Saturday, April 02, 2011

Our Brains Bring Color To A Dirty, Gray World, But What We Are Looking For Is Vision.

One of my great joys in life is reading A Course in Miracles. What is particularly joyful is transforming a general statement into a specific experience. For example, I read the sentence, I am the light of the world; I close my eyes, letting the statement wash over me, and feel a lightness and a tingling in my head and a warmth in my chest, my narrative voice is silent, and I sit and smile in gratitude, experiencing light.

In today's Lesson, 92, Miracles are seen in light, and light and strength are one, we are reminded of this strength.

You do not think of light in terms of strength, and darkness in terms of weakness. That is because your idea of what seeing means is tied up with the body and its eyes and brain. W-pl.92.1:2,3

As far as making the general specific, regarding how the brain works to make up a world, I came across an an article yesterday in the current Harper’s Magazine, entitled, Video Ergo Sum: Oliver Sacks and the Plasticity of Perception. In the article, Israel Rosenfield reviews a book by Oliver Sacks entitled, The Mind’s Eye.

What caught my eye was Rosenfield describing, precisely, how the eyes and brain interact to make up a world we think is real.

There is a simple fact about evolution that, although rarely mentioned, is very revealing: plants don’t have brains. Only animals—even very primitive animals and insects—have brains. Brains evolved because moving creatures, no matter how simple, are confronted by ever-changing, unpredictable surroundings. Plants don’t have brains because they don’t need them; they don’t move from place to place. For animals, motion creates a world of visual, tactile, and auditory sensations that are unorganized and unstable; in short, the world is constantly changing. What the brain must do—it’s probably the principal reason brains evolved—is create a stable, coherent sensory environment for the individual organism to understand and use. (Israel Rosenfield, Video Ergo Sum: Oliver Sacks and the Plasticity of Perception, Harper's Magazine, April, 2011, pp. 78-82)

This passage brought to mind these passages from the Course.

Nothing I see means anything. Title, Lesson 1

Perception is a mirror, not a fact. W-pll.304.1:3

Perception is projection. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. T-21.Intro.1:1,2

All things I think I see reflect ideas. Title, Lesson 325

The brain does this by “inventing” a range of perceptions: a series of constructs that we “see,” “hear,” and “feel” when we look, listen, and touch.

What really inspires me is the specificity of exactly how the brain works to make a world that we think we see, hear, taste, touch, and feel. And then Rosenfield describes how this is done, demonstrating the interaction between the brain and the wavelengths given off by various objects.

The creation of a coherent environment out of chaotic stimuli is one of the brain’s primary activities. There are no colors in nature, only electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths (the visible spectrum is between 390 and 750 nanometers). If we were aware of our real visual worlds we would see constantly changing images of dirty gray, making it difficult for us to recognize forms. (Rosenfield, p. 79)

Wow. There’s the specificity. What we “see” in general is merely an activity of the brain interacting with wavelengths of energy.

Our visual stimuli are stabilized when the brain compares the variations in the different wavelengths of light; the consequence of these comparisons is what we perceive as “color.” The brain creates a sense of “color constancy”: no matter the lighting conditions—bright sunlight, filtered sunlight, or artificial lighting—colors remain more or less the same. But colors themselves are not in our surroundings. Brains therefore create something that is not there; and in doing so they help us to make sense of our environments. (Rosenfield, p. 80)

I have invented the world see. Title, Lesson 32

Rosenfield ends with this metaphor.

We might say the brain is baking a cake. The ingredients that go into the cake are transformed when they are put into the oven, transforming the raw batter into springy chiffon. (Rosenfield, p. 80)

What I think I see now is taking the place of vision. I must let it go by realizing it has no meaning, so that vision may take its place.

In the title of his review, Video Ergo Sum: Oliver Sacks and the plasticity of perception, Rosenfield uses the metaphor of a video camera, i.e., the brain is like a camera, capturing moving images of whatever our eyes glance upon. His title echoes the famous dictum by the philosopher, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Cogito ergo sum; I think therefore I am.

Both men make the mistake of ending their phrases in a limited manner. In both cases, the implication is. . .therefore, I AM, i.e., videoing and thinking are the essence of what I AM.

You also believe the body's brain can think. If you but understood the nature of thought, you could but laugh at this insane idea. It is as if you thought you held the match that lights the sun and gives it all its warmth, or that you held the world within your hand, securely bound until you let it go. Yet this is no more foolish than to believe the body's eyes can see, the b rain can think. W-pl.92.2

I described in the beginning of this essay that I closed my eyes and experienced the light. What I did not go on to say is that when I opened my eyes, I looked through what my body's eyes glanced upon, seeing a reflection of the light within, seeing with vision.

We know that we are not limited to our brains, either videoing, or thinking. False perception is an obstacle to knowing the truth of what we are; we are the holy sons of God, seeing through our limitations, seeing with vision.

God is my strength. Vision is His gift. Title, Lesson 42

Specifically, seeing with light is seeing with vision; although the video camera keeps running, as you look through its images, catching the reflection of your true Self.

Right at this point, when my wife, Christine, was reading this post as a rough draft, she looked up and said, "That's what I experienced in Saugatuck," referring to an experience last summer when we were vacationing in Michigan, and I said, "Write it up."

When we checked into this simple, old-time motel, the man at the counter was very business-like. My impression at the time was that he was very rigid and unforgiving. As we were leaving, he said, “There will be coffee and donuts in the morning;” as I turned to look at him and acknowledge what he said, the atmosphere shifted, everything seemed to be in slow motion, and as I looked into his eyes, there was a profound connection that we both entered into. All pretense fell away, we were so connected, I realized that nothing was as it seemed. The room quietly disappeared and there was only the awareness of a profound nature that left the world behind. This experience lasted less than a minute and yet was timeless.

The next morning I was in the dining area, pouring my first cup of coffee. As I was looking around, thinking these digs are not too impressive, there was this profound shift in my seeing, again. The entire room became alive, effervescent. It is difficult, impossible to put the unworldly into worldly terms. The motel did not change in appearance in the sense that everything became clean and new and fresh, it changed in the sense that everything, every thing, had a quality about it. All I saw was what I felt-- love, peace. There was a profound stillness, and as I walked back to our room, I realized I was seeing everything in Truth and not through my body's eyes. I was walking on the sidewalk, feeling part of the sidewalk; I opened the door and walked into part of me, I felt a part of everything immersed in myself. Everything was one, the same. I was seeing beyond my own eyes. I was the awareness of the experience. I was pure, free and unlimited. I was joy, happiness and love. I was everything and yet nothing. I was affected and unaffected. I was functioning in my world, and yet I knew I was not of my world. I fell through the false into certainty. Everything and everyone is all-encompassing singularity.

Then, what came to mind for me almost immediately when she mentioned this incident is that a couple of days ago I was caught in the act of seeing with vision, all-encompassing singularity.

Beth, our little neighbor, seven-years old, lovely and loving, was sitting on our deck with Christine and me on a beautiful Spring afternoon, eating cookies and drinking juice, chattering away in her child’s innocence about her four sisters and her cat, Jingles, and her teacher and television programs and her Dad taking her for ice cream, and then she looks at me and says, “You’re doing it again.”

I said, “Doing what?”

She said, “That look in your eyes.”

I said, “What look?”

Then she stood up right in front of me, her hands on her hips, and looking directly into my eyes, she said, “This one,” slightly staring and widening her eyes, mirroring for me how I looked when I was seeing with vision.

Then, I realized what she was referring to; occasionally, while she was chattering away, I would look up, gazing at the leaves in the high branches canopying our yard, watching the play of light and shadows of the leaves moving in the soft breeze, feeling the peace of God, seeing the reflection of the eyes of Christ. Her gift to me was the recognition that what I was experiencing was being communicated through me to all that I looked upon, and I was exceedingly glad!

A miracle is a shift in perception, a shift from seeing with the body's eyes and brain to seeing with vision. I consider it miraculous that I just came across for the first time a poem by Walt Whitman (1819-1892 ), entitled Miracles. In this poem, Whitman gives us a delightful tapestry by shifting from seeing through the body's eyes and their associations of the limited, false self, to seeing the bright reflections of his true Self.

If Beth had been walking with Walt, she would have looked into his eyes and said to him, "You're doing it again."

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dark my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with anyone I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with anyone I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—
the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

Miracles are only strange to the body's eyes, conditioned to see only appearances.

Strength sees past appearances. It keeps its steady gaze upon the light that lies beyond them. It unites with light, of which it is a part. It sees itself. It brings the light in which your Self appears. W-pl.92.4:1-5

Walt, you are definitely a singer of your Self, and your title of one of your greatest poems is prophetic, Song of Myself, because we know it is a song of your Self, and what you celebrate is your Self appearing, a pure reflection.

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And now I invite you to enjoy a YouTube photo presentation, 1 minute 54 seconds, of Walt Whitman's Miracles by Susan Nastro. Click here.