Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Multi-layered questions and answers

The issues raised here over the last few days have sparked a good deal of discussion, much of it around the question of "how do we know?"

How do we know, when things aren't going well, how much of the problem is something we're contributing, either with our own nature, our thoughts, or our projections?

How do we know, when it seems a decision needs to be made, whether our judgments are sound and rational or based on avoidance, discomfort, or -- again -- projections?

And there are as many answers to these questions as there are people in the world: it's a problem each of us has had to solve at one time or another, and we each bring different assumptions to the challenge -- even assumptions about the results; whether the choices we made were good or bad, whether the outcomes carried blessings or curses...

So I am amused to read the following in Eckhart Tolle's New Earth this morning:

"The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of "good" and "bad" are ultimately illusory.  They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily...there are no random events, nor are there events or things that exist by and for themselves, in isolation.  The atoms that make up your body were once forged inside stars, and the causes of even the smallest event are virtually infinite and connected with the whole in incomprehensible ways."

"Sooner or later," says Tolle, "disorder will irrupt into everyone's life no matter how many insurance policies he or she has.  It may come in the form of loss or accident, sickness, disability, old age, death.  However, the irruption of disorder into a person's life, and the resultant collapse of a mentally defined meaning, can become the opening into a higher order."

I confess I find these words both reassuring and irritating: Having been raised a Presbyterian, I like thinking it's all part of some divine plan, that "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).  But at the same time that thinking seems hopelessly idealistic in the face of pain and loss.  It was all beginning to feel terribly muddy, so I thought I'd try to create an image that might help me understand better.  And this is what came.

This image seems, like this problem, rather hopelessly muddy and dense.  And yet, when I try to heighten the contrast, I'm not sure I like what I see.  No surprises there!  But maybe that means that at some level it's good -- and appropriate -- for things to be a little confusing?  There are actually four layers in this picture, and that seems appropriate.

The first layer, which has that seam and the silver buttons on it, is a photograph of the insulation wrapped around heating pipes on the ceiling of the car deck on the ferry.  It's a very simple picture, of something easy to understand, even easy to imagine creating, and yet it's actually masking, protecting us, from heat and danger -- even as it keeps the heated pipes hot so they can do their work.  So that's kind of fun to think about (and no, I didn't plan this going in, it's just what called to me).

The second layer, which contributes the horizontal streaks of light and the smear of red in the upper left corner, is the wall of the ferry turned on its side (that red smear is actually a NO SMOKING sign).  So that might be something about the rules we create to protect ourselves?

The third layer is reality -- a driveway, grass and trees in Vermont -- and gives us a sense that we're going somewhere, that life has a purpose, that there are things we can touch and see and understand; it feels sort of familiar, encouraging, inspiring, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world"-ish.  That sense we have when things are going well and we stop -- even if only for a moment -- and see that all is well.

And the fourth, top layer, is a piece of art that somehow evolved back when I was playing with Citrasolv.  It's very abstract and colorful, and makes almost everything I put it on seem beautiful, magical, artistic, mysterious, impressionistic...  And I think maybe that represents spiritual awareness, that sense of connection, wholeness; the faith that somehow things can come right; an acceptance of mystery, that there is much that just lies beyond understanding, that we just have to trust.

I'm not saying this is great art, or even that I like it, or that you have to like it.  But in constructing it, I get this sense that all these questions have a lot of layers, and that its okay to accept that complexity as a gift, something mostly beyond understanding which somehow conveys a depth and beauty without any kind of concrete answer.

In the end, what I like is Tolle's line, "the atoms that make up your body were once forged inside stars."  It makes me want to go back and add a little sparkle to the picture.  But maybe we don't need to; maybe we are the sparkle that makes it beautiful -- like those lights on the wall in yesterday's image...


Maureen said...

While reading the Tolle quote, I couldn't help but think of the chapter I'm reading in "The Emperor of All Maladies" in which cancer is reckoned "a distorted version of our own selves", which research has shown to be true. So highly complex, and the more we break it down, into cell and gene, the greater the complexity of interrelatedness. The layering defies any easy answer or approach.

That you assembled your image from four seemingly unconnected layers and created something of a piece, whole. . . well, it's fascinating!

Louise Gallagher said...

Love that quote. And this is very deep thinking requiring me to peel back the layers to see the whole -- sparkles and all!