I still remember my very first experience taking a foundational Psychology subject in university. The first few lectures and the first assignment were entirely about light.
More specifically, we were taught how light enters our eyes and allows us to see. The teaching committee must have decided that the most fundamental entry to the field was to learn about sensations and perceptions. I was introduced to the idea that psychology is about how we human beings perceive the world around us and that as a student, we have to acquire skills which involve making acute observations of the environment and reporting our thoughts in a coherent manner.
I liked it already.
That particular subject left a special impression on me, partly because the lecturer was a tattoo-clad fellow with a close-shaved head. He looked nothing like the female teachers from high school that I was used to and had come to accept as the norm. This teacher was different.
I knew he had a reputation for being neurotic but he was also highly respected. I was skeptical but intrigued. I remember trying to comprehend at that time the fact that, there he was, this guy in a sleeveless biker tee and rugged boots, giving us a serious introduction to Psychology 101.
In the first few lectures, we had to learn about the act of seeing.
For the most basic of reasons, we as human beings take in a lot of information about the environment through our vision. Seeing helps us navigate. It is crucial to our survival, it stimulates our fight or flight response.
And as part of the course material, there were caricatures of our eyes, from various angles and perspectives. We were reminded that it was important to understand the anatomy and physiology of the eye because we would be tested on them.
Then came our first assignment: Watch the sun rise and write a 1,000 word essay on your experience.
I was confused.
“So, do you expect me to be all poetic about it? Can I be literal and just note down what I see every two minutes? Should I produce a personal journal entry that details every emotion I feel? How could I write psychologically on such a non-topic?”
The lecturer replied all my queries with the most overused non-answer of the academic world: “Whatever you think is appropriate. There’s no right or wrong answer here”. The assignment simply involved observing how the appearance of the environment changed as the light level changed.
Being the scientific geek I was, I ended up writing about rods and cones. Those are the two classic photoreceptor cells which each contribute information used by the visual system to form a representation of the visual world. The written piece was packed with newly acquired scientific jargon, which in hindsight, made it so incredibly boring.
Nonetheless, eight long years later, I have a different interpretation on the topic. I think the experience of watching the sun rise itself was transcendental.
One thing I know for sure is that it always starts with total darkness.
When I was there in the darkness, anxiety started to creep up on me. I did not know when the light was going to come. I could not imagine what it was going to be like when the first ray of light finally shone through.
So, I waited.
All I could do at that time was marvel at the stars in the sky. They caught my eyes. Why hadn’t I pay attention to them before?
Why hadn’t I made the effort to learn about astronomy?
These stars, they did so shine like diamonds, beautiful and surreal.
Without my noticing, I became less tense. I started to ease up. I was not so afraid anymore. Before I knew it, the darkness had turned into shades of grey.
I turned my attention to this new and novel phenomenon.
What’s happening? I realised that I could actually trace the outline of the houses around me. I was starting to see. But it was like watching a silent black-and-white film.
I could finally see my stumpy fingers as I held up my hands. It was like seeing them for the first time. It was strangely delightful. It felt a lot better than being in absolute darkness.
Gradually, the greys turned into colours. The dull sky morphed into the most beautiful and natural shade of blue. I could see the green of the trees. I could see the red bucket on the floor. As I observed closely, I could even see the textures of the yellow brick walls and the algae growing on them. How magical.
I did not resent the darkness. I was glad that it happened so that I could appreciate the light more.
I knew that I was experiencing a natural high which came with the awareness that I could see more, see better and see clearer.
But I cannot help but question, was it light or was it love?
Featured image is ‘Heart in the Sky‘ by breath-defying on deviantArt
Ai Ming was inspired by a quote by one of the biggest names in Psychology, Carl Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”. She thought she would share it in the blurb instead.