefer to spend our time. Disconnected from our old routines, we might discover new goals, whether they be a game night with our family or a new book project, and act accordingly. We might choose what to embrace, such as each other, once it is safe, and what to limit, such as our screen time, once our lives are not necessarily so mediated by our phones and computers. “To live is to be slowly born,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Speaking of phones, I recently bought myself a new smartphone and then set out for a walk with my son, Jukie. Not having yet connected to the cell network, my phone offered me no access to the audio books that keep Jukie and me company during our long walks, so I spent much of our time together trying out the camera. Because of something called a lidar scanner, the phone sees things at night that we cannot. For example, Friday night I took a picture of a grove of unilluminated trees growing along one of Yolo County’s most famous waterways, Putah Creek. While my aging eyes could see nothing but pitch blackness, my camera revealed the outlines of individual branches, silhouetted upon the night sky’s previously undetected starlight, beyond.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had such a magical device that could make us aware of the secret life of objects and people that otherwise live in the shadows, that could awaken us to both the depth and he nuance of the world around us? With training, perhaps that “device” might be our imaginations, or our awakening perceptions borne out of stillness, reflection, and ever-deepening compassion.
The next afternoon, Jukie and I took another walk, this time in daylight, returning home at what my friend the professional photographer Melanie E. Rijkers calls “the golden hour.” Before I took a picture, I thought the sun was merely setting beneath the blanket of clouds on an overcast day, but the lens of the camera insisted that the world was full of red and orange light, as if fires had been set to illuminate the dusk.
The Dalai Lama once said that “A truly peaceful mind is very sensitive, very aware.” We have often noticed that Jukie is never so calm as when out for a long walk, his eyes examining the edges of distant clouds or the pruned branch in his hand. Without words, Jukie spends a lot of time either in center of his own perception, or wrapped in what the Mexican poet and diplomat Octavio Paz calls “the silence of memory.” Perhaps all of us become more peaceful when we take a break from our screens, to part our curtains of sensitivity and perception, and behold the nuanced diversity of shadows and lights that we typically pass by, unaware and unawakened.
Thanks to everyone who donated to the little fundraiser that I announced a couple weeks ago. I surpassed my goal of raising $500 for the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation after a week, and in the ensuing weeks, my readers donated more than a $1,000 more! If you would like to find an additional home for your tax-deductible giving before the end of the year, the Foundation would welcome your help. I will do my part by immediately sending any December money raised from new monthly Patreon sponsorships to the Foundation so that the volunteer staff there can continue to support affected families going through a tough time in 2020 and beyond.
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Internet Culture. What was the most-downloaded iPhone app of 2020?
Santa’s Reindeer. When Santa’s reindeer line up in alphabetical order according to their first names, who comes last?
Pop Culture – Music. Born in 1966, what star of the film Poetic Justice holds the record for the most consecutive top-ten entries on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart by a female artist with 18?
P.S. Perhaps no holiday gift would get more use and garner more gratitude than a yearly membership to the Pub Quiz with Dr. Andy. If you are looking to splurge for someone on your list, consider sponsoring with a yearly subscription. Details on Patreon.