The mountain before the tree

A morning thought. It’s about this picture, Le Lac d’Annecy and the apprehension of reality. (I mean apprehension in its apparent 14th C meaning of ‘grasp with the senses or mind’.)  <– and that’s in parenthesis because I cannot convey the meaning in my voice in a simply font.

With reality, I don’t mean the stuff around us, but truths, and specifically the passions that drive us – whethere that is music, that sense of being in nature, there will be something. There will be something that you relish breathing in. That’s it, even if it is not a thing. It won’t be a thing, but I won’t attempt to name it or even suggest what it could be for you. The interesting thing here is not the actual thing, but how you see it.

That’s where the picture comes in. and warning, there’s some cerebral stuff ahead, but it’s worth swimming in the concepts – you will feel refreshed, revitalised, and maybe just see a bit more clearly when you blink after coming out of the water. There’s a paragraph and then a phrase. The paragraph describes how one needs to not only view, but be emmersed, as I suggested – swim, and ‘participate’ with the stuff of our reality to take it in. Here’s the paragraph and then I’ll go on:

I wanted to include the image of the book page, but for accessibility purposes, it reads: …when looking at one of Cézanne’s oils in London, Le Lac d’Annecy (which I had never seen before), that he actually paints brushstrokes of the mountains over the tree, in complete contradiction to the literal fact that the mountain, as he looked at it, was twenty miles away. In Cézanne, the forms are not before us as compartmentalized items to be added up, but as a presence that grips us. The same is true in Cézanne’s portraits- the subject is presented to us not as a face with a forehead and two ears and a nose, but as a presence. The eloquence of this presence beggars our naïve slavery to literalism, and reveals to us more truth about the human being than does realism. The significant point is that it requires our participation in the picture itself if the painting is to speak to us.

Our participation is the swimming. Firstly it takes a certain conviction- preparation, and actual effort, both in terms of mental and physical engagement. When I jump into a body of water I don’t quite know what I’m going to get, what it will feel like, what is going to happen. I might have a pretty good idea, but there will always be variablel conditions. Once I’m in the water theres a sense of feeling and movement that is differen to being on the air. The ripples of water move around my arms and fingers in ways I would never notice the air move while sitting here typing. The newness, the difference heightens our awareness and we are able to perhaps more readily ‘apprehend’ those details. Once they are known to our minds we can soak them in to make meaning as we realte ourselves to them – take the shape within the context of time, space, place, people, and self – all of it.

What is so interesting about the quote and the painting is the simple phrase about the mountain over the tree. When we do experience and know, our perspective changes and th eliteral reality bends in our vision as we (internally) see. How often have you been somewhere or with someone and all of the sudden one thing stands out? This is what he has seen in his interaction with the painting and the painting could speak this to him, because he looked and let it. There ar ethings to see and hear all around us.

Last little bit – there’s a phrase later on that page:

“a musical movement of forms”

which I thought was so delicious I could almost taste it like a strawberry. I get the sensation of feel as with water moving over my hands, but can hear it, and also for me all the components become animated and in motion like the planets. The words ‘movement of forms’ triggers the celestial forms for me, and makes me think of the movement of this old (old-old, not 1950s textbook old) astronomical clock movement in Prague. (Image CC-BY by Steve Collins). How beautiful to think of movement in terms of music. It is a dance.

So this apprehension (not fear, but taking in) is a dance with reality. I don’t want to call it comprehension, because that is too laden with ordinary mental catigorisation of stuff: tick-box noticing less actively than reading the grocery list, but the movement through water or air or thought that dances in sound, and each part has its own line to contribute, and like the cogs on the clock, is related and impacts and propels and moves – now that I like.


On that note, I’m going out into this mornning’s grey overcast mirk to run by the sea. I won’t be going in the water, but I will dance with the wind and hopefully my thoughts as well as my feet will sing.


*The author of the quoted passage is the existential psychologist Rollo May. He says some great stuff, but also his writing is of a time, and not either necessarily easy-going or for everyone. His golden gems of quotes are often buried in Freudian psychotherapy.

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