Thursday, March 08, 2007

Walk on the Ocean

Today the conference started. Yesterday I walked out the front door of my friend's apartment building in the Sunset area of San Francisco, crossed the street, and walked onto the beach. I miss the ocean when I am away from it for too long. Which is odd, because I had only been to the ocean once in my childhood, something I can barely remember.

The first time I really remember was riding with two other reservists from summer camp at Fort Lewis in Washington out to the ocean, almost two decades ago. My experience then really was sublime. Raised in a valley, my mind is not used to seeing expansive horizons. It likes to turn distant fog and mist into distant hills and mountains. When I lived down the coast in Pacifica I finally got to a point where my mind wasn't filling in the blanks like that, but it took months. Yesterday when I wasn't thinking about it, there they were, mirages of land on the distant horizon.

In a famous experiment, subjects were shown playing cards and asked to name them. The trick was that there where odd cards, like red spades. Most often the card was reported without hesitation, yet given more time there was uncertainty, and given even more time most subjects could point out the oddity. Some subjects, however, simply could not see the oddities in the cards. Instead they experienced anxiety and felt that they didn't know what a playing card was anymore.

Our minds work like that, we don't notice it very often. Sometimes they simply can't handle something so far beyond the familiar. As Gnostics we often are beyond the edge of the familiar, and perhaps we most often see what we expect to see rather than what is there before our eyes. We must be careful and flexible. In our desire to see and to know, we must not merely 'see' what we expect to see, or 'know' what we merely think we know.

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