Friday, September 12, 2014

Great expectations

Over the past several years, I've read a number of times something to the effect that "we see what we expect to see." I expect to see lichens on rocks. Here's an example:

lichen on rocks
Photo by J. Harrington

I remember, years ago, reading about how lichen help break down rocks into soil particles. Made sense, created a set of expectations. I did not expect to see lichen on trees, despite the fact that immediately outside my window are a number of trees with lichens on the branches and trunk. I "see" them -- without registering what I'm "seeing" -- about every day when I walk the dogs, but they weren't -- aren't -- as notable as these lichen-covered conifers in boreal woods northeast of here.

lichen on conifer branches
Photo by J. Harrington

I could make up a lot of rationales about not "seeing" my local lichens, such as the extent of coverage in our hardwoods isn't as extensive as the conifer in the picture, etc., but the truth is I have gotten into the habit of seeing without seeing. I was being unmindful of my daily, take them for granted, surroundings, when I've been working at paying more attention to what's going on around me. You know, being mindful. This is a topic that I'm becoming more interested in, the unusual compared to the ordinary. Since we're surrounded by beauty every day, do we take it for granted. Do we only notice the unusual? Do we take the "commons" for granted because we assume we'll always have access to them? What does it take for us to appreciate what we have and be grateful for it, rather than focusing on what we don't have and how we can get it? I think these questions are worth exploring as part of a key to happiness and, like Linda Pastan, wonder that being happy can become an onerous obligation if it's what others expect to see in us.

The Obligation to Be Happy

By Linda Pastan 

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,   
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.


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