Monday, February 4, 2013

Naming is a Powerful Thing

I was kayaking off Danzante Island, on the Baja Peninsula with a group of women friends. The island, located in the Loreto National Marine Park, is only a few miles paddle from the  
coast. I was enjoying the crystal blue waters, watching birds dip and dive above our heads, exploring the craggy desert landscape around the island when our group leader and naturalist, Patty, eased up beside me. 

She pointed to and named things as we paddled. She named cactus, flowering plants, marine fossils, birds. She talked about the volcanic layers of ash and breccia, how faults, uplifts and intrusions had formed. 

Suddenly the vast beauty of the landscape exploded in my mind, merely by her giving name to what I was observing. The landscape imported a clearer impression on my senses, due simply to her distinctive designations.

Later I thought about how her naming elevated the beauty of the experience. Emerson, in his work,  "The Poet" proclaims..." the beauty of things becomes a new and higher beauty when expressed."

Maybe it all comes down to how we place our attention. The writer Proust said that the secret of life is to be found in the arts of attention, what he called exaggerated attention



He wrote very long rambling pieces that described minute impressions and sensations, things other writers before him hadn't done. He offered instruction in the art of paying close attention to what's right in front of you, moment to moment, as a antidote for the dread we may feel that life is passing us by, too quickly, and without notice. 

Does the beauty of a scene or experience become advanced, or elevated through the naming? 

Definitely, yes. Yet another experience taught me the inverse is also true. 

I was driving home after a watercolor class on a sun-soaked summer day. Observing the landscape outside my car window, I saw rich and vivid colors as if for the first time. The cottonwood leaves appeared neon green. The hillside exploded with many shades of green I had never noticed before. 

It felt like an out-of-body experience and soon waned, and I could not conjure it back up again, although I dearly wanted to. But it was gone, rushing away in a few minutes and any effort to bring it back was futile.

Maybe the observance of beauty requires no explanation; maybe at times, a beauty observed supersedes and goes beyond that which is captured in mere language. 


spider web
How many times have we said, I am at a loss for words. Words cannot adequately describe it. Maybe sometimes an experience is beyond words and can't be elevated with them, so instead of descriptive language, you stand quietly, in awe of the beauty and are not compelled to name it. When this happens, one's consciousness and sense of physicality seems to expand without effort.

Like music; I do not know how to precisely analyze a score of music, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that the melody reaches my mind and comes alive through my senses without the requirement of naming or notation.

Both reflections offered a brief transformational experience and that is the power of art and beauty. The beholder is shot out of the ordinary, out of "psychological time" and into another zone not experienced on an everyday basis.

The lesson here, as I see it? Be watchful and conscious of what unfurls, avoid over-thinking, be open to an altering of consciousness that launches us out of conceptualizing and into pure ineffable awe...and, at the same time...

...look at the world twice.  I once read of an Indian elder who advised of the necessity to look at the world twice if you are to really see it at all. Focus your vision on the droplets of water on a flower petal; notice the texture in an old piece of wood. 

Size up an image by making a photographer's box with your hands (I remember doing this as a kid) and only see what's inside the box. Or lay a string on the ground in a six foot wide circumference, and only view what's inside the string. In most of our waking life, do we not really see with clear eyes?



What is striking in both of these experiences, (both naming and not), is I was unable to duplicate these highly pleasurable states. If I'd taken out a field guide and studied the names of flora and fauna of the island, this forethought may have ruined the serendipitous experience with Patty. Perhaps the sensual experience of paying close attention to color in my watercolor class, temporarily boosted my brain's processing of color outside of class. Both experiences cannot be planned or conjured through the will. 

Is this due to the fact that in both cases, I was merely an observer... 

and whenever something is observed, it is separated from the one who is watching?

Maybe so. But in both instances, I didn't feel separate at all...in fact, I felt more alive and connected to the natural world than ever before (maybe I didn't know I knew I was observing). Oh brother...you still with me?

This much I know to be true. Beauty is augmented and elevated by words...AND...where words and denotation ends, the real mystery of life begins. 

Hmmm. Always and forever, a paradox indeed!

18 comments:

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words... unless it is real life, at the moment, real time, then it's worth a million words... but not until later. Well said my dear, Mike

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    1. Another thought: Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never harm you.
      Wrong. Word can destroy you (if you let them).

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    2. Words can be so cruel and like spears. You are right -- if you let them.

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  2. The very thought of what can't really be captured in words is something I think about a great deal. Beautiful melding of images and words here. Btw, I just shared on Facebook and sent you a friend request.

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    1. Oh good, Deborah. I enjoy your writing and appreciate the connection.

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    2. Beautifully observed and written. Love this. I shared it. Glad to have met you.

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    3. Deborah,
      Fancy meeting you here. How serendipitous! I wrote about that today on my blog -- how I am having a hard time putting into words what I am going through with the grief I am experiencing about my mother's recent death.
      But I came back to Art and how it can transform language, emotion.
      You both might enjoy reading it: https://memomuse.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/art-is-created-from-great-storms/
      So glad to meet you Monica. Are you in the group Writers/Friends?

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    4. Yes, thanks to Deborah. So happy to have met a group of writers with whom to share our stories.

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  3. Thank you for visiting my blog re: yoga,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your words here, you convey all the joy captured in what I like to call HD through photography, many times when I'm just going about my chores I have to stop to capture the sparkles of life, completely overtaken by the moment.

    Your images have wowed me too,
    I'm going to add you to my blog roll!

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  4. What kindness...thank you; sometimes when I look out the window & see various shades of winter grey, I have to remind myself:
    go deeper...go deeper. Yoga helps me do that.

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  5. Monica,
    I'm so glad Deborah Batterman shared this with us on FB. It's hard to choose which are more lovely--your words or your images. Fortunately we don't have to; instead we get to revel in your swirl of creative magic.

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  6. Thank you. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful piece about Alex Haley this morning. Roots would be a great book club selection. You have inspired me to give it a go after seeing the film many, many years ago (time flew right out the window, without my permission!)
    Enjoy your blog!

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  7. This sentence, in particular, spoke to me because I experience it all the time: "Maybe sometimes an experience is beyond words and can't be elevated with them, so instead of descriptive language, you stand quietly, in awe of the beauty and are not compelled to name it. When this happens, one's consciousness and sense of physicality seems to expand without effort."

    And we become One with the Universe. What a feeling! Welcome to our FB group, Monica. Deborah is our much-revered "den mother." ;)

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  8. I'm happy to become a 60 year old cubby!
    Meeting good writers and kindred spirits puts the wind under my wings. So very grateful to meet you all...

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  9. Hello Monica,
    thank you so much for your message on my blog, it’s much appreciated. It’s an honour to have you as a follower. I’ve requested email feeds, hope it works.

    I also have a Polish ancestor on my father’s side, my mother has Dutch relatives.

    I am greatly looking forward to getting to know you.

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  10. Hello. One of my cousins on my father's side is writing a genealogy; with all the options to self-publish, I am hopeful we will see a finished product to pass down to our kids. Enjoy your posts!

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  11. Monica, I wanted to thank you for your nice comment on my latest V&V post, came to your blog to see what's new and found these beautiful photos which touch my heart and a thoughtful reflection which strikes a chord with me. I believe there are many paradoxes giving us a deep insight into life's mysteries when accepted. Thank you for commenting on my V&V post and thus bringing me here! :)

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  12. Petra...Vision and Verb is a rare jewel; the posts always resonate with me and make me think deeper, which I wholly appreciate.
    Thank you for your thoughtful writing.

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