It’s a sad fact: our senses are dull and incapable of perceiving everything around us. Countless studies have proven that we miss a ton of stuff happening every second of the day. Animals can see, hear, and perceive all sorts of things we can’t. Even among our own species, the variety of perception is great. My wonderful wife is a great cook and very discerning of tastes and flavors. Unfortunately for her, I have a palate made of cardboard. Distinctions of flavor are wasted on me. Pass the ketchup and the 10 buck box of wine. Daily, we miss things. We miss moments we could enjoy, opportunities to help, emotions in others, and even things going on in ourselves. How can we better tune in to what is going on in the world around us?
Studying animals with my kids, it is wild to learn about all the highly developed senses they have. Their ways of seeing and being in the world are vastly different from ours. What if we smelled like a dog or saw like an eagle? Would the world be more amazing to us? What if we could detect magnetic fields like bees? What if we had sonar or could see into the electromagnetic spectrum?
Our body is basically a combination of tools evolved to help us survive better. Useful equipment remained (eyes, thumb), less useful stuff slowly disappeared (tails–though I could think of some good uses if I had one). This means humans are all very similar in how we have evolved to perceive the world. We can argue over what is beauty and what is good music and what is great literature, but we seem to agree on a lot. But what if we’re wrong? Or, not wrong, but myopic. We all see green as green, for example. We agree on that. Our color scheme, no matter what the word is, is the same. My wife and I look out on a landscape and assume we are seeing the same palate of colors and nuances of terrain because that’s what we’ve evolved to perceive with the human eye.
But what are our senses missing? Or what if green is really red and brown is really rainbow? What if the world and the universe is an even more vastly amazing place and we cannot detect it because of our limited senses. We can look through a child’s toy and see what a dragonfly sees, a pattern of repeating images that boggle our mind. We might think how sad that the dragonfly only sees this wild pattern and not the entire landscape.
What would another species think looking through our senses? How sad that he can’t perceive the magnetic polarity rising from the earth? How sad she has no sense for the wind patterns? How sad that he can’t hear above 20,000 Hz. How sad he only has 9000 taste buds (not 15,000, like a pig).
Poor pig. I should be eating the bucket of slop. Give him the caviar feta foie gras crustini.
I believe in deeply meditation because I believe, in a very small way, over a very long period of time, we can increase the level of what we perceive in our world. Even more important, we can learn to distinguish what is worth perceiving and what is not. The world can be more amazing than it already is. Awareness can bring about great change, maybe not to taste buds but to our vision of the world. Learning to filter thoughts can especially change our life. Much of our world is internal, thought patterns, ingrained habits and ideas. Awareness of what goes on inside us can change the world around us.
Here’s a short poem about what we miss every day:
The Weather and the Dead
A small child in a snowsuit Underneath the long arm of a bare tree Holding a tiny red shovel Leaning down with great effort To scoop up a pure white slice Of yesterday’s storm It was a warm front that pushed through Colliding with an arctic wind That generated the white material Which this child, almost buried alive in clothes, is now playing with And as you pass on the slick sidewalk with your paper cup If you fail to look down and smile at the sight Of red cheeks and sparkling lashes And the furious movement of the mittened hands Struggling to raise the shovel To two bright lips that are puckered and ready To give winter a kiss If you fail to look down and smile even a little Then you have failed at everything you’ve ever done You are the weather; only the child remains alive.
Take some time to sit and do nothing today. And pass the ketchup, it makes this slop taste great.
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