My first glimpse of Lake Tahoe at sunset took my breath away. Although I live relatively close by, I’d never before approached the lake from the East and it was stunning. On this particular day, I was driving home from a craniosacral training near Reno, Nevada and was excited to see Lake Tahoe on my way. I expected the drive to be pretty as it wound through the Carson Mountain Range, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the incredible views as I crossed the summit of Mt Rose at nearly 9,000 feet.
As the crisp light of sunset gave way to the muted tones of dusk, my mind began to wander. I remembered how my parents had cautioned me in my youth about driving in the changing light conditions. “It’s harder to see at dusk and dawn”, they told me, “You need to slow down and be more careful on the road.”
A little research quickly revealed why. In 1819, while observing blossoms in Bohemian fields during his dawn meditations, Czech anatomist and physiologist Jan Evangelista Purkyně observed that colors appeared markedly different in low light conditions. This phenomena was later named The Purkinje Effect, defined as *”the changes in perception of the relative lightness and darkness of different colors as illumination changes from daylight to twilight”.
In other words, the human eye tends to shift towards the blue end of the spectrum at low illumination levels. A red rose, for example, appears increasingly blue as light fades, and green foliage appears brighter. This is because the human retina has two types of cells; cone cells and rod cells. Cone cells are responsible for color vision and are most sensitive to yellow light. Rod cells work at very low light and cannot distinguish between colors, but are more sensitive to the blue or green end of the spectrum.
As beautiful as the scenery was, when dusk deepened to dark my nervous system went into high alert. I felt the tension in my body increase as my senses worked harder to perceive potential road hazards ahead. The brilliant colors blended into muted shades of blue and grey with little contrast to separate the roadway from the horizon.
The light continued to change and my mental train chugged along, on a track largely influenced by the craniosacral work I was learning. In part, this phenomenal bodywork modality asks the practitioner to develop extrasensory perceptions; new ways of seeing and feeling our inner and outer worlds. My learning was feeding my curiosity about how our vision works, and how it is similar and different to how we comprehend or “see”our lives and it’s stages. I’m especially interested in how we experience transitions, and what factors allow us to gracefully transition from one stage of life to another.
It occurred to me, as I drove home that weekend, that just as our vision is so dramatically transformed by changing light conditions, maybe we “see” the world differently during times of transition, and that just as we need the headlights on our vehicles to see the road clearly, we also need the illumination of another human being’s awareness when life changes. We naturally reach out and draw people close to us during these times, and it is powerfully healing to have them there with us.
As I write my phone rings. It is the Hospice of the Foothills calling to check if my paperwork is completed so I can begin volunteer training. Yes, my paperwork is completed, and I tell them I will fax it tomorrow. The phone immediately rings again, and I talk to a woman asking if I have room in my schedule to give a massage to her friend who dying of cancer. I can’t fit the client in today, but the woman says that’s okay, because he is entering Hospice where a volunteer will be able to massage him once a week.
These phone calls don’t feel coincidental. They feel like an affirmation of my growing conclusion. Transitions call for a witness; the conscious, spacious presence of another human being. But why?
I’ve had many transitions in my life that were confusing or scary for me. Divorce, t, moving, illness, addiction and traumatic events, to name a few, and even marriage or becoming a parent can be difficult times. I wasn’t aware enough to reach out for help during many of those vulnerable, transitional moments, although sometimes I was clearly guided by “angels” in the form of human characters (another story entirely). Most often, though, I thought I had to do it alone, and I still live with the consequences of the days, months, or even years I spent wandering lost in the dark, not knowing how to ask for help. Eventually I learned how to reach out, either to a clear-headed friend, professional therapist, coach or bodyworker and when I began to do that, transitions became an opportunity for rich spiritual growth.
As I try to sum up these mental meanderings, what comes to mind is something a client recently shared with me about hummingbirds. While talking before her session we had a chance to observe a gorgeous hummingbird as it drank from a nearby feeder. Surprisingly, from her vantage point a few feet away she didn’t perceive it’s colors, but from my perspective, the hummingbird was clearly a brilliant green. She explained to me that the colors of a hummingbird depend not on pigmentation but on the way that light reflects from it’s feathers. I won’t go into the science of iridescence here, but what this means to me is that how we “see” things has more to do with where we’re sitting than what is actually happening. We are not meant to experience life alone, because we can’t see things clearly by ourselves. We need the presence of others to experience and know the full, dynamic complexity of our lives.
My bodywork experiences have time and time again shown me the power of simply witnessing what is happening with another human being. Amazingly and beautifully, there are palpable differences in the body even with just the gentlest contact with a loving presence or touch, especially if the intention is to simply witness what is there without judging, fixing or evaluating. This kind of witnessing can serve as a clear light for the sometimes confusing state of transition we all experience in our lives. It is a blessing to be called to witness in this way, just as it is a blessing to be deeply seen, truly heard and sincerely acknowledged in the conscious, loving presence of another human being.
* Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary definition