From a work of visual art to the cosmos itself, I am continually intrigued by the unseen, the underlying, essential structure of what is known as reality. Scientists tell us that what we see and can detect with our instruments, that is, all atom-based matter, is less than 5% of what actually exists. In addition, our world is held together and simultaneously pushed apart by dark matter (27%) and dark energy (68%). It seems that we don’t see everything – far from it – in fact, we see very little of what there is, of what is real. Further complicating the issue, we often don’t even see what is right in front of us, depending on how conscious we are at the time of observation. How might it affect one’s cosmology (one’s beliefs about the origin and nature of the universe) to know that so much is unseen, and yet what is unseen affects everything we do in far greater proportion than what we do see? How might it affect or hamper our understanding of metaphysical truth (our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality, of being), if we base our understanding on only what we can see?
Science mirrors art mirrors . . .
Reality is a combination of seen and unseen elements. What I find interesting about dark matter and dark energy is that we only know of these “hidden forces” because of their effects on the movement of celestial bodies, galaxies and galaxy clusters. It is the same in painting and sculpture – the tension, energy and cohesiveness in a piece of art is created by the dialog between non-objective and objective elements. In viewing a piece of art, the eye first rests on what one perceives as a recognizable object (considered positive, objective, definable space), and not the “background” (considered negative, subjective, indefinable space) that supports that object. In the cosmos, the invisible forces of dark matter and dark energy are for me the equivalent of negative space in a painting or piece of sculpture. The illusion is that negative space is the “unseen” or “nothing to be seen there” space. Like the invisible forces of dark matter and dark energy of our universe, negative space is the cosmic architecture, the underlying, stabilizing structure of the artwork. In sculpture, what one sees and “sees through” creates the space that encompasses the art. That space can be as large as one imagines, with less and less effect as one moves out from the sculpture itself – not unlike the decreasing force of gravity as objects move away in space.
To illustrate this point, I would like to consider a painting by the French painter Gustave Caillebotte called Les Raboteurs de Parquet (The Floor Planers). Caillebotte’s “planers” are multi-directional, with parallel arms reflected in the floor upon which they are working. The space bends around “the planers,” who appear to be discreet objects in “space,” held within the rectangular dimensions of the room, their confinement broken only by the open window and its streaming light. The drama within the room opens to unknown space beyond the room, its energy eventually dissipating at some unknown point in the distance. There is both tension and balance between the positive and negative space in Les Raboteurs, and the positive and negative elements, as in the cosmos, are not necessarily in equal proportion.
Making the invisible, visible/conscious
We spend our lives in a more or less conscious state. Our words and actions are heard and seen, yet their interpretation, effect and intensity vary widely depending on the mind-set of the speaker/actor, the recipient and/or the viewer. Hafiz, the 14th century Sufi poet, says, “What we speak becomes the house we live in.” How much more subtle are the effects of our thoughts? We don’t “see” our thoughts, they are invisible, yet their effects are very real indeed. I would imagine that the number of thoughts we have in a given day far, far exceeds the number of words we utter or the actions we take. They are part of our unseen reality, and become the unseen reality of others. If we assume that our thoughts, like our words and actions, have energetic content, we are in deeper still in our responsibility for those thoughts, for making them conscious, not unconsciously reactive.
We are driven by our thoughts. Our thoughts affect our state of mind and tell us who we are. Our thoughts affect our feelings which, in turn, affect others and our interactions with them, regardless of how open and aware we are to those feelings, and even if we try to “hide” them. How are our thoughts cosmic architecture? We are connected by and exist within an energetic web of thought which has a profound, yet subtle effect on how we feel and interact with each other. Our energies “bend” the space around and between us, creating either a drawing toward or a pulling away – not unlike the effect of dark matter and dark energy.
Everything is in relationship to everything else. John Muir, naturalist, explorer and conservationist writes, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Truly, there are no “discreet” objects. We all influence and are influenced, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we want it or not. Therein lies our personal responsibility to influence “for the good.”
What other invisible forces are at our disposal? Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist and developer of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, tells us:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
We can harness the power of our increasingly conscious minds for prayer, imagination, intuition, and love – all invisible, effective forces lending stability, interconnectedness, creativity and compassion to our world. If dark matter and dark energy are holding galaxies together, how much more can we do by turning to the power of the invisible force of love, the ultimate metaphysical reality?
Perhaps it is the very fact that our humanness limits us in time and space, that makes it so difficult for us to grasp the enormity of the truth that we are interconnected to all that is. How hollow and miserly our reality, if we depend for our “truth” on only what we can perceive through our five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – perceptions as individual as each of us, knowing that what we are perceiving is also open to interpretation? Basing our reality on only 5% of what actually exists is clearly a handicap.
Daisaku Ikeda writes, “All phenomena in the universe exist within the context of mutually supportive relationships, what Buddhism refers to as ‘dependent origination.’ Nothing exists without meaning and nothing is without significance.”(Words of Wisdom, Buddhist Inspiration for Daily Living.) Even what is unseen, what appears to be nothing, is something – and we know that there is more unseen than seen to consider. Where does that leave us? We must work toward a state of conscious evolution, by examining our unconscious, reactive thoughts, questioning their origins, patterns and motivations and integrating our new awareness with the invisible forces of love and compassion, embracing wholeheartedly the unifying, metaphysical reality of love.