Perception is always an active construct, an inverted and descending neural fantasy in an endless dance of prediction and prediction error.
Color is the meeting place of the brain and the universe.
I remember returning home from one of my first week-long retreats, more than 40 years ago, through a familiar spring landscape of sprawling farms and distant hills in Germany, and having was suddenly struck by the beauty of it all: the brilliance of green. the fields and the liveliness and presence of trees and buildings under the clear blue sky. It was absolutely mouth-watering and I wanted to drink it more fully – look, those heavenly horses – but I couldn't stop the car. The experience was an important factor in undertaking a daily meditation practice, as I had a hunch that it would create the conditions necessary to see through the veils of habits that normally cloud my vision, not only physically, but also at a more existential level. . There was a strong desire to explore the intuition that there was something different in reality than what we usually see.
I wonder if the same desire to see things differently makes us want to go on vacation. We no longer see the wallpaper of our lives, everything is a little removed from the experience, bland and boring. We just go through the motions and feel like something vital is missing. Sometimes all it takes is a simple change of scenery and we wake up from autopilot. But sometimes it doesn't go as planned and even the most extraordinary landscape leaves us cold. Taking a profusion of photos and posting them on social media doesn't hide the fact that we can't seem to find that magical shift in a way of seeing that makes us feel truly alive. We long to be touched by something more meaningful than the bland, worry-tinged stories about ourselves and the world that have been swirling around in our minds for too long.
Sight is the most important sense for most of us, and in order to regain its full potential, it can be useful to also pay more attention to our other senses, in a process of general readjustment of our means of perception. I recently hosted an event at a cafe/art gallery, alongside an exhibition by the local art collective G20 of which I am a part. It was called “A Fresh Look – A Mindfulness and Art Appreciation Workshop” and before looking at the art we gathered around a long table and drank tea from three small plastic cups. paper each, with three different flavors. We paid full attention to the noises, as the coffee machine boiled the water in a hissing, steaming crescendo; a dramatic and complex event that is normally just the slightly boring background to a coffee shop conversation. We lingered over each type of drink, savoring the color, temperature, scent and taste, like children in discovery mode, reigning in the compulsion to simply identify it, label it and be done with it. What was it like to pay attention like that? The ensuing conversation highlighted some qualities of mindfulness: curiosity, openness, absorption, slowing down, appreciation, being in the moment, and non-judgment were highlighted. mentioned.
For some of us, curiosity extended to the question of the supposed reality of the perceived object, in this case three types of herbal teas, and to the relationship between appearances and consciousness. Is there a substance called rosehip tea that would look, smell and taste the same to different people, a wasp and a dog? Most likely not. A dog, for example, has a very different perception of colors from ours, dichromatic rather than trichromatic, and what is red to us would appear yellowish green to him. A dog is also capable of having a continuous olfactory experience, which is not limited, as is the case for us humans, to inhalation, because the structure of its nose directs the exhalation in swirling vortices towards the 'interior. Amazingly, a dog can “determine which direction a person walked after smelling just five steps.” And that's nothing special to him, just the way he perceives his world. Each species lives in a different place Environment, the German word for perceived environment. Imagine it Environment of a peacock mantis shrimp, which can move its eyes independently of each other in 360-degree vision. Or that of an octopus, capable of feeling and exploring the world without direction from a central brain.
Expanding our imagination into other-than-human ways of observing and interacting with the world is a way of opening ourselves to more expansive, intuitive, and less cerebral ways of being; a way to get a little closer to that satisfying, direct and immediate experience that we perhaps yearn for. Getting out of your head is key. After the tea drinking exercise, we stood up for a meditation/improv walk, and I encouraged us to walk as if we could see with our backs, or feel the warmth and vibrations of other bodies as we passed next to them, as if we had additional sensors that constantly pick up ripples in the air or currents of water, as many beings do. Anchored by the tactile sensations of the feet on the ground, we also enjoyed the soundscape we co-created with our footsteps on the wooden floor, with the evening traffic outside the café and the fridge acting as a drone. We became active participants in a multi-artistic environment, playing with walking, forward and backward, stopping, walking at different speeds, letting go in our consciousness, experiencing ourselves as part of the band. It seemed easy, natural and complete. I was surprised at how easily people gave in to a process that must have been quite strange and unusual for some of them.
While it is fairly easy to understand that our perception of the external world is mediated by a particular sensory apparatus and interpreted by a brain in a particular way – usually in the service of utility and safety – it is perhaps less obvious that our sense of utility and security is interpreted by a brain. a Self is also constructed and less constant than we like to think. Neuroscientist and author Anil Seth writes:
If some things change slowly, the brain sometimes makes the reasonable assumption that no change is occurring and therefore we feel no change. We usually think of it in relation to the outside world, but I think it probably applies even more to the inner experience of being oneself.
After relaxing our sense of self in this playful practice of guided walking, we finally turned to the work of art, standing before the one that was calling to us in some way and looking at it under different points of view, for example from the feet or from a place above. the head, or two meters behind, or the heart. Different aspects of the work are thus revealed. One simple suggestion had a particularly moving effect on the participants: “Look at the work like a 10-year-old child. » This led us to ask questions about artwork that we hadn't considered before. I won't go into all the instructions I gave (there is a recording of a similar meditation on YouTube if you're interested), but will just mention the last one, which sparked some significant thoughts. I asked, “What does this work make possible in you?” »
During the final sharing, a young woman revealed that she had felt drawn to a painting that seemed incomplete; This upset her in a way, she wanted to put it back in order, expand the frame and place the objects in a way that seemed more balanced to her. After talking at length with the work, she found herself with a personal message that seemed to emanate from it: “Be less of a perfectionist.” The workshop process stimulated in her an acceptance of the disorder of the world, of the way it escapes control and offers fascinating riches if one has the eyes to see them. There is a way of looking at things, through the eyes of other beings and with the whole body, that taps into our desire for connection, where we see and feel seen in return and changed in the process. I think that rediscovering this living and reciprocal relationship with the environment, close to the animism of our ancestors, can also be a key factor in responding to the current environmental crisis, but we will talk about that another time!
How your brain invents your “self”, TED talk (YouTube)
Gasquet, Joachim. 1991. What he told me – I. The motive” – Cézanne by Joachim Gasquet, – Memory with conversations, (1897-1906). Pemberton, Christopher (trans.). 153
Yong, ed. 2022. A Big World: How Animals Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us. 19
Mindfully Looking at Art, a guided meditation by Ratnadevi (YouTube)