A while ago I went to my aunt’s place on the least populated stretch of the eastern coastline of Australia. First, because it’s my favourite place on the planet and second, because I was keen to help her and her partner out with some oyster farming. Boom!
We took the boat out onto the lake one day to fetch some oyster slats and decided to pop around to paradise for a swim. After a dip in the channel I lay under the coastal mahogany trees and gazed upwards as the sunlight tiptoed through the branches and onto my skin. There is only natural sound there and it engulfs you: lapping water; the breeze in trees; cicadas; soldier crabs marching; crickets; frogs; birds; even the creaks of old wooden branches that have seen too much salt and sun.
My eyes were fixed on nothing. I was staring upwards in a daze, the sounds around me swirling in my head. A tangible thought did cross my mind, however, and it was one that I am glad for. I realised that the more I ‘stared’ – the more my eyes weren’t focused on a particular locus – the more I was aware of the flowing movement of everything around me.
I was aware of the tide running outwards in the very bottom corners of my vision, I could see the pattern the breeze made in the leaves above, I saw the light gently hitting my prickling skin, I knew that the sunlight bouncing off the water was reflecting the soft, moving patterns on the branches of the trees above.
As we took the boat home I tried this thought of mine out again and stared across the water, focusing on nothing. Again it worked. I could see the different patterns of the tides and eddies on the lake, all moving together. I could see the lively movement of the wind on the water’s surface, I knew how strong the breeze was and where it was coming from, I could see a bird flying low across the water, I knew when a fish jumped up ahead.
It was hard, my eyes aren’t used to that and I kept falling back into focusing on one point and had to try and make myself revert back into this staring state once again. It made me think – our understanding of ourselves, of the world and of our part in it is so singular, so self-oriented – to the point where we see things (anything outside what we consider to be ourselves) as singular, individual things too, rather than seeing a flowing whole.
My aunt once talked to me about fishing with some of the Aboriginal people she knew, she spoke of how they could see things she couldn’t, how they knew when an octopus or fish was under the water because they truly knew how to look. Their understanding of the self is that they are truly part of the cosmos, not just selves on a planet within it. It is this understanding that enables them to see things differently. When they look out at a forest they don’t look at each tree and bird singly, they see a whole, moving world. Of course they can focus on things when they want or need to, however, their natural state is to see flux, and be part of that.
I have decided to keep trying my little staring trick. People always remark when they see a friend staring…as if it were a useless, unengaged thing to be doing. I think that it's the opposite of that. Maybe viewing things in this way is a far more raw and beneficial way to see the world and in turn feel ones position as a part of it.
What a sparkling little day!