Unfiltered

I’d been thinking about filters. How we see the world through them. How this present moment is filtered through my old unconscious stuff, clouding my emotions, my thoughts, my physical experience. How crucial it is to get closer to the real thing, to bring consciousness to those old patterns and shift what I can.

Then along comes a filter on Zoom, unintentionally causing an international sensation! That kind of filter gives us much-needed absurdist fun. Oh, that laugh did me good. A moment of wackadoodle joy in the middle of a winter that had started to feel a bit like an endurance test.

Lately, though, I’m discovering how fun it is to really look at someone, unfiltered. Zoom allows me to do this, to focus on someone’s face more than I would in face to face interaction. From behind my screen (filter?) I can look hard and see: where does the smile show up, what does the face do in resting, what are the eyes saying now?

I’ve taken to sketching these beautiful faces, as best I can. It brings me so much joy to put drawings into my notebook, alongside words. I never thought I had any aptitude for visual art.

I did have a brief interlude with oil painting, where I was shown how to see colors and values. I understood then that objects we think of as a particular color—red barn, blue sky, white snow—are actually made up of many many colors.

And this is echoed in ornithologist Drew Lanham’s words (below), when he talks about really looking at a sparrow, realizing: it isn’t just a brown bird, it is many colors. It is many experiences too, many wingbeats unknowable. As are we all, every last human on this planet, taking so many untold steps on our walk.

A week ago, I walked toward the setting sun on the golf course, half blinded by glittering snowpack, mesmerized by sunlight after many overcast days. I realized (again) that shadows in snow appear more blue than white, and that there are actually many sheens within a snowy expanse, as the glitter reveals pinpricks of amber, purple, red, blue, and green all glinting.

White snow isn’t white. Brown bird isn’t brown.

And this seems extra deep to someone who is so new to really looking. I mean, as a writer, you’d think I’d be observant, but it turns out I am not terribly visual. I’m the kind of person who has to go check when someone asks me the color of my guest room walls. (Which maybe wouldn’t sound too clueless but for the fact that I’ve spent nearly every day for a year in that guest room-turned-office, working away at my desk.)

That lack of visual awareness might be changing. Maybe I’m noticing more. It’s a gift of the pandemic, I suppose, to have the chance to see people’s faces in my screen several times a week, and devote myself to their examination.

I want to say too that there’s more to this, like how I inevitably find my friends’ faces beautiful, even when they themselves are critical of their appearance. How I want to (in Valarie Kaur’s words) “see no stranger,” only friends, and wonder about the journey they’ve been on, as Lanham wonders about the birds in his yard.

How I hope to shed the filters (though I’m not above using a Zoom one to be playful) that keep me from being fully here. To love because the pen loves, each stroke approximating that human mystery in front of me. A flesh and blood person animated by the same Source as me.

“… It’s sort of like the sparrow that appears brown from far away and hard to identify, but if you just take the time to get to know that sparrow, then you see all of these hues. You see five, six, seven shades of brown on this bird. And you see little splashes of ochre or yellow or gray and black and white, and all of these things on this bird that at first glance just appeared to be brown. And so in taking that time to delve into not just what that bird is, but who that bird is, and to understand, to get from some egg in a nest to where it is, to grace you with its presence, that it’s taken, for this bird, trials and tribulations and escaping all of these hazards. And so I try to think about people as much as I can in that way — that each of us has had these struggles from the nest to where we have flown now, and the journeys that we’re on.”

Drew Lanham, On Being podcast

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