I’ve been having and reflecting upon moments of intensity lately. These are moments where everything seems more vivid than usual, sounds are louder and crisper, colors are more vivid, and your sense of touch and emotional being is heightened. I frequently feel like this when I go walking after a long day of working in front of a computer screen. The light is white and yellow, the grass is verdant green, and the chirping birds seem more alive than ever. You feel present in a way that you rarely do, and world is present too. These are what I call moments of intensity.
I think that these moments of intensity are a type of experience when, for what may be a variety of reasons, we become attuned to either differences or similarities. After reflecting upon an experience like this (and I hope you have had them yourself) you will likely find yourself filled with a general awe and appreciation of the sheer variety present in the world around you. When variety is understood at a conscious level, we become deeply aware of details. Specialists experience this on a regular basis, studying mathematics, language, music, or art. When variety is understood at a conscious level, we become deeply aware of details. Moments of difference.
These moments of intensity need not be related to any sort of outdoor or naturalistic experience (although they frequently are associated with them). These moments can happen in your living room, your front lawn, in your car, or while you are walking to work. They rarely occur, however, when you are busy doing something else. When your body is present, but your mind is not, you forfeit your opportunity to perceive.
The common characteristic of these types of experiences is the realization of just how different everything is from everything else. This perspective functions as the opposite of the realization of just how similar things are, an experience which, oddly enough, can be just as eye-opening and intellectually astounding. Consider the moment when looking at a gorilla through the glass at the zoo — when your eyes meet, and he scratches behind his ear in a way that reminds you of your grandfather, . . . and yourself. This is a moment of awe generated by perceived similarity — a perceived relationship. A moment of similarity.
I consider moments of difference and moments of similarity to be of equal value. When each perspective is wielded with ignorance or guile, you can be sure that you will find injustice—injustice that affects others, or injustice that effects the individual. An emphasis on differences generates unnecessary social rifts: ethnocentricity, racism, bigotry, merciless self-centered, decisions, and ultimately war. An emphasis on similarities leads to philosophical and ethical relativism, a misuse of generalizations, and finally, on a personal level, boredom.
Both perspectives are valuable. Either way, I look forward to more moments when I will feel things more deeply, and sense greater and broader relationships between otherwise disparate things. I look forward to more moments of intensity.