A simple leaf lies next to the keyboard. Unlike most springtime foliage, it is a dark red, from a maple tree in our front yard. There are five perfect toothed lobes, main vein down the center of each, lesser lines branching off. It is small, still perfect, undamaged by insects. It displays a miracle complete in itself. It represents infinite miracles of my cosmos. I usually ignore it, and almost everything else.
To combat complacency, I force myself to adjust my vision. Seeing with “fresh eyes” requires a different kind of concentration _ immersion in sensation rather than logic. Academic descriptions are not sufficient. Ecstasy of the moment requires removal of blinders which I must normally use to ignore all except which is “important” or “necessary.” When I open to detailed appreciation, I may be too blinded, stunned, and helpless to get out of the way of an oncoming truck.
When counting one by one, anything over a hundred is practical infinity. This leaf is one of an infinite number on a tree that has been in our yard at least fifty years, maybe more. It was mature when we moved in, thirty years ago. I confess I often notice it only when avoiding branches while mowing, or cutting back ivy underneath, or raking leaves in the fall. Most mornings I try to pay respect _ the images of foliage change dramatically in early sun, late sun, moon, clouds, fog, rain, wind, snow and every other possible meteorological condition and combination of effects. But usually, it is just another tree in another suburban yard.
At this level, it is well to avoid deeper meditations. Yes, this single leaf implies our entire universe. Yes, I can imagine billions of years of evolution, thousands of years of human history, my very life and meaning _ all if I pursue logical trails of why and how this leaf exists here and now. But fresh eyes require a different perception of surface beauty, uncomplicated by intelligence and knowledge.
Visual artists try to communicate that mystery. Successful artists begin by experiencing the overwhelming majesty of some selected viewpoint. They manage the difficult translation to some media that is itself mysterious and beautiful. Full achievement of that goal is doomed, but the artist has also been rewarded with the ecstasy of creative involvement.
Looking at art is exactly what we do to refresh our eyesight. When I walk out of a museum, I often perceive the world anew, in different colors and combinations. For a few moments, blinders are in my pocket. I perceive colors in shadows, or forms in outline, or abstractions of light. Often I simply pay attention to what I have missed.
As an elder, I try to experience the world as if I were a child. Amazement reigns. A leaf, a tree, a butterfly can be enchantment. In this fortunate state of mind, an often grumpy outlook has been redirected such that life seems gloriously new. Our mind is always capable of casting illusions onto “reality,” fresh eyes help shape those filters into happiness.