I had an interesting dream image last night. I was observing a fantastic display of the aurora borealis–Northern lights (or it might have been the aurora australis if I had been in the southern hemisphere). I wanted to capture some video of this event so I went to get my phone. When I returned outside various fireworks displays had started and I could no longer see the lights.
There are some rich metaphors from this dream sequence. Think of the difference between a natural phenomenon such as aurora and a human-made one such as fireworks. Fireworks represent control over nature and natural occurrences are not subject to our control, unless we apply technology to them such as photographing them.
This got me thinking about communication. Imagine a time (not that long ago) when there were no telephones and if you wanted to communicate with someone far away, you had to write a letter. It took time and deliberation to write and weeks in between exchanges. Now we can text or message instantaneously and often not with much in the way of poetic deliberation. Communication has become accessible.
In a similar manner, fireworks as a metaphor for our control over nature represents the possibility of having ready access to things that were once precious.
One aspect of contemporary living with the incredible advances of technology is the appropriation of the rare into the common. I wonder if this diminishes or ennobles us? I suppose it could be both.
Going back to my dream and my attempt to capture the lights with a video on my phone. Here, technology and nature clash and my tendency was to take the impermanent image from my memory and give it a material existence. This is the same type of control over that humans have been engaged with since the invention of the wheel, fire, and hunting tools.
A mindful approach to life would encourage being more deliberate with regard to how we consume experiences, trying not to take them for granted. This doesn’t mean not using tools such as fire, wheels, and photographs, but to engage them with more awareness. Mindfulness would also invite us not to attempt to own every experience by recording it (think of the countless hours of video footage that we can now generate, essentially documenting our lives through this medium). I am not against photography and I engage with it frequently but it’s one thing to do it reflexively and another to do it intentionally.
We cannot trump impermanence by capturing our moments. It’s all still water through our hands, even if there is photographic evidence. Even if we exert perfect control over the environment, we cannot change the nature of things to arise and fade away. Ultimately, the sun will explode and that will probably be it for us (or if we find a way to move to another solar system, the universe itself will eventually end).