Life + Outdoors » Field Notes

Giving Thanks

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Awash in sensation. Of the 11 million-plus bits of information received every second by awake, eyes-open senses, our brains filter out all but about 40 prior to awareness.
  • Awash in sensation. Of the 11 million-plus bits of information received every second by awake, eyes-open senses, our brains filter out all but about 40 prior to awareness.

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.

-- Lewis Thomas

It should be easy to be happy by the simple act of waking up in the morning, Yeah! I'm still here! When I stop to consider, it's just incredible. Heart thumping and lungs pumping; mitochondria metabolizing (and they're not even me, I'm simply their symbiotic host); stomach digesting; penis stirring; eyes registering colors, forms, movement; ears harkening; saliva forming: the whole machinery of awareness and life. What's not to be thankful for?

This morning, Louisa and I were parked in our camper van under the old Ishi Pishi bridge at Somes Bar, right next to the Klamath. Someone's eyes -- mine, I guess -- opened to the grays and greens and yellows of the river and its banks; ears heard water swirling around rocks not 20 feet away; skin became conscious of warmth, under the cozy duvet, luxuriating in a new $3.99 pillow from Target; nose inhaled the aroma of newly-minted coffee brewing at the sink -- some other organism must have arisen before I woke. There was just so much to be noticed.

Is that the problem -- there's too much to be aware of? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Back in my Boston days, I'd float naked in the warm saline water of a sensory isolation tank -- that's what we did for fun in the ’70s -- hoping to achieve inner peace in the dark and quiet. Great idea, but brains can do a lot with very little. The sound of my heartbeat in my ears was jackhammer-loud. Despite the blackness, my optic nerves zinged with self-created movement and light. In that sensorily deprived environment, I was a mess of sensation.

More or less stimuli don't seem to matter: Our sticky brains never lack for stuff to glom on to. Of course, most of the time I miss it all. Sometimes though -- when I take my first sip of morning coffee, or notice the dawn tide from the boardwalk -- there's a flash of gobsmacking awareness. But it's gone almost as fast as it arrives: Oh yes, I'm alive -- and on to the next thing. It's insane. If I want to be happy -- I do, don't I? -- the royal road, the shortcut road, the lazy road, the road, is to notice my own aliveness.

This unremittingly sensate fluke of cosmic evolution, 13 billion years in the making, now with fingers on a laptop keyboard -- at least I have the potential, any time, to dive deep in overwhelming, bone-crushing gratitude. If that isn't enough, what is?

Barry Evans' (barryevans9@yahoo.com) genes want yet more. They and he live in Old Town Eureka.

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