As I scrolled through the political declarations, the cartoons, the family news and the inevitable Cute Kitten post of the day, I chanced upon a photograph of a baby platypus. How sweet, I thought, and then stopped, transfixed. Something shifted in my brain and I looked again.
Suddenly, this creature I had taken for granted all my life, had known as an integral part of the Australian landscape ever since reading “Shy, The Platypus” in junior school, was revealed in all its amazing complexity. As I stared at the image I saw, as never before, the unlikely combination of physical features that had convinced British scientists that the creature was a hoax ( presumably concocted by Chinese taxidermists who were known to be rather fond of sewing together disparate anatomical parts of various animals.)
The longer I gazed, the stranger, more miraculous this tiny being appeared to be. I was enthralled.
I clicked on a link which took me to a site featuring the amazing photography of Paul Nicklen. Another bizarre creature appeared, lifted from my childhood obsession with encyclopaedias: the narwhal. They have always fascinated me, these unicorns of the sea, but now I saw them anew in all their mythic beauty.
The practice of mindfulness produces some unexpected consequences. Over a period of time, often imperceptibly, it brings about changes in the brain – literal, physical changes which alter our thought processes. One of these is the capacity to see the world, truly see it, stripped of our preconceptions and the burden of identification with thoughts and feelings. We begin to see people, animals, nature, even inanimate objects, in a different light. The symbolic connotations recede and we are able to experience a lively curiosity. What is this person, this creature, this object in itself?
Students have sometimes asked me whether the practice will remove the magic from life and somehow stunt our imaginations. In fact the reverse is true.
Slowly, we cease taking the familiar for granted; day by day we relive the wonder felt by our childhood selves when the world seemed to be newly minted, every day.
And it is then that we truly rediscover the magic.
Platypus image courtesy of Wildcare Australia Inc.