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The Multitudinous Ways of Perceiving

    I discovered that there were a multitude of ways of perceiving, ways that were controllable by what I can only describe as an internal gesture of the mind. It was as if one's self-awareness had a central point of intensest being, and this core of being could be moved about at will....

    The first hint that I really had the power to control the way I looked at things happened in connexion with music....I lost myself in a Schubert Quartet partly by ceasing all striving to understand it, partly by driving off intruding thoughts, and partly by feeling the music coming up inside me, myself a hollow vessel filled with sound....Gradually I found, that though I could not listen by direct trying I could make some sort of internal gesture after which listening just happened. Sometimes I seemed to put my awareness into the soles of my feet, sometimes to send something which was myself out in the hall, or to feel that I was standing just beside the orchestra...close to the music. Sometimes it closed over my head, and I came away rested and feeling light-limbed.

    At this time also I began to surmise that there might be different ways of looking as well as of listening. One day I was idly watching some gulls as they soared high overhead. I was not interested, for I recognized them as "just gulls," and vaguely watched first one and then another. Then all at once something seemed to have opened. Idle boredom with the familiar became a deep-breathing peace and delight. My whole attention was gripped by the pattern and rhythm of their flight.

    ...I had been brought up to believe that to try was the only way to overcome difficulty....So if ping-pong was difficult, one must try. The result was a stiff body, full of effort, and a jerky swipe at the ball, until someone said: "Play with a loose arm," and I tried, unbelieving. At once the ball went crisply skimming the net to the far court, not once only, but again and again, as long as I could hold myself back from meddling. What surprised me was that my arm seemed to know what to do by itself, it was able to make the right judgments of strength and direction quite without my help....

    My next discovery about movement was while darning stockings. I was usually clumsy-fingered, fumbling and impatient to be finished, but slow because I did not find the task interesting....Now I found I could make some internal act while darning my stocking, an act of detachment by which I stood aside from my hand, did not interfere with it, but left it to put in the needle by itself. At first I found great difficulty in restraining my head from trying to do my hand's work for it, but whenever I succeeded the results startled me; for at once there came a sense of ease and I was able to work at maximum speed without any effort....

    I was reminded of that little one-celled animal which can spread part of its own essence to flow round and envelop within itself whatever it wants for food. This spreading of some vital essence of myself was a new gesture...like a spreading of invisible sentient feelers, as a sea anemone spreads wide its feathery fingers....

    One day I stopped in front of a Cezanne still-life--green apples, a white plate and a cloth. Being tired, restless, and distracted by the stream of bored Sunday afternoon sightseers drifiting through the galleries, I simply sat and looked, too inert to remember whether I ought to like it or not. Slowly I became aware that something was pulling me out of my vacant stare and the colours were coming alive, gripping my gaze till I was soaking myself in their vitality. Gradually a great delight filled me....It had all happened by just sitting still and waiting....

    If just looking could be so satisfying, why was I always striving to have things or to get things done? Certainly I had never suspected that the key to my private reality might lie in so apparently simple a skill as the ability to let the senses roam unfettered by purposes. I began to wonder whether eyes and ears might not have a wisdom of their own.

    � Joanna Field

    A Life of One's Own