My homepage is set these days to the website of the British newspaper, The Guardian. Nearly everyday, the first thing to greet me as I open my browser is an account of some seemingly senseless act perpetrated somewhere on our globe.
There are countless accounts in publications the world over depicting events that have the citizenry struggling to make sense of the state of our many nations. Today, let’s start there. What does it mean to make sense of? This common idiom surely stems from the root noun sense, which, according to the New Century Dictionary from 1948, means, “Each of the special faculties connected with bodily organs by which man and other animals perceive external objects and their own bodily changes (commonly reckoned as five: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) . . . ”
So to make sense of things, we must pay attention. I decided to try my hand while waiting for the water that has become my coffee to boil, just as a test. I didn’t expect to be rewarded, but it seems that the world enjoys the attention, and is generous with its gifts if we’re willing to receive.
The most noticeable fact that comes when we begin to pay attention is that most of what we are paying attention to is largely unnoticeable. Our body is constantly receiving and categorizing the sights, sounds and scents of the world, even if we are not entirely cognizant of them. The jingle of dog tags, the trickle of the plumbing, the numbers on the bottom of the mason jar, the scratches on the spoon.
These are always there, and we are not shocked to hear them when we stop to listen, watch or feel. I was not even surprised to see the grey squirrel scamper down the tree and scratch around the yard before finding a safe place to bury his future meal. His dance, as if preparing a pizza dough, was the first I can remember seeing, but it seemed reasonable enough.
Our sub-conscious is constantly taking roll and keeping tabs, calling us to attention at moments of danger or wonder or displacement. It’s been doing it our whole lives, and it may be ready for a promotion.
How many times do we feel “out of it”? In that space just millimeters away from being in our own skin. What else could be expected than that the world seems to not make sense, when we leave the simple acts of sense to the company that controls knee-jerk reactions.
The world we live in is so overwhelmingly complex, that paying attention can seem impossible. But every stimulus from our surroundings is something we can perceive through one or all of our senses. The five we know may begin to kindle a closer relationship to the sixth, where instinct and intuition live. If we start close, with the feel of the air surrounding our skin, and start taking on the responsibilities we have left for so long to our sleeping mind, who knows what our sub-conscious will do with its spare time. Solutions are always easier when the problems make sense. And making sense could be as simple as looking what we have taken as truth directly in the eye, and paying attention.
“Captivity is consciousness. So’s liberty.”
(Final line from an Emily Dickinson poem. Side note, I leave it to your senses to decide whether it be it related or not: Ms. Dickinson, I learned while living in Amherst, had fiery red hair. The image we know her by was taken after a sickness. Below is an image released last week by Amherst College, showing a mature and healthy 30-year-old Dickinson (left).)