Life in 3-D

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jan. 28, 2010

Dear Patty.

Some people have reported becoming depressed after seeing the movie "Avatar," in part because the reality awaiting as they walk out of the movie theater doesn't seem nearly as spectacular as the reality in the 3-D movie.

Our world is not so beautiful as the Na'vi's world in many ways, perhaps. We haven't yet learned to respect nature, we haven't yet learned to live in peace with other human beings, we haven't yet figured out how to fly on the backs of winged creatures.

But our world is as physically beautiful as anything the movie's creators have imagined. Every one of us has experienced this beauty. Our reality is 3-D, but it's easily flattened, made monochromatic by the ways we sense the world. The more virtual our lives becomes, the more time we spend staring into screens of digital worlds, the more our reality starts to resemble a video game. That game may still be fun to play, but what is being lost?

One thing being lost is the ability to see in 3-D.

The teenagers in the movie "Pleasantville" live inside a black-and-white 1950s sitcom not unlike "Leave It to Beaver." The world starts coming alive to them as simply as through a kiss. Color begins the bloom in their cheeks and in their gardens.

The magical ingredient is the passion -- for someone, for music, for painting, for literature -- aching to be expressed.

Nearly two years ago I attended a California workshop called "Senses Wide Open." It was led by Johanna Putnoi, the author of a book by the same name. One exercise played with how we see the world.

One way we separate ourselves from the world outside is to hold our eyes still and tighten the muscles around them, the way we do if we are angry at someone. Softening the muscles around our eyes has a different effect.

She had us think of our eyes as a telescope. When we shorten the lens, it's like looking out a window. "You feel as if you are inside yourself, looking out," Putnoi writes. Separate. Myopic. Lengthening the lens, softening the muscles around the eyes, has the effect of letting everything in our vision in. Lengthening is to see in 3-D.

Putnoi advocates reclaiming the sensual and erotic relationship with the world our civilization has lost track of. People, places and things either attract us or they don't, she says, and the attraction is visceral. When our brains put those feelings in a box, separate them from what we think of as ourselves, "we learn to betray who we are."

The life force in each of us is naturally attracted to the creation all around us, the world we can touch and smell and taste as well as see and hear.

Rumi says:

Let us fall in love again

And scatter gold dust all over the world.

Let us become a new spring

And feel the breeze drift in the heavens' scent.

Let us dress the earth in green,

And like the sap of a young tree

Let the grace from within sustain us.

Let us carve gems out of our stony hearts ...

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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