We all talk about "frame of reference." In fact, I was typing that phrase today and I screwed up and it came out "frame of reverence."
And I looked at it and thought, Hmmmm. It was early and I hadn't had much coffee, and Hmmmm was the best I could do.
But now that I've rectified the caffeine deficit, the phrase seems to be kind of useful.
If I'm anything, I'm Buddhist, but in terms of conventional religious belief (since Buddhism is more a guide to life than it is a religion) I'm atheist. And yet I have religious, or at least reverential, reactions to many things, and I've decided -- just this minute -- that they comprise my frame of reverence.
So, for those of you who have read this far, what are these things?
Natural beauty. As I've said here before, nature seems to default to beauty. I've heard the arguments that we perceive these things as beautiful because of some aesthetic aspect of the anthropic principle, but I don't care. Surely, since beauty is a dialog between the seer and the seen, what seems beautiful is beautiful, period. So I'll use as part of my frame of reverence the feeling provoked in me by the coast of Mykonos (thanks, Jeff) or the tumbled-stone cathedrals of Joshua Tree or the luminosity inside an abalone shell or the spiral of a galaxy or the contrast between the blue and the brown on this bird.
Music, painting, writing, science, and other activities in which humans find something inside themselves, develop it, and put it out into the world, creating something where nothing was before. But especially music, and most especially instrumental music, which is abstraction piled on abstraction, played through instruments that are themselves triumphs of the creative spirit, all adding up to an invisible structure of beauty, churches made of air.
Kindness. The woman in a Southeast Asian village who picks up a crying child that's not hers and makes the day okay again. People who slow to let you turn left. Anyone who smiles at me on the sidewalk, which is probably the main reason I love Thailand so much. A tiny act of kindness is something good and pure breaking through the noise and smoke to say hello.
Mockingbirds: They look like God's first draft of birds but nothing in the world lifts my spirits faster than a mockingbird doing a little avian Mozart somewhere invisible (you can almost never see them), just ripping through song after song without repeat. No conservation at all, just abundance. On a very minor level, this says something to me about the infinity of good that surely exists beside, and is sometimes intertwined with, the infinity of evil.
And, okay, Love. I've been with one person for 33 years now, and we're just beginning to know each other. Love is the thing that shows me, by implication, that people aren't solely the short-lived silhouettes most external evidence seems to suggest they are. Instead, like the mockingbird's song, they're pretty much an infinite series of surprises and discoveries -- both good and bad, beings who have internalized some part of the universe and are much bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. And we should always be grateful for the opportunity to explore one of them.
I could go on for days, but what about you? Any signposts that help you define your frame of reverence?