Monday, December 19, 2016

The Mind's Eye

We humans have two sets of eyes: the ones through which we view and interpret the physical world around us, and what we refer to with more accuracy than we usually acknowledge as “the mind’s eye.”

I take a childlike delight in looking at the world as some gigantic optical illusion, appearing to be one thing when viewed from one perspective and something totally different with just the slightest shift of focus. (Think of the classic drawing of the profile of the beautiful young woman in a stole which, with just a minor shift of the eye and mind, becomes an old hag in a scarf; of the one of another beautiful woman seated at her vanity, looking into a mirror which suddenly shifts to a skull.)

I’ve always held that there is a considerable difference between being “childlike” and “childish.” Anyone who has not lost the wonderful ability to “pretend” (and if you have, I feel truly sorry for you!) should try it, just as an exercise for the mind, and for the sake of finding new wonder in the ordinary. It’s easy enough to do. Start by just staring intently at a familiar object—the palm of your own hand, for example—as though you had never seen it before. Soon, if you concentrate hard enough, you realize you haven’t really seen it before, and the sensation is rather like being a space traveler discovering a new planet and a new species. Granted, this analogy may be a bit easier for me, since I’ve always felt like an outsider, and have always lived outside mainstream.

There are eyes of the mind as surely as there are the physical eyes in one’s head, yet we too often go through life with our mental eyes closed.

The next time you are in proximity to a baby, don’t just look at it; really look at it. Look closely at those tiny, perfect fingers and toes, that flawless satin skin, the brightness and wonder of the eyes, that indescribable scent as unique to babies as a new-car smell is to cars just off the showroom floor.

Looking out my window at the tall buildings lining Lake Michigan this morning, struck me once again how the city of Chicago is an endless source of wonder. Its skyline of towers, especially seen from the lakefront, is as awe-inspiring as the Emerald City of Oz. I still, when standing on the platform watching the arrival of an el train, am awed by it. A train, 30 feet above the ground, running through the heart of a city of millions of people! And the vast majority of local residents take it all totally for granted, and never give it a single thought. Returning to Chicago after a 40 year absence has given me a new appreciation for it, and seeing it through the eyes of newcomers or visitors is always a source of delight. Yet all cities are wondrous in ways their residents rarely appreciate.

I was having coffee with friends last year on one of Chicago’s main north-side arteries, Broadway, as a city truck drove by, stopping at every lamppost to install alternating American and Rainbow flags in preparation for the upcoming Gay Pride parade. When I first lived in Chicago, there was no such thing as a gay pride parade; the very concept that we could or should be proud was all but inconceivable. We were routinely harassed, discriminated against, and ignored by local government. Now the city actively participates in what is now its second largest annual parade, attracting in excess of a quarter million people of all orientations. No elected city or state official hoping for reelection would miss being seen participating in it. Every time I see the Rainbow flag it arouses the same type of emotional response in me as the American flag, and I am truly grateful not only to live in America, but to be a member of a community which is finally emerging into the full sunlight from centuries of fear and discrimination. How many others see it that way? To most, even to many gays, it’s just a parade.

Life, as they say, is too much with us. We find ourselves far too preoccupied with the familiar routines of just getting through the day, doing what must be done. But routines too often wear ruts in our soul. And by doing the same thing day after day we risk becoming no different than cows taking the same path through a field, eventually trampling a path whereon nothing can grow. But we’re not cows, and there is nothing at all to keep us, even busy as we are, from taking a moment to open our mind’s eyes to the world around us.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

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