Not long ago in human history, it was easy to find peace and quiet just by wandering outside in the middle of the night and gazing up at the stars. It was quiet. It was peaceful. And because there was no such thing as light pollution, you could see them clearly.
Now, whether it’s mass media, social media, the hum of traffic, the illumination of a digital billboard, or a postcard from a realtor promising you riches if you list your home with her today, modern homo sapiens live in a constant state of sensory overload. You name it, and it probably has the ability to distract you from your true state of consciousness.
But most of us now live in urban areas, not in the Atacama Desert in Chile, where astronomers do their best work unencumbered by digital billboards, . For us to experience what they do, we must seek alternative ways to power down from the constant stimulation engendered by the material world.
So how do we really unplug from the artificial? Why not try taking away one of your senses for a few hours, and see how the experience modifies your way of thinking.*
A blindfold is a good start. Without the use of your eyes, what do you conjure? Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that even in absolute darkness, we still think we see. The question is, what images are visible to you when you’re in the dark? What do you smell? Is your hearing more acute? How about your sense of touch? Pick something up from your desk and roll it around in your hand. Interesting the difference between a roll of scotch tape and a pair of scissors, no?
When it comes to choice of blindfold, a piece of fabric will do, although we prefer a comfortable sleep mask to really block out the light. This way, you can continue to benefit from its quality construction at bedtime, or on long flights (in the distant future).
If you wanted to try this experiment without a mask, there are still a few places on Earth that you can go. Places like the Dark Sky Reserve on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula and the NamibRand IDSR in Africa are among the best locations. And if you want your community to go darker, why not join the International Dark Sky Association, which keeps track of light pollution and monitors how much darkness you really get in places across the globe.**
*Future related activity: Sensory Overload Day (coming soon).
**April 19-26 was International Dark Sky Week, in case you want to keep the celebration going.
Everybody knows that Batman was a crimefighter who relied on a gaggle of gadgets to battle the ne’er do wells of Gotham City. They were all contained in a belt around his waist, and gave him unique powers that upped his mortal capabilities to that of a superhuman.
Yet the caped crusader didn’t always have such an elaborate storage unit for his prized possessions. At first, Batman wore an ordinary belt that sported a single utility – a simple bat rope, complete with grappling hook.
It was with Detective Comics #29 that the Batman busted out an expanded tool-set, starting with small glass pellets that released a large cloud of gas when tossed at the bad guys. As his adventures continued, he added a giant balloon figure of himself that can be inflated remotely, as well as Shark Repellent Bat Spray.
Which brings us to the question: what should the practicing SuperOptimist equip themselves with in order to best turn every negative issue into a positive outcome? Aside from a handy guide to overcoming every obstacle you may face, the first order of business right now is a procuring a trusty mask and gloves.*
After that, it really becomes a matter of comfort and style (on a budget of course). Rather than burden yourself with clothing, we’re comfortable recommending a sarong instead. Assuming you’ll continue to work from home for the next several weeks, there’s no need for pockets to carry keys, wallet or money.
*When it comes to full protection from bacteria, you’ll want to augment your attire with an N95 respirator once they’re available again to the general public. But for now, stay 20 feet way from other humans, which shouldn’t be a problem when wearing your bat mask and sarong combo.
Modern homo sapiens first walked the Earth about 50,000 years ago. Since then, more than 108 billion members of our species have been born. Which means 101 billion have already croaked, kicked the bucket, or bitten the dust.* You will too. Does that scare you? It shouldn’t.
Why do we fear death? Mainly for selfish reasons. “I need more time to finish my masterpiece!” “I’ve never visited Nome or Kiev!” “I was promised a cushy retirement if I played by the rules for 40 years!” “I am an important __________(your professional status here) and the world needs me to continue!”
Except the universe doesn’t care about your family, your goals, your summer trip to the Cape. If it’s time for a flood (or earthquake, or pandemic, or meteor) to hit, then that takes center stage — and you’re reduced to an insignificant carbon-based life form who may not survive.
How curious! How mysterious! How perfect!
The truth is, most of us quarantine ourselves each day from the realities of nature. We’ve been socialized to embrace the sweeter things in life (corn syrup, air conditioning, leather recliners), and shy away from the dark, unruly forces we can’t control. But that negates a huge part of existence.
That’s why now is a swell time to spend some quality hours embracing the source of your deepest anxiety. Invite it to tea, and offer it a finger sandwich. The more you embrace it as a part of you, and give it respect, the less it will snarl and bite and render you helpless.
Once you and your fear are on speaking terms, you’ll realize that your anxiety may be unfounded. Are you really in mortal danger at this very moment? And if so, what’s wrong with that?
Let’s take a lesson from Mexico’s “Dia de Muertos.” Rather than fearing the reaper, why not joyfully celebrate this natural part of the human cycle, and toast the memories of departed ancestors. May fear take a backseat to fiesta!
*According to the primary texts on Buddhist psychology, fear is not even inherent in what is known as basic mind. What is inherent? Clear seeing, spaciousness, pure awareness. Of course, it takes practice to think this way. Or not think, as the case may be.
Today the SuperOptimist turns 100.* (Not in years, but in columns placed on the world wide web.) Naturally, this is cause for revelry, so we’d like to invite you to join us as we break fast with a generous slice of our favorite pie.
At the same time, we pause to reflect on the great gift bestowed upon us as transmitters of SuperOptimist thought. We were first visited by this powerful force in 2006, which resulted in a book that offered a contrarian take on what most humans refer to as “problems.”
We thought we had completed our mission with the book’s publication and subsequent second edition, and spent the next 11 years practicing SuperOptimism like a figure skater practices a triple lutz, or an equestrian practices dressage. Yet the spirit channel contacted us again in the spring of 2019, perhaps in anticipation of a major world event which would disrupt our lives the following year.
So we recommitted to writing down the signals we received, sent during the wee hours via lucid dreaming, walking meditation, and glimpses into the space-time continuum. And now, as the world reels from a combination viral pandemic and economic meltdown, there may be much more the SuperOptimist wishes to impart to help people survive — and thrive — in this decade and beyond.
So we will continue to share these wisdom transmissions, while celebrating each day as if there is no tomorrow. The fact that death can come quick or slow, that money has evaporated after years of saving, that the first pitch of baseball season has not yet been released from the arm of a right-handed flamethrower — it’s living in the mystery that makes life an exciting, if unpredictable, adventure.
Finally, we celebrate you for spending some time with us. We hope you will continue to enjoy more slices of our pie in the future.
*At a time when friends have unexpectedly taken flight due to something smaller than the smallest bacterium, we’d like to dedicate this column to Bob Levine, one very cool dude who brought joy and humor to many.