A few evenings ago, Mary and I went to dinner at a spot which was dimly lit, mostly by candles in wrought-iron carriers. Refurbished colonial structures in Merida tend to have very high ceilings, and often have tables in what had once been open-air courtyards. As our eyes adjusted, we began to speculate about the nature of the space in which we were seated.

Mary was convinced we were sitting indoors, and that the ceiling was painted a velvety ashen blue. I thought that we could be outdoors, with us gazing at the heavens; but I acknowledged that her perception was also plausible, even compelling. Yet there was a hint of doubt which crept into my appreciation of her position, keeping me open to a different conclusion. It derived from a short course of clay roofing tiles protruding from the wall above us, which caused me to feel as though we were seated in an MC Escher drawing. 

For a sensation of vertigo, trace the path of the water, from just behind the waterwheel.

For me, the tiles defied the interiority of the space; but for Mary they remained merely decorative. I could see her point, but I suggested that we should look back on our setting, upon leaving, to see if another vantage point might enlighten us about the accuracy of our differing assessments — the important question being not “Who is right?” but rather “What is real?”

 We were both amused as we left, to gaze thru what we both thought could have been a concrete ceiling, to behold the various elevated structures in the cityscape of nightime Centro Historico.

When our eyes lie to us, we can allow reality to disabuse us of their deception by remaining open to an improved vantage point, if we can rise above our own interpretation. 

The notion of perspective was enhanced yet again, later in the week, when I read a lovely piece forwarded to me from Nonduality Highlights, which had appeared in the New York Times. I’ve excerpted it below. (Reading the entire essay could require a free registration, which is well worth the bother.):

 [. . . ]   I live in this foreground world. I depend on it for my orientation, my ability to navigate through a day. It supports my belief that I am a separate, cohesive individual.

But I’m haunted by the knowledge that foreground can’t exist without background, any more than weather can exist without sky. The existence of the one necessarily implies the existence of the other. Despite this, I restrict my attention to the foreground. I keep my settings on “busy.”

Still, I’m haunted by implications. Something whispers that I’m only living half a life.  [. . . ]    ~Margit Thesthammar





There is something noticeably different in Plaza Santa Ana this year. And it has me avoiding the neighborhood altogether, whenever possible. (I live only three blocks away but now take extra steps not to go there.) We could call it noise pollution. The public commons has been penetrated by an intruder which attempts to draw visitors into spending money there; but in my case at least, it sends this customer scurrying away.
Initially I thought the continuous commercial harangue was coming from a single stall; but no, there are at least two loudspeakers installed above the vendor spaces, on the market structure itself — so I must conclude that most vendors have welcomed this rude noise. But I must also wonder if it hasn’t had a negative effect on sales (not to mention peace of mind).
This all reminds me of a speech, Silence is a Commons, given by Ivan Illich questioning such technology. Illich taught for many years in Cuernavaca (1961-early 1970’s).  Below is an excerpt from that speech, lamenting the degradation of the public commons, which can be read in its entirety, here:

Unless you have access to a loudspeaker, you now are silenced.

I hope that the parallel now becomes clear. Just as the commons of space are vulnerable, and can be destroyed by the motorization of traffic, so the commons of speech are vulnerable, and can easily be destroyed by the encroachment of modem means of communication.

The issue which I propose for discussion should therefore be clear: how to counter the encroachment of new, electronic devices and systems upon commons that are more subtle and more intimate to our being than either grassland or roads – commons that are at least as valuable as silence. Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons. It is taken from us by machines that ape people. We could easily be made increasingly dependent on machines for speaking and for thinking, as we are already dependent on machines for moving.