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Seeing Things

by on January 7, 2018

                                                                Seeing Things

                                                            By Marco M. Pardi

                                                                 mpardi.com

“As a rule we perceive what we want to perceive…The unexpected is usually not received at all. It is not seen or heard, but ignored. Or it is misunderstood.” Peter F. Drucker

1974

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

A few nights ago a Cosmically insignificant event occurred: a tiny speck of dirty rock, variegated with water and gasses, completed another orbit around its mediocre star.  There is no evidence the Cosmos noted this event.  Nor is there evidence any but one of the multitude of living species residing on this speck noticed.  Not all members of the one species that did notice, the apex predator/parasite species, marked the occasion the same way though many of them shared one behavioral characteristic.  Many continued their efforts to fend off death by quick attack or slow starvation. Others continued their efforts to bring about death through quick attack or slow starvation.  Many gathered in groups to participate in ritualized behavior such as counting down the dropping of a ball or watching fireworks climbing into the skies. And almost all in this world wide group shared the characteristic of mentally displacing themselves into an imagined better future while attending the possibility of being denied that future by bullets or bombs provided by the previous year’s terrorist, military, paramilitary, or police groups.

What I find interesting is the perception that New Year’s Day is some kind of religious event or, perhaps, simply an event generated as an artifact of the calendar.   No religion can claim this day.  In fact, no calendar can claim its parentage. It is simply one of countless trillions of such events constantly occurring throughout the Cosmos, from aeons before the advent of the Apex Predator on this speck to long after this ignorant, self absorbed creature destroys itself, taking most or all fellow species with it.  

I was pondering this in the days leading up to and surrounding this yearly event as I underwent surgeries to remove occluded lenses from my eyes. The surgeries themselves did not clarify what was in my mind. But the “down time” provided time for thought, especially as I chose “monovision” for my new lenses. But I’ll explain.

Ordinarily there are 5 levels of possible lens implants one may choose from. And, two options I’ll explain in a moment. I chose the implant level which puts a lens for close up – reading, computer, seeing what you’re kissing, etc. – in one eye and a lens for distance – driving, avoiding people before they see you, and shooting someone who otherwise had a chance to flee – in the other eye.  The options offered were: lenses that enable X-ray vision to see through everyone’s clothes; or, lenses that ensured you would see everything your wife’s way.

Not anticipating a position with the TSA, I declined the first option. The second one, marketed as “Domestic Tranquility”, was briefly tempting but I also declined that. Mustn’t let my powers of deception atrophy.

The first of the two procedures was preceded by an interview which felt more appropriate to a heart transplant. The nurse asked questions such as, “Do you have any anxiety about the surgery?”  “What, you mean about some masked guy coming at my eye with a knife? Gosh, no. Happens every day.” Perhaps she read something into that; the propofol was injected into my IV tube out of my sight. So, I was here. Then I was here. “Where’d everybody go?” I didn’t get to count down. I didn’t get to see the fluid go in the tube. I had no idea how much time had passed. Perhaps worst of all, I had no idea where I was relative to the mediocre star we call “The Sun”.

And so, as I weaved my way out of the hospital with a mini colander taped over the first eye operated on I began to ponder the importance we place on the passage of time.  Some aspects of the recovery period did take time to adjust. Things like the first few mornings awakening with that colander and fearing that overnight I had begun morphing into THE FLY.  After the second procedure my mind is still adjusting to clear vision in one eye and blurry vision in the other, depending on the distance I am from an object.

But my mind’s eye is also looking at the transition from “last year” to “this year”. What’s the big deal? In recent years I’ve been around increasingly fewer people, and those people are older.  My brother is still 3 ½ years older, and it seems unlikely I’ll catch up. So, I’m hearing far fewer New Year’s resolutions. These always amused me.  It seems to me that if there’s one sure way to drag the past around with you it’s the resolution to change in the future. You have identified something in the past that displeased you, so you march into the future with Mr Past Monkey on your back, always chattering in your ear to not do or to do something relevant to the past. I wrote in an earlier piece the example of the two monks and the girl crossing a muddy street: “I put her down on the other side. It is you who are still carrying her.”

Certainly some resolutions do some good. If nothing else, they fill in the days.  I’ve heard several end-stage patients describe the last days as “just passing time”.  But what happens when efforts to enact the resolutions fail?  In the interim between college and graduate school I worked briefly with a State agency charged with rehabilitating incarcerated minors convicted of crimes, not just awaiting trial.  One particular young man could truly have been a “textbook case”.  Serving yet another in a string of sentences, this time in a maximum security juvenile lock-up, he told me of the many times he had resolved to change his ways. But his monkey had him by the throat. Every time he did even something minor, as in putting a pen that wasn’t his in his pocket he jumped all the way to the conclusion he was a born criminal, and he acted out on that conclusion.

Another insight came from a former colleague, an Anthropologist at SAMHSA – Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. She told me caseworkers and therapists had begun trying to break the deeply held notion that success in fighting addiction was measured as total and ongoing abstinence. SAMHSA had come to realize this was counter-productive in the same way that young man’s inflexibility was throwing him into a deadly game of Either/Or. People will “slip, fall off the wagon” or whatever you want to call it. The issue was not whether one falls; it’s whether one gets up.

And, I’ve often seen what I felt was an egocentric view of the world and its events. Western culture worships personal responsibility, it is characterized as a “guilt culture” versus a “shame culture”. That is, the individual, the guilty party, must be identified. It rejects the influence of the surrounding culture and certainly “The Fates”.  A discourse of Fate versus Free Will would be, even for me, unbearable here.  

And so, when I hear a person declaring a New Year’s resolution I wonder what they will do and how they will feel when they do not live up to it.  I suppose I’m fortunate in never having been a resolution person. Analysts can make of that what they will. Perhaps low self esteem caused me to predict my own failure.  Perhaps high self esteem caused me to be overly self-forgiving.  Or maybe I was always lazy.

I would resolve to keep writing this blog, or maybe not. Tomorrow is another day. No use dragging today into it. As the saying goes, When you stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future you wind up pissing on the present. With my better eyesight now, I hope to keep my shoes dry.

 

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19 Comments
  1. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Excellent, and thoughtful as always. (One impertinent editorial comment: there should be an em-dash after “flee” in paragraph four, for clarity’s sake.) Very funny from time to time, too. I’ll try to take the message to heart, and I gave up New Year’s resolutions long ago–in part because of our apparent insistence on zero/sum all-or-nothing results, which is really just a way of avoiding responsibility for ourselves. (You also referred to my favorite Zen story.) Here’s to a better year, and the orange zombie Twitterite and his lackwit minions inside the Beltway be damned.

  2. Thank you, Michael. And thank you for the edit; I resolve to avoid such errors this year. I hope we can somehow avoid the catastrophe I see coming. But it will take more than resolve. Thanks, Marco

  3. Diminished vision must have been a misery for someone whose very existence has so often depended on clarity of vision, both physical and intellectual. I am pleased that you can see clearly once again; your intellectual vision was never in question.

    For a split second (half a heartbeat, really), I wondered whether your attitude toward new years resolutions had altered; I am pleased to note that it has not. We share the idea that absolutes are doomed to failure, but I take a gentler approach to that which I resolve. My new year’s resolutions are more statements of hope and intent than demands for change. Note: I am on my fourth year of my last resolution, adding only “keep on trying” at the start of each new year. This year I add the wish to live with more vision and intent, to be more mindful, if you will.

    Mary’s passing has left me with the knowledge that we never truly know how our lives are affecting the lives of others. I resolve to be the best “me” that I can, in order that whatever I leave behind will be positive. I see a lot of failure ahead of me with this intent, but we can but try. Rose

  4. Thank you, Rose. I see your personality, your spirit, engaged in an amazingly productive constant 360 degree sweep of your entire context in life. In your hands a resolution is not a hollow wish; it is a recognition, and no recognition is really complete without an appropriate response. Just as you so accurately cite the presence of Mary in our psyches, you have had and will always have a meaningful presence in others.

  5. Marco, this is another gem, full of wisdom and a great deal of humor. Glad to have you back (with corrected vision in tow).

    “It seems to me that if there’s one sure way to drag the past around with you it’s the resolution to change in the future. You have identified something in the past that displeased you, so you march into the future with Mr Past Monkey on your back, always chattering in your ear to not do or to do something relevant to the past.”

    You have provided me with much support over the years in the form of the above type of wisdom. I really feel it is helping me. I don’t think I should even have to forgive myself for anything; why would I continue to moralize about so many insignificant things? The person mistakenly putting a pen in his pocket was a prime example of my past thinking.

    I will continue with my resolve never to make New Year’s resolutions…

    • Thank you, Dana. You are such a stellar survivor it is hard to speak with you and not think of what you’ve been through. Still, you have a seemingly inexhaustible courage to face the future and make it work for you.

  6. New Years seems an entirely human concocted idea. Is there any astronomical significance? I found you comments on the eye operation helpful. I have come to the idea that any information on a health crisis could be relevant. alex

    • Thank you, Alex. I have had the impression in recent years that cataract surgery was almost an office procedure. Well, it isn’t. One big hassle is the weeks of eyedrops. Hopefully, you can avoid it.

  7. jkent33 permalink

    Yet another story about a subject that grows farther away as I age. I couldn’t recall for the past 10 years any particular incidence worth recalling on this holiday. If fact, my celebration of NYE passes quickly as the few guests I’ve been with the night before. Like thousands who proclaim a major shift in their behavior that fail to come to fruition, I simply say next year I will utter a few lines to get somebody to leave me alone requesting a reply. But, this year living among my new trappings brought a renewed positive message. Some FB friends pressed me for a one word response. I replied as requested: “Mindfulness” Frankly, got one response from the requestor with a single “heart” signifying approval. I’m not a big fan of dieting. Always felt portion control and frequency played a major role in weight loss. As vaunted as it sounds, I don’t feel I need to change my waist size. I work-out using resistance training when my body feels the need. Actually, if I need to be stronger I lighten the load. With books and mags piling up don’t need to resolve more time to read without shorting another part of my day. I chose mindfulness because I have felt a void that there was something I could add to another person’s life less fortunate. My rewards are simple and brief by meeting someone to impart a word or two of encouragement when I witness someone appearing unhappy. It’s much more complex than what it so appears, but rewarding to me. It may be sharing a thought with a stranger to bring a smile to their face and a twinkle to their eye! At first the word mindfulness sounded weak until it w
    as announced on the TODAY show it was the number 1 response from their viewers. So hello 2018 I won’t be getting lighter, stronger or better educated but I may be able to add some cheer to others. If this works next year I may choose to add adoration to some unsuspecting person! Peace

    • Thanks, Jerry. With what I know of the fullness of your life it’s hard to imagine you aging. But your dedication to mindfulness is something I felt has been there a long time.

  8. The bit about the troubled youth definitely speaks to my own nature. Regardless of how grey I maintain the world at large to ultimately be, I often seem to view myself in either black or white lenses.

    In my experience with matters of habit or addiction, however you delineate the two, the concept of abstinence does far more to discourage than it does to encourage progress. I’ve witnessed many individuals feel as if they were powerless to change because somewhere in their consciousness they knew they’d one day revert to their previous patterns of behavior.

    To echo your point though, it’s not about staying on your feet, but about remembering to stand back up when you fall. I’m reminded of Bruce Lee’s take on the concept of defeat, maintaining that it is a state of mind. I think this issue is further compounded because many of us tend to hide our struggles and share our strengths. This leads to seeing people when they’re performing optimally, and not seeing the struggle endured to get to that point. In other words, we all have to learn to stand up before we can walk, just in our own way and often not publicly.

    Somewhere in our human experience it seems many of us lose sense of what I consider to be a more genuine struggle – to continue living. I feel technology has trivialized our instinct for survival, and in lieu of that we have endowed struggles of perception with far greater importance than they’re worth.

    That’s not to say I don’t appreciate how full of opportunity our world currently is. Just that I recognize the idea of staying alive and sharing that life with those I love as more innate. In recognition of such, I’ve found far more peace in expanding that concept to better fit the modern world. Exercise and activity in place of entertainment, and conversation with others instead of letting a TV screen spoon feed me talking points. Survival for me is now deeply rooted in maintaining sanity in what’s an otherwise chaotic existence.

    Not to seem on a high horse about it though. This is just a topic that I really identify with as part of a generation continually sucked further into mindless activities in the name of “fun”. I’d never heard that quote about having one foot in the past and one in the future until you said it in class one day. Since then, I too have tried to minimize pissing on the present, as the imagery the words elicit are a great deterrent.

    Glad to hear you had success with the eye procedure.

    • Thank you so much, Austin. Your contribution is immensely important and as I read it I continually thought how sad I’ve been over the years that so many college instructors tend to see their students as empty vessels, devoid of experience, direction, or the means to handle either. Indeed, I wish I could have continued facilitating classes, but my health dictated otherwise.

      Your expressed thoughts convey a message of greater depth, and I really hope you will continue to share that. Marco

      • I wondered for what reason you were no longer instructing classes, and am saddened to hear your health is keeping you from something you were so passionate about. Although I suppose as time goes on, despite our will, one thing or another will inevitably change our path. I’m encouraged by your appreciation of my comments, and am so glad that you’ve taken to putting your thoughts out there through this medium.

        I have always enjoyed writing, and journal quite a bit, but your connection with your readers on here has inspired me on a new level. I’m not sure the basis for it, and I’m not sure when I’ll be making my first entry, but I have tentative plans to start a blog of my own.

        Something about sharing yourself the way you have seems so beneficial both to the individual and to those who may find connection with your work.

      • Thank you, Austin. Your intention to begin a blog comes as excellent news to us; I can assure you that you already have a following. And, my next piece (in development) will be based on comments you and Julie made.

        WordPress is an excellent venue. Marco

  9. Hi Marco, another great thought process put into words, that I can relate to, however unlike yourself, I don’t have the gift of writing in this way. So true about New Years Eve, when I was younger it was an exciting time, the older I get, without seeming too pessimistic, question the whole event. I feel very much what Austin says above “Somewhere in our human experience it seems many of us lose sense of what I consider to be a more genuine struggle – to continue living. I feel technology has trivialized our instinct for survival, and in lieu of that we have endowed struggles of perception with far greater importance than they’re worth”. I hope your eye is much better now, I don’t what that to hold you back from your amazing writing that we all love so much 🙂

    • Thank you, Julie. As you know, we disagree on your gift for writing and I would love to see you let loose and put your thoughts out there for us. Much has been written on the danger of AI, artificial intelligence, and I see one key danger in the hesitation we increasingly feel to open our thoughts to others regardless of word crafting finesse.

      Both eyes are better, thinking of wearing sunglasses to handle the sudden glare of reality. Thanks again, Marco

      • raleighsportmick permalink

        I appreciate your encouragement as tend towards the ‘self critical side’ and love to communicate especially on a deeper level, and one day may have my own blog. I feel that through the prevalence of technology, humans may have lost the ability to communicate as in the past, some people may have morphed into a different type of communication to some degree. Even though I am 51, I can start to feel the generation gap in some ways around how younger people communicate. For example, today in my lunch break, I preferred to read your blog and respond, the trivial chatter in the lunch room at work I find frustrating and a waste of energy, but maybe that’s just my personality and mood 😉 I think I also need some stronger sunglasses….

      • Very much looking forward to the possibility of your blog, and certainly to the deeper development of your thoughts. I became attuned to the generation gap early; as I taught college in my twenties and thirties I gained a year each year but the average age of the students remained the same. Still, It seemed I was able to connect even though I could not stay up with their developing communication technologies. I was 41 when I first touched a computer, and was scared to death I would break it. Now I swap hard drives etc.

        I wore tinted lenses for a while, earning the nickname Dr. Strangelove. Of course, the lenses were not the only reason I got that name.

    • I appreciate that you found some connection with my thoughts, and like Marco, would encourage you to put out some of your own writing. I too have been hesitant to share my thoughts and views, but struggle to find a single negative in doing such. Beyond that, you seem well-reasoned, kind-hearted, and is if you have something to share. I would be quite interested in what you have to offer.

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