A few days ago I was in London’s centre and found myself staring at a field of daisies. One might think ‘field’ a rather strong term, but I was down there to look at flats and can assure you that by London standards this was the most glorious of meadows.
In any case, I had some downtime and found myself meditating on one daisy in particular. There was nothing particularly special about it. Its stem was bent, its flower was asymmetric and it was definitely not the tallest. Yet, it was the one closest to me and was right in the centre of my field of vision.
I found myself examining it in great detail, every inch of the stem and every browning satin petal. After a few minutes I could have told you everything there was to know about this daisy. I knew it intimately that if someone had come and plucked it (or the yappy Pomeranian running about had pissed on it) I would have been very put out.
After a while I realised how odd I looked and straightened up to pretend to be vaguely normal. But as I did so, my senses were assaulted. I truly noticed for the first time the entire field of daisies, realised for the first time that each was as detailed and whole as the one that had occupied my attention for so long.
I hate to think what the Pomeranian’s attractive owner might have thought when she saw my eyes widen as my senses were overloaded. Luckily, she was too preoccupied with her phone to notice.
Over the next half hour I pondered and as I did I realised that there were about a hundred different ways I could frame my experience, each with its own distinct flavour.
I could consider it a bitter metaphor for how self-centred we are, that although every person is as unique and different as each daisy in the field, they all blend into the background as we focus on ourselves above all others.
It could be a despairing realisation about the futility of seeking knowledge. I had spent so long studying one subject, and only at the end of my incredibly specific study had I discovered that there was a practical infinity of facts to be learned solely in my field of vision. How does a man with a thirst for knowledge live? In an infinite library filled with every answer to every question, what book should one pick up first?
Recalling something philosophical from my undergraduate years, I substituted space for time and imagined that all the daisies before me were in fact distinct temporal instances of the same individual subject. On the Humean view of the self, we are not the same bundle of experiences in one moment as we are in the next, so how can we claim that a constant Self is anything but an illusion? Suddenly, the daisies became illustrative of the most severe existential crisis as I became aware of my infinite plurality and hence my non-existence. But then that moment passed and I was no longer that discontent person.
Reflecting on the first thought, I saw that there was a moral lesson to be had. Perhaps if we attempted to acknowledge each person as closely as we acknowledge ourselves, understanding that each has their own desires, beliefs, emotions, we would perhaps better understand the consequences of our actions, and act more kindly towards our fellows. But how then to cope with that horrific impact, that multiplication of despair when we suddenly realise the true loss and tragedy when thousands die from an earthquake or flood? To connect with all as closely as we connect with ourselves would surely be fatal to our psyche.
At this point my alarm sounded and reminded me that I had another viewing to get to. I banished my musings and attempted to steel myself for the confines of the tube journey I’d have to endure shortly. I saw with relief that the Pomeranian had left with her owner and my daisy had been left unmolested.
As I walked to the park’s exit I looked back at the dank patch of grass and saw nothing but some blurry patches of white. They were only daisies after all.