Saturday, February 28, 2015

Absolutely Certain

"Wide Open Spaces"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday it seems as if the whole world was asking the same question: "Is it blue and black or is it gold and white?" It all started out in the social media as a picture of a dress was posted with a one simple question about it's color.  Some people saw it as black and blue, while others looked at the very same picture and saw gold and white; and the world-wide media virtually exploded with this apparent anomaly. People everywhere talked about being "weirded out" when one person saw one color and the person sitting next to them saw something completely different. 

Having taught several courses for many years about how differently each of us perceives the same world, I wasn't all that surprised by this phenomenon. The scientific fact is that there isn't some objective world outside of us that we can either see as it really is or see it incorrectly. What we see and perceive is a combination of the data available to us and what our brains do with it. We are all something like artists painting a picture of the world we see, and no two people paint the world exactly alike. 

And so to the question "Is it black and blue or gold and white?" The answer is "yes." 

I think that what I found most interesting in that "dress seen 'round the world'" yesterday, was how adamant people were about how right they were and how wrong others were who perceived the colors of that dress differently from themselves. 

Thousands of tweets and online comments (many from well-known celebrities) boasted that the color was "obviously" blue and black or "obviously" gold and white. I was especial amused by a caller on a local NPR radio show who announced that she couldn't possibly imagine how anyone could look at that dress and see its colors as blue and black. I am looking directly at the picture right now she angrily shouted into the phone, and I am "absolutely certain" that it is gold and white.

I'd like to think that yesterday's famous dress picture might serve as a reminder to all of us that there is "absolutely nothing" about anything we think or say or see that is "absolutely certain." It's so very easy to fall into the trap of believing that "my way" is the true way,  my religion is the correct way,   my atheism is the right way, my country is the correct political system, my view on immigration or race is the correct way.

Yesterday's dress is a reminder that instead of asserting how correct we are and how wrong someone else is, we might instead accept the truth that all of us are different, and then go on to maybe even learn from each others' different ways.  

Two different people sitting side by side look at the same picture, one sees "blue and black,"  the other  "gold and white"  Which one is right?  The answer is "yes." 

Understating this is the beginning of dialogue.

A line from one of my favorite Sufi poets, Jalaluddin Rumi, says it all for me:

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing
there is a field
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' doesn't make any sense. 


  1. I like YES. Yes, I can; Yes, I will; Yes, I do.

  2. One of my favorite singer-songwriters, David Wilcox, has an album full of settings of mystic poetry called Out Beyond Ideas - you might enjoy it.