John McPhee called his biography of then-basketball player Bill Bradley A Sense of Where You Are. The title comes from a beautiful scene where Bradley stands talking with McPhee on a court, facing away from the basket. Without looking back, Bradley tosses a ball over his shoulder, and it amazingly goes through the hoop; McPhee fetches it, and Bradley repeats the feat. "When you have played basketball for a while, you don't need to look at the basket when you are in close like this," Bradley says, "You develop a sense of where you are."

We do the same thing, without recognizing it, throughout life. The most astonishing human activities --- like walking, seeing, and thinking --- are those we learned to perform before we could even pretend to introspect and analyze what we're up to. (They're also among the hardest things to program a computer to emulate.) We've been doing them so long that we've developed "a sense of where we are" in moving around three-dimensional space, in parsing patterns of light on retinas into objects, and in manipulating the symbols of language. It takes great effort to even begin to "explain" how we do them, and many of our "explanations" are probably wrong.

So the big challenge, perhaps, is to break through the surface "sense of where we are" and begin to see the underlying rich complexity of everyday life. Then we can start working to understand daily events. Ultimately, we may learn to appreciate them as the miracles that they are, not as unexamined blobs. Is that a key part of enlightenment, of mindfulness, of becoming fully human?

Friday, June 04, 1999 at 20:09:17 (EDT) = 1999-06-04

TopicLiterature - TopicLife

(correlates: FarTooSmart, TristramShandy, MagneticStuds, ...)