Winter Pastoral: Chasing the Shade

There have been moments lately, where it seemed to me, that I, myself, have been chasing the shade. 

Clearly, in the summertime, when it gets particularly hot, and the sun is particularly dangerous, we find ourselves moving our chairs so that they remain in the shade.  As the sun creeps up, we move the chairs again. We’re always chasing the shade.

Of course, we do it for a completely good reason.

There have been moments in my life recently where I have been doing the same thing in my life, only it’s not exactly like moving a chair out of the sun.  Instead, I have been stepping back and looking at the sunny world from the shade.  I realized this in a recent review of the photography that I have done over the past few years.  I seem to be always looking for the sunshine, but wanting to take the photographs in the shade.  Sometimes standing in the sun is unavoidable if I really want to get the picture, but as soon as I feel as though I have captured the moment, I then tend to race to the shade to get out of the sun. 

We chase the shade all summer long until the autumn begins to turn a bit colder, and suddenly we’re moving our chairs from the shade INTO the sun, so that we can feel the warmth.  Even if it’s bitter cold in the winter, we still prefer to be in the sun if it’s available. 

So chasing the shade and chasing the sun end up being the same process in the essence of the moment, just from a different perspective.  We seek the warmth of the sun when it’s cold outside, and we seek the cool of the shade when it’s hot outside—it’s a very human inclination. 

In my life, as I encounter other souls in my travels, I know I have spent a fair amount of time in pursuit of moments like this, when I want to place myself within the range of light of a unique soul, basking in the radiance of their presence, not wanting to go back into the shade.

At that point, I stop chasing it.

Winter is upon us.  Driving down the streets and highways, there’s hardly a leaf to be found on any tree.  Traveling along the interstate the other day, I noticed how barren the trees looked—seemingly lifeless—stretching up to the overcast sky, highlighting the darkness of the branches against it. I couldn’t help but think, as only I might, that if you turned the images of the trees upside down, they would resemble the dendrites descending from the axons attached to the neurons in the brain.  There are numerous images of these features of the neurons available now—electron microscopic images—that are similar in appearance to upside down trees.

There are also new images of the cosmos made available by advanced technologies employed with space telescopes that are reminiscent of brain structures.  The hundreds of billions of stars seem to form images that evoke the structures formed by the hundreds of billions of nerve cells in the many connected networks within our bodies.  Our sensory experience of the world, the sights arriving in the visual cortex, the sounds arriving in our auditory regions, and the touches which register in the regions which give us those sensations, all combine to bring our inner universe alive, as we interpret the universe in which we exist physically.

Sliding our hands or our fingers across a familiar surface—the brow of a loved one; the fine fibers of a newborn infant’s hair—textures of every sort are translated by the interactions between neural networks and brain regions to become part of our library of sensory experience, but there’s a lot more than data streaming through the central nervous system that accounts for the fullness of our subjective experience.  

The memory of the touch of the soft skin of our beloved becomes a profoundly important conclusion to the mental processes in our heads.  There’s something else behind it all.

In the weeks to come, I will begin to explore the boundaries of our experience of the world, to uncover what exists beyond this moment. I hope all of my readers and visitors will return periodically to see where it leads, and hope that the New Year brings you all much joy and continued expansion of life and love.

6 thoughts on “Winter Pastoral: Chasing the Shade

  1. “There’s something else behind it all.” You can only chase your shadow (shade) if your back is facing the light. Give up the data that comprises your world. How?

    1. David,

      Thanks for your visit and for taking the time to comment. After so many years of writing about our subjective experience and all of the scientific research and philosophizing going on about the subject of consciousness, I’ve found that bringing a more personal emphasis to bear on the subject is generally more helpful when attempting to express complex ideas.

      The original idea in this case was prompted by a recording of a song called, “Chasing the Shade,” by guitarist Frank Smith who sadly passed away back in 2020. Music can be inspirational in a number of ways, and in this instance, listening to the song prompted me to explore the idea of how we tend to pursue warmth when it’s cold and seek out the coolness of the shade when it’s hot out. It’s a part of our human nature to protect ourselves from extremes in our physical environment, and it is equally a part of our human nature to seek solace (light, sunshine) when we are troubled (darkness/shade).

      The metaphor I intended to evoke here is less about the shadow, then it is about how we can be protected by the shade, while still in other situations, seek out the benefits of the sunlight instead, depending on the circumstances. The same principle can be applied when we seek out the radiance of those bright spirits we encounter, and try to avoid those who tend toward darkness.

      I brought into the mix the impressions I have encountered in my travels about how our human nature is reflective of the whole of nature, including the forms and features all around us in the natural settings, since this is relevant to my recent writings which attempt to point out how we are part of the natural world, and, at the same time, psychologically and intellectually better able to comprehend ourselves when we pay attention to the striking similarities between us and all of nature.

      Our experience of the world is made possible by an extraordinary confluence of nature, nurture, and a host of exquisite mysteries which exist at the foundation of life everywhere, and if we remain open to whatever paths are helpful for unraveling those mysteries, we will eventually understand our inner lives much better.

      Kind regards…John H.

      1. John,
        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I was initially intrigued by the name of your blog, “John’s Consciousness” because one of my college profs was named John (referred to as Jack) and looked a lot like you. He also had an intense curiosity about life that continued right up until his untimely death. With general curiosity about consciousness growing greatly recently, I thought I might experience some insight in entering conversation with you.

        A couple of things crossed my mind as I read your response.

        First, I agree that music can be experienced as a language that can express things beyond words (the direction metaphors take us) However, I’ve found that lyrics can often distract me from what the music is communicating and that the melody appears to come from some deeper or hidden place. As a result, I have gravitated to more instrumental music as I age. The other thing I’ve experienced is that my interpretation of something another says/does/expresses is often not what the person indicates they intended. This is a source of curiosity for me and seems (to me) to possibly be at the root of so much mis/disinformation we accuse others of creating/manufacturing. These seem to possibly be related to the “exquisite mysteries” you refer to.

        Our human tendency to avoid Suffering (cold/shadow) and seek comfort (warmth/light) seems to draw us away from the wholeness that life offers us. By not forgiving reality for being what it is (both/and…) we split the world, and ourselves into separate pieces that we seem unable to heal using conventional thinking (binary).

        So, I am exploring the notion of how it might be to think “quantum”. So far, I am of the perspective that it goes beyond the limitations of the language we use and the meanings we associate with it and sends us more into the broader language of experience itself.

        I apologize for the ramble, still perhaps you might consider it an experience you might explore.

        Best Regards,

        David

      2. David,

        It is also my hope that those who visit here will experience some insights as they encounter my postings. I have spent decades pursuing my intense curiosity and hope to do so for as long as my brain continues to operate in the years to come as well.

        Music of every sort has an appeal and a benefit for the listener, based on what the listener brings to the music. I also prefer instrumental music generally speaking, but can appreciate lyrics when they are composed well and speak to me in some way. Occasionally, a song will be recorded where the accompanying lyrics themselves, sung by a talented performer, can simply be considered an additional instrument when they blend with the others so well. I have often loved a particular musical offering, but did not think the lyrics meshed well, and would re-write them for my own entertainment. Choral works in the classical tradition, even when performed “A cappella,” can be equally moving and beautiful.

        It is important for serious writers and public speakers to be mindful of how their words might be received by their audiences, and I try very hard to be clear and precise with my writing, but misunderstandings can still occur no matter how careful we are in our methods, and when those who publish and speak publicly are not so vigilant, the results are well known.

        Our attempts to avoid suffering and to seek comfort often fail, for one reason or another, but the inclination is still useful in a practical sense. We learn how to deal with difficulties by experiencing them and success in seeking comfort can be a life saver at times. I don’t know anyone who has ONLY comfort or suffering throughout their lives, but balance is clearly what we should seek in every possible way as we navigate our lives.

        Quantum effects are already known to describe otherwise unfathomable realities, and to predict outcomes that occasionally boggle the mind, but I am generally open to the broad range of possible experience in most areas of temporal life, as long as it doesn’t cause my demise or physical injury.

        Cheers!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful and interesting piece of writing. There is a contemplation, a memory journey and a piece of John world in it. Your love for nature resonates strongly with me.

    1. Izabela,

      I’m glad what I posted received such a positive response from you.

      As we age, contemplation and memory journeys become more important and my connection with nature has only increased over the years. Sharing these experiences with others is a good way to encourage more people to embark on their own adventures.

      Thanks for your kind remarks…John H.

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