"Look at the moon," Kate said in an awed voice. But she said it every night.
During the first few weeks of the semester, her enthusiasm for ordinary things seemed cute. After a month, I rolled my eyes when she said it. After three months, I enjoyed the moon. A lot.
We met and lived in a small college. At that point in life, I'd never thought I would hear an adult express so much wonder about ordinary things. Of course, the moon is different every night. I hadn't appreciated the changes in it since I was seven. They were there, every time. Sometimes the sphere would glow bright and clear, every crater starkly visible. Sometimes it would be fuzzy.
On occasions, the moon was yellow. At other times, it had a rainbow around it.
Kate had a natural awareness built into her. She noticed so many changes in the world around her, the extent of her perceptions astounded me. Needless to say, she perceived more of the sensory world than most, especially visual cues. I was infamous for not noticing things even while I was working on improving my awareness. Kate came into my life and showed me how far I had to go.
"That flower is missing a petal," she would observe. I'd turn my gaze to follow hers and take a minute to find what she'd spotted at a glance.
With her in my life, I started actually looking at the moon and the flowers. And the dirt. And the cracks in sidewalks. Reflections in windows. Bugs in the corner next to a smear of grit that had worn off a cinderblock. The world had a different sensory influence while I was around her.
A couple months after we'd started dating, she took things to a different level during breakfast.
"I had a dream," she told me in the dining hall. And she told me her visions of the night before.
She did the same thing after the next night. And the next. And I started remembering my dreams. I didn't know you could learn it as a mundane skill. I certainly didn't know you could learn it without any intent. Recalling dreams while I was awake wasn't a super-power like observing things others don't. Still, my increased dream control lent itself to insights. First I remembered the visions. Then I had months of lucid sequences I could consciously influence. Then I could wake myself and return to the dreams. This was Kate's world. And a little more. Kate couldn't go back to the same dream and I could. The point is, maybe, she was so different that being near her changed me.
For years I had concentrated on disregarding the sensual world. Most especially, I'd given up expectations and desires. Now I was learning to appreciate ordinary things in life. In the process, I discovered it wasn't the opposite of giving up desire. And I had worried that it was.
Appreciation may seem in some ways like the opposite of abandoning desire. But if you've given up attachments, it's not. If you can allow yourself a desire and then detach from it, even better. For me, giving up my expectations was the most important part of my personal development process. And appreciation didn't endanger that. Rather, it opened me up to gratitude for life's experiences. I hadn't understood how deeply one could observe the world. I'd dismissed the idea of appreciation as a trivial enticement of samsara.
In late June after my time with Kate, I went out running at about four in the morning. On a country road without street lights, I turned a corner and found a celebration of sorts.
I stopped running to stare at it. On either side of the road in the underbrush, there was a display of small, yellow lights on the ground. Cautiously, I moved closer to the lights. I couldn't believe the phenomenon was natural. When I got close enough, I saw one of the lights move by a fraction. It was just a twitch. I leaned closer. I put my hand into the thorns and honeysuckle. I moved the leaves of the bushes aside. My eyes adjusted.
Finally, I could see. On the ground of the slope in front of me were fireflies. They weren't in the air, although the weather was perfect. They were walking on the ground. Their lights didn't blink. Were these a species of bug I didn't know? Should I think of them as glow worms? They clearly weren't worms, though. They had the beetle body in the shapes of the fireflies I normally saw aloft in the woods.
After a long while studying them, I let the leaves of the thorn bushes and honeysuckle move back into place. I ran on. And I never saw anything like it again.
You can learn to appreciate. It takes effort when you're exhausted and sore. But you can.