I have a vivid memory of a beautiful spring day when I was 6 or 7 years old. I was lying on the grass in my back yard looking up. It was a warm day. My dad was washing the car in the driveway and music was playing from a transistor radio. The grass beneath me was thick and full. It was dry, but the ground underneath was just damp enough to be cool on my back. The sky was perfectly clear. Not a cloud. A few moments of crystal blue emptiness as far as I could see.
Then all of a sudden I saw something moving across the sky. It was small. Tiny. And round. It was very very high up in the sky. Maybe it was a balloon that someone had let go? Or a spaceship? I followed it for as long as I could without blinking. And then when I did blink, it moved back to where I had originally seen it. I followed it again.
And again, when I blinked, it moved back to its original spot. Each time I followed it, and each time, it kept moving back. What was it? Up there in the sky? Dancing around? I had to find out.
I got up and walked over to my dad. I told him that there was something up in the sky. He looked up and didn’t see it. “Where? I don’t see anything.”
“There it is!” I said as I pointed, ‘”and it keeps moving back and forth,” I motioned with my fingers.
“Ohhh,” he said knowingly, “It’s a floater”.
I imagined people sitting on a giant beach raft, way up high in the sky. Laughing and floating through the air. But that couldn’t be what it was? Could it?
“What’s a floater?” I asked.
“It’s inside of your eye.”
“Inside my eye!?” I was a little bit scared. “Can you get it out?” I asked him, as I tilted my head toward him and opened my eyes as wide as I could.
“No, it doesn’t come out. It’s fine. Everyone has them. It’s nothing to worry about. You’ll learn to ignore them,” he said, as he returned to drawing his Turtle Wax circles on the car.
For the next few days I was obsessed with my floater. My little round dot that I saw everywhere. I followed it around until I got a headache. But after a week or so, I didn’t notice it as much. There would be long periods of time when I was busy and I didn’t even think about the floater. But if I looked at a blank surface it popped back up and then I couldn’t see any thing else. Then I could not stop seeing it. So I followed it again, spending my time playing a game of Catch The Floater.
Of course, in time I almost completely forgot about that floater. Until a new one showed up a bunch of years later. For a few weeks I bounced the two of them around on blank walls like a game of Pong.
We all have our floaters. If we look past them into the open space in front of us, if we look out beyond our selves, we don’t see them. But if we narrow our focus, they will get in the way of the other things we are trying to see.
So we live our lives looking out past the floaters. And when we come face to face with a blank page or an open sky, we see them again.
Similarly, as soon as we try to stop thinking, as soon as we try to make our minds a clear blank space, our thoughts come floating in. We try to sit quietly, to meditate, and we get frustrated and distracted by the floating thoughts.
Those thoughts are playing in our head all of the time, like music coming from other rooms. We don’t hear them when we’re busy with things. But as soon as we settle down, the volume gets turned up. And just like the floaters in our eyes, they don’t pass by one at a time, they come all at once, and from every different direction.
But, just like the floaters, we don’t have to worry about them. Everyone has them. We just have to learn to ignore them. Eventually, we won’t hear them. We will be able to see out beyond them. We will be able to clear our minds. Crystal blue emptiness. If only for a few moments at a time.