Friday, December 07, 2007

Wide-Angle and Zoom

Photographers aren't the only artists who use the techniques and tools that alternately widen and narrow the scope of vision.

We all know that the practice of looking closely is the foundation of writing as well as of the visual arts, seeing what's there rather than what's expected to be there.

It's also true that a wide almost focus-less view has great power. Some years ago I took a mindfulness course in which each participant went out for a solitary meditative walk with the assignment to maintain a view of 180 degrees. That's the entirety of a field of vision to consciously take in without scanning item by item.

This wide view provides an entirely different feeling than than that of simply staring down the road, or at the book, or whatever. It literally gives a big picture, instantly places me and my concerns in a larger context.

This morning, coming to a small rise in the highway on my way to my office, I found that my view had gone wide without my deciding for it to. Within my vision was not only the sweep of interstate traffic but the Raleigh skyline on my left, and a stretch of industrial yards and sheds, as well as a forested area of trees gone mostly brown or bare. No longer was I traveling in a tunnel from country kitchen to city desk. Neither was I looking at a sequence of objects, a visual list: car, car, crane, scrap of tire....

The result was not so much to make me feel small (a sensation I don't like) but to make me feel a significant part of a large enterprise, full of resources and infinite possibilities. I was no longer merely on I-40; I was on a planet.

Paradoxically, this felt--dare I use the word?--ennobling, rather than diminishing.

To glimpse the vast scale, rather than think of it in the abstract, takes a damaging kind of pressure off of me, that wearying and absurd sense that I'm the major tent pole. At the same time I see in that wide-open moment that I have a job to do in holding up my end of things.

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billie said...

Sally Swift, in her book Centered Riding, calls this "soft eyes."

She prescribes it as a way to calm a spooky horse, to balance oneself in the saddle, and synchronize with the movement of the horse.

It's amazingly effective in correcting a multitude of "rider issues."

Peggy said...

Thank you for that, Billie. "Soft eyes" is the way I'll think of it from now on. Also, this could work better than Botox on the furrows.

billie said...

You know, Sally's book is about riding, but nearly everything in there can easily apply to life in general. I love when things connect up that way.

I've found that when I'm stressing over something, the soft eyes approach is a surefire way to get centered.

Peggy said...

Seems to me people often look as if they're doing the "soft eye" thing when they think.

I also love that kind of dovetailing you're talking about.