I recently encountered a metaphor relating to reality. I passed over it quickly so I’m not able to reference the source, but the image stuck with me—perhaps because it aligned with Plato’s notion that the reality we experience is akin to shadows projected onto the wall of a cave. In my reading, the author created the image of a rowboat floating on a lake. The author observed that we couldn’t see the boat, only its reflection. The boat itself represented ultimate reality and its reflection our experience of that reality. Similar to Plato’s observation, the point being made was that the reflection is not the boat; the physical universe is a reflection of ultimate reality, the obvious example being how we are blind to the quantum dimension that constitutes and sustains the world of matter.
That was nice. But what kept me thinking about the metaphor was the author’s comment that the clarity of a boat’s reflection, our perception of it, is determined by the state of the water. When the lake is still, the reality is more perfectly reflected and there’s more of a one-to-one relationship. As the water becomes more agitated the reflection becomes distorted. The more the agitation, the more the distortion.
On a recent photography expedition to the Everglades, I went farther south to photograph some turquoise water. In Key Largo, gateway to the Keys, I asked at the Visitor’s Center where I could find the closest access to clear water. I was surprised when the lady indicated that the best place was Key West. I didn’t want to drive 100 miles, so I asked if there was any place closer. “Not really,” she said. “It’s private property all the way down.” And it was. On both sides of the divided highway it was wall-to-wall shops and trees and signs, no water to be seen. After driving about forty miles I finally pulled into a restaurant that advertised “Waterfront Dining.” Indeed, after cruising the parking lot until a spot opened, I was shown to a picnic bench where, beyond the piers of a three-story deck where people sat at a bar I could see the water—and a small beach boarded by fences with no access, no place to walk along the water. As it happened, the “music” was so loud I had to leave. After two more such places I realized that, while the Keys had plenty of entertainment venues, they were not conducive to appreciating or photographing nature. I turned around and headed north.
Reflecting on that experience, I think about the juxtaposition of the beautiful and calm, clear water and the disturbed reality just thirty or forty feet from the beach. What I learned is that, along with travel comes the turbulences of traffic congestion, noise, rushing, frustrated waiting, the anxiety of making connections on time and spoiled environments. One of the reasons why, after traveling, we say “it’s good to be home” is that it’s the place where the “waters” are calm and the reflections are clear.
You can’t see wisdom, but you can see its reflection. Its reflection is happiness, fearlessness, and kindness.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
Title: Reflection of Sailboat Masts
File: S 343
Location: Sausalito, California
On a day when the wind was slight I was walking along the piers of a marina and came upon these reflections.
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