I can remember the world on its side. I was lying in the grass staring at the grass: green, dry-veined but also lush. I could split each blade down the middle with my fingernail. Intense smell of chlorophyll. The taste, too. Green. I could see the particles of earth that clung to the root. Microcosms everywhere, worlds of raw, unfiltered sense information in each detail. I stared at it and made the knowledge part of what I am. I was a kid with endless hours, and I was seeing on a cellular level. Taking it all in.
Let’s flip to a nearby card in the catalog, there’s millions of them. Here’s a red rubber ball from gym class: smacking me in the face, bouncing exuberantly when I slammed it to the ground, the hollow pitch of the air inside. Again, the smell: plastic, faded red, school air. In childhood I collected entire libraries of these impressions. The shelves of this library are stacked with files filled with sense and conceptual data on the world around me.
The older I have gotten the less I’m lying in the grass, even when there happens to be grass under me where I lie. Instead I potter about in the rooms of my head, carefully arranging whole boxes of ideas to fit. When I do see grass I can glance at it quickly and think “Oh, some grass. I know about that” and be on to the next thought. If pressed on the matter of grass I could tell you about the way you can tear a blade into thin strips, or knot it to a jaunty twist, but I’d be referring to a sense memory, not contemplating those concepts anew. Plus this would be an unusual conversation to have with a fellow adult.
Far be it from me to wax tech theory, but from what I understand this is similar to the way some computer programs work. For example, in music editing programs the raw, huge data files of digitized analog sound are stored in one place, and the software interface with which you parlay is manipulating symbols of those files rather than the entire file itself. This allows idea-equations to get complicated and still work quickly enough to be useful. It’s symbol manipulation that refers to full files stored elsewhere.
When I’m sitting in the park with a group of friends it’s not necessarily the time to get my face in the grass and really think deeply about it. Or maybe it is, if my friends are children, the insane, or the very high. Those three states of being are the domains of a simple consciousness in which single-note ideas (the raw data file) are still commonly manipulated. In those cases the time is afforded to process raw files without concern for efficiency.
The word “efficiency” sometimes gives me the creeps. It smacks of fluorescent lighting hum, insincere voices, and stale coffee. But of when liberated from office-speak it’s truly a glorious concept. It allows me to have my moment of grass-recognition and then move on to fantastically more nuanced and complex equations like, say, conversations with other adult humans. I can even store giant idea-equations such as the old memories involving another person and let them be a reference in the conversation without being a viscerally current experience. Perhaps part of what happens in old age is that these files begin to leak, and we’re swept up in living the moment of the memory. A version of this can occur at any time, of course, too – smell in particular seems to be able to trigger a raw file access point without warning.
If we continue with the computer analogy, this raw sense data file is uncompressed and therefore interacts differently with our temporal experience. Hence the endless hours of childhood being the time for stopping and smelling the lawn. Compressing it to a quick recognition (“Oh yeah, grass”) allows us to deal in macrocosms, the lens pulled back to see a complex picture. Grass on a rolling field under a day of mixed sun. Grass in a park by a city river, bedding a scene of trees, bridge, smokestacks. Grass in a patch at a rest stop on a long highway, a brief barefoot refresher before a long trip.
Lately I’ve been thinking about ways in which to deliberately utilize the uncompressed files. Imagine that moment when a smell hits you and you’re awash in the full spectrum of the memory. It’s often unbidden and sometimes disturbing, perhaps too much emotion to be appropriate for your daily tasks. However there’s a danger to emotionless days of activity. Life can be too efficient, and the consequence is both a certain numbness and a feeling of time moving too fast. My personal experience of working in a depressing office was like this. Relatively free of sense data, except perhaps that whiff of stale coffee, the years seem missing, and like they passed in a blink of an eye. Incidentally it was the habit of us office robots to start stuffing our faces with food, I think as a way to force the sense data experience and remember that we were made of more mammalian stuff than the off-white plastic fortress around us.
To experience the raw file is to exist in the moment of the memory, and to be in the moment of the concept of the object or idea. To be in the moment feels like being more awake, and it feels like a larger kind of experience. Since it is usually not larger in terms of clock measurements, it must be larger in a different dimension of time. I call it density. This is a pretty important distinction for us mortals: the length (clock measurement) of our lifespan is not, as you’ve noticed, completely within our control. The density of our moments, however…can be.
This widening and narrowing path will happen naturally. You will, unless perhaps heavily medicated, be hit with the occasional breeze of freshly mown grass and the file will open to the raw file imprint (whether good or bad). Both the skimming quickly across the top of the water and the deep plunge are necessary for the fully-lived life. What I’m really curious about, though, is when we make the existential conscious. When we live deliberately, something interesting happens. The moment can become a ritual act, and a ritual act can be an existential tool.
Tools help us build and shape. What better to shape than the fundamental material of your temporal journey through life? To me another name for a deliberate ritual act is a spell. Here’s a spell, then, for awakening in grey times. Here’s a spell for the immortality of the moment. Use the spell when you need it: open the raw files of sense data. Zoom in. Refresh the original file with new data. Go to a field and be the grass again. You’ll bring back a vibrancy to your moments that you get to keep. Carry the vibrancy with you and live in a bigger dimension.