I'm a big fan of Maria Popova's blog/website Brain Pickings, a "weekly interestingness digest". She recently wrote an article about this book by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer entitled, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. More than just a book about moss, it's a look into the art of seeing at all scales of life. Robin writes:
"Electron microscopes let us wander the remote universe of our own cells. But at the middle scale, that of the unaided eye, our senses seem to be strangely dulled. With sophisticated technology, we strive to see what is beyond us, but are often blind to the myriad sparkling facets that lie so close at hand. We think we’re seeing when we’ve only scratched the surface. Our acuity at this middle scale seems diminished, not by any failing of the eyes, but by the willingness of the mind. Has the power of our devices led us to distrust our unaided eyes? Or have we become dismissive of what takes no technology but only time and patience to perceive? Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful magnifying lens."
"A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist. But he said to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed. The revelation of suddenly seeing what I was blind to only moments before is a sublime experience for me. I can revisit those moments and still feel the surge of expansion. The boundaries between my world and the world of another being get pushed back with sudden clarity an experience both humbling and joyful.
Mosses and other small beings issue an invitation to dwell for a time right at the limits of ordinary perception. All it requires of us is attentiveness. Look in a certain way and a whole new world can be revealed."
As a meditator, Robin's words really resonated with me. You see, meditation is a way of learning to attend to all the layers of a moment - not just what the mind tells us in thought or what the eyes display to us via the brain, not just the emotions and feelings we experience, but the Awareness in which these things arise. We're so used to being the "I" who sees, who thinks and feels and believes that we miss what else is here right under our noses. After all, this is where the drama is. The story of our life is endlessly narrated by our "I-ness". This I- function of the brain even likes to dictate the story "aloud" within our own mind. And we get caught up in this self-narrated tale, often dwelling here at the expense of all else. But when we wholeheartedly attend to a moment and ask "what else is here beyond this "I" , or beyond the thinking mind?", a whole new world opens up to us.
Robin's experience of seeing moss on this scale echoes the meditation experience when we learn to attend to a moment, not directly looking at it as you would through the magnifying lens of your I-ness, but with an inclusiveness and spacious openness that welcomes in everything. This type of indirect seeing out of the corner of your eye comes to us when we shift our attention from the thinking mind, our I-ness, and what this I-self habitually gets involved with to the fundamental, essential spaciousness that is part of every moment, just usually missed.
For more on Brain Pickings and the article on Gathering Moss: