Monday, 25 July 2011

How Big is the Sun?

"A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe if you hold it close enough to your eye." - Samuel Grafton

When I was a child, I remember playing with the power of perspective. Of course, back then I didn’t even know what the word meant but like most children, it didn’t stop me being fascinated by some of its strange effects. 

I realised that if I held my thumb in just the right position, I could make a whole person invisible. The more I practiced, the more things I could make disappear behind that little thumb - trees, cars, buildings, if I got it just right I could even make the whole sun disappear. Amazing, my tiny child’s thumb could make the mighty sun disappear and cast a shadow over my entire world. 

Maybe in the end I got too good at it because as an adult I spent many years not being able to see past the end of my thumb. Then I remembered what I intuitively knew as a child:

How big something appears depends entirely on how close we hold it to us.

The power of perspective which fascinates us so much as children isn’t just a visual effect. Those very same tricks form a fundamental part of the way we perceive the world with our mind.

Every day, there are many opportunities for minor discomforts and annoyances, arguments and disagreements, stresses and strains. Sometimes things can get to us so much that we say, ‘ah that was a terrible day’. That’s an incredible thing to say really, that a precious day of our life was a terrible day. 

A day when we awoke, our heart still beating, billions of cells of staggering complexity conspiring to keep us alive and our immense brain continuing to process everything from how to drive our car to how to tie our shoelaces. 

To allow a minor annoyance to cast a shadow over such a miracle would be like covering the sun with the tip of our thumb. Now I've become aware of it, I find that I have to make a conscious effort to avoid making such misjudgements.

Here are a few simple ways that I find help me to keep things in perspective:

1) When I first wake up in the morning I like to take a few moments to appreciate the fact that I actually woke up. If we think about it, it’s pretty incredible in itself. We spent the night unconscious and our body was intelligent enough to come back to life just when we needed it. It won’t happen forever so it’s good to appreciate it while it lasts.

2) Next I take a little time to think about the many different lives being lived around the world at this moment. Some in need and some in luxury, some in sorrow and some in happiness, but all inextricably human, all seeking to avoid suffering and attain happiness just like me.

3) Finally I acknowledge a few things in my life which I am grateful for. We all have wants and desires and that can easily consume us to such an extent that we forget the many things we already have that we can be thankful for.

For me that process helps me to step outside of myself and to see life in a much more objective way without the many beliefs, prejudices and judgements that we all carry. It helps me to see past the tip of my thumb and appreciate what a privilege it is to be alive. With such a perspective it becomes much harder to think of any day as ‘terrible’.

But surely some days are terrible, tragedies do happen? 

Some days fortunes are lost, people get sick, people die. Surely, some days are terrible? Well actually, I would argue that even those days are not really terrible, they can just seem terrible depending on how close those events are to us. 

Even on those days which seem so dark, billions of people woke up to a new day of miraculous life, hundreds of thousands of new lives entered this world and millions of people all over the planet did their best to help those who are sick or in trouble. 

Of course, if we are in the midst of a truly dark day, it may be almost impossible to get the distance we need to see that reality, but that reality is always there whether we can see it or not.

The sun is always 1.4 million km across even if sometimes we can make it disappear with the tip of our thumb, and every day of life is a miracle to celebrate even if sometimes the things closest to us cast a temporary shadow over that miracle.

Image courtesy of onlinewoman


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