Sentience

Posted on by Sandell Morse

Awareness. Is awareness one of the ten values I will name preparing for my Bat Mitzvah? The word feels strange on my tongue. Aware meaning cognizant, conscious, alert. Ness, a suffix attached to an adjective or a participle to form an abstract noun that denotes a quality or a state. Such as: goodness, kindness, darkness. A synonym of awareness is mindful; an antonym, oblivious.
Last Friday, before the snow that fell over the weekend, I drove home, pulled into the garage, and as I stepped into the kitchen, Dick said, “How do you like your fields?”
He’s like that. No hello. A quick question. After all these years, I still can’t take a breath. I blurt. “What fields?”
“Out by the driveway. Didn’t you notice them?”
I’d asked to have those fields cut down at the end of summer, but neither Paul nor Matt, the two men who run the lawn crew had managed to get the job done. Then, Matt had a stroke, and the fields became unimportant. I figured someone on the crew would cut them down in the spring. But Paul arrived. Probably, he’d listened to the weather report. I hooked the dogs to their leashes and walked outside. Tall stalks of dried grass lay on the ground like pick up sticks, small birds foraging. 
To be aware. To notice. To take in. That’s my job as a writer. So why, when I’m not in my writing space—space being both a state of mind and a place—do I check out? Because awareness is hard. To be present, cognizant, conscious, alert. That is one edge of the knife blade for a writer. The other is a kind of drifting inside that space, what I call space around the space.
But back to my drive along the driveway. What had I been doing inside my car? Listening to a C D of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a book I’ve wanted to reread for years, and knew I never would, so I borrowed the tapes from the library. My attention was focused on listening and on watching where I was going. Perhaps, awareness is inward as well as outward, a sifting of stimuli. And what of complete inattention, a moment last summer, sitting on a weathered wooden bench at the edge of the sea, dogs at my feet, the scent of salt, the squawk of gulls, my mind as open as the sky? Perhaps, that, too, is awareness.
Still that word, awareness, chafes. Is sentience my word? An online dictionary defines sentience: feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception or thought. No, that doesn’t work either. Perhaps what I value is sentient awareness, a place where unknowing and knowing intertwine. 


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2 Responses to Sentience

  1. Can you explain the context of awareness that you have to name for your Bat Mitzvah and what are the other nine values. It seems strange to hear awareness described as a value. Since you say you have to name the ten values in preparation for the ceremony I’m guessing you name them to a Rabbi who then decides if you’ve named the right ten and studied them enough to go forth towards the ceremony.
    I find this a little confusing as I thought a Bat Mitzvah was a coming of age but thinking about it I suppose one only comes of age in a religion when one is ready to accept it properly.
    It seems odd to be studying awareness as in a sense you have to become aware of it and in doing so fulfil the criteria?
    I wish you joy of the season. Hugs

    • My acknowledgment of awareness as a value, then qualifying, may be confusing. But I wanted to temper awareness, lest it become super vigilance which I think narrows what we see. And I wanted awareness to be not just a physical alertness, but something that includes feeling, so I came up with the term sentient awareness.

      There are not ten prescribed values. I need to find ten values that are meaningful to me, values I want to pass on to family. What I love about liberal Judaism is that there are no right and wrong answers. Even in Orthodoxy, different rabbis have different opinions.

      Traditionally, both Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are coming of age ceremonies, but they are also times when a person wants to formally and visibly join a Jewish community. And that can happen at any age. For me, I want to be visibly Jewish. I’ve spent so much of my life trying not to be Jewish that this feels like affirmation. And since Lev, my friend and my rabbi will be moving to a distant state, this is my window of opportunity to have him present at my ceremony– which will not be in a synagogue, but in my living room.

      Thanks for your interest.

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