Infinity and beyond…

Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no more snowflakes to count.

Mind boggling as the concept is, the magnitude of that number is probably as close to the idea of infinity as our normal human thoughts can grasp. Yet it is so far short of an infinite number! Scientists calculate that there could be as many as four and a half billion planets similar to earth in the Milky Way galaxy. Each one of those with its own possibility of snowflakes.  And it is thought that there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Yet are we sure that there is only one universe? Quantum physicists don’t seem to think so…

Suddenly our infinity of snowflakes seems a little puny compared to the possibilities that exist in this wider reality we but dimly perceive.

We in the UK may consider we get a lot of snow. On the whole, it isn’t a vast amount. A couple of inches can be considered ‘a lot’ in southern counties. The north gets more as a rule. We do have the occasional bad winter, and higher ground is harder hit. But I’ve been to places in Europe where snow meant that roads were cut through it with fifteen foot banks of the stuff on either side. Yet a friend in Malta, not so very far away, has never seen a snowfall.

It is all relative.

We think in terms of personal experience, taking into account, perhaps, what we know from the experience of others. While we are aware of these other realities… such as snowless countries or the ones that get twenty times the volume we do… we behave almost as though we don’t truly believe it. We look out of the window and see a foot of snow as either a wonderland or the end of the world… depending on whether we are going out to play or have to brave the roads. We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.

Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us. These hidden realms may occasionally be populated by apparent impossibilities and within them we may be able to transcend the limitations of physics and experience. We may question the accuracy of the reflected world within this sphere, but we do not doubt the reality of mind and imagination. Through it we access concepts and abstractions that surpass the limiting bounds of physical existence. We create and innovate and can comprehend the mind-boggling at a level and in ways we cannot in ‘real life’.

We cannot count every snowflake ever to fall, but imagination gives us an inner feeling for the infinite. It is so far outside the bounds of direct experience that we may never truly understand it. Maybe we do not need to. But we are able to get a personal picture that represents it for us, whether we look at the ocean from the point of view of a single drop, or see ourselves a pinprick in the vast sea of interstellar space. The mind allows us to form an image, a representation that allows us to ‘know’ at a very intimate level. After all, we live within the matrix of infinity and are intimately woven with it.

For many, the idea of the infinite is inextricably linked with that of divinity. Here too imagination allows us to form a personal image with its attendant emotions, regardless of the tradition in which we were raised or the path we have chosen. The image we have will be unique, like a snowflake,  whether we have chosen to view it with faith, belief or dismissal. Divinity is as impossible to grasp in Its entirety as the idea of the infinite within the mind of the everyday world. Maybe we do not need to. If we accept Its existence in any form, then here too we live within It.

A single snowflake is made by hundreds of individual ice crystals coming together and there are so many different ways in which they can arrange themselves that it is said that no two are alike. Statistically, who knows whether or not it is true? From the billions that have fallen or are yet to fall we have examined, perhaps, a few thousand. It doesn’t really matter. Their delicate beauty is transient and can be destroyed by a breath, transformed back into the element from which it came, not lost, but returning to earth to begin the cycle again.

I wonder sometimes if our thoughts and dreams are not the same, fragile and ephemeral as they are, easily damaged or dissolved by the wrong touch. Perhaps they are not lost altogether but return to their component parts, waiting for us to bring them together again in a design more beautiful than the last.

Yes, I know I have a weirdly wired mind, my sons tell me so frequently….

Sunrise

It was cold when I opened the door for the dog. The grass, lush, green and in need of cutting by day, was a wonderland of gilded diamonds in the dawn light, sparkling and casting rainbows in the breeze. The morning smelled of autumn, though summer is at its height. I watched the sun rise, pink and gold, through the branches, rayed like a child’s drawing.

It reminded me that it is not just the source of light and heat that we take for granted every day… it a star and it, not our small, blue planet, is the centre of our solar system. One of countless such systems across a universe, or a multiverse, that we barely comprehend.

Were we to board a ship that sailed the blackness of interstellar space, our little planet would soon disappear, its reflected light fading into nothingness. Yet the sun would remain for a while, another pinhole in Heaven’s floor… one small jewel of the night amongst uncountable others… while time and distance would cease to have meaning.

By accident or some grand design, our home just happens to be at the right place in the planetary dance for life as we know it to be sustained. Or perhaps, life arose here because Earth was in the right place. A fine distinction. Should some ship one day carry us beyond the stars we know, would we even recognise other forms of life unless they fit our definitions? Would they recognise, or even see us? Or would our interactions seem as strange and fanciful as a visit from the Fae, where life forms alien to each other perceive each other but dimly through a veil of unreality?

Glimpsing that vastness, even just for an instant, puts life’s problems in perspective. It may not make living through them any easier, because we, and our focus, are here and now. But it is a good reminder that the whole of human life, with all its joys, sorrows and challenges, from the first Man to the last, will leave barely a speck of dust on the surface of existence, a ghostly echo in its dreams.

Does that mean we do not have to try?  That our lives are pointless or our actions without consequence?  We are part of something so vast that the events of our daily lives might seem insignificant, and in some ways that is true. It matters little, when measured against the backdrop of infinity, that we choose toast or coffee for breakfast. And yet, every choice we make, every word we speak, every action we take will irrevocably change and shape the whole of existence forever.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future,” wrote Tolkien.  Together, we are writing humanity’s story… what part we play and what mark we leave upon its pages is up to us.

A pattern in the night

Image: Pixabay

I couldn’t sleep. I’d gone to bed sleepy, read until I could read no more, then snuggled down expecting the inner lights to go out within minutes. An hour later I was still waiting… and wide awake. It might have had something to do with the discomfort in my hand. Nothing to do with typing too much of course… not possible. I gave in and got up, heading for hot milk and more of the damnable painkillers. I wasn’t best pleased about the whole affair as I need to be up by six at the latest, Sunday or not, and it had been after midnight when I had finally gone to bed in the first place.

The previous night it had been the wind howling outside. It is odd, I have no qualms about being high on a hilltop in the wind, buffeted by gusts and struggling to stay upright. That I enjoy. But I don’t like the noises the house makes in a gale. I hadn’t particularly cared for the creaks and groans of the trees either when Ani and I had been out for our walk. But I had slept as soon as the rain began to batter the windows. That I find soothing.

It is strange the associations we make with sensory impressions and how deeply they are ingrained and affect behaviour. The smell of candlewax I find both comfortable and uplifting. The sound of rain on an umbrella is happy… and on canvas the memories of camping trips and laughter come back. The list is endless…

I was thinking about it when I was cuddling my granddaughter. The small sounds of a sleepy child seem to trigger the competence of motherhood again. The body knows what to do…how to lift and hold, how to rock and calm. Probably with far more confidence now than when the skills were first learned. The smell of paint reminds fingers what to do to create an image. The touch of flour tells them how to make pastry. The sound of a waltz reminds the feet how to dance.

I wondered how much our memory is rooted in the physical. All of it in some ways, as we can only experience through the senses. We know there is muscle memory, a pattern known to the body that it can repeat with increasing ease and accuracy as we learn new skills. Then we add the overlay of emotion, of course… a context that frames and defines each memory and colours our perception each time they are triggered. It is all part of the constant programming that builds up the layers of individuality that make us who we are.

Our experiences of the world are pretty limited really… limited by the portals of the senses themselves as to how we can perceive. Yet even if we experience the same event, emotion will make our perception of it different for each of us. A lifetime of such differences makes each of us a unique combination… individuals.

It shouldn’t be a surprise really, that pattern of infinite possibility born of limitation is all around us. Nine numbers can go on indefinitely producing other numbers that are unique unto themselves. Twenty-six letters of the alphabet combine to make over a million words in English alone… three primary colours combine with light and shadow to produce millions of tints, hues and shades… seven notes create every song ever sung, every symphony played…

It is within this limitation itself that harmony is established. Paradoxically, their very restriction creates the relationship between them that permits harmony, dissonance and growth and gives their distance both meaning and beauty as they spiral outwards towards infinity, allowing us to trace their patterns and begin to know them.

Within ourselves the five senses allow us to ‘harmonise’ too, understanding each other through the empathy of common experience. Seven billion humans alive today, have common ground through five shared senses. Untold numbers of other creatures share those senses too, and by their presence or absence, their experience is defined. Yet every single one of us is unique, perhaps solely because of the thoughts and emotions with which we respond to those experiences. The jury is out on which of those two come first… whether emotion gives rise to thought or vice versa. I’m not sure they are separable or separate, regardless of precedence. Perhaps they are the manifestation of the same process on a different arc of the spiral.

Looking out of the door, open to the night at the insistence of the dog, I look up at the stars; visible traces of our own spiral galaxy, and wonder of what it too may be a part… what its relationships may be to other galaxies… what harmonies might be brought into being out there in the blackness… Billions of point of light. From here they all look pretty much the same and yet I can discern the patterns of the constellations; remember their stories and mythology… know that man is already out there exploring…

My senses have taken me from pain to infinity; my thoughts have travelled the universe, through both the inner uniqueness of man and the vast wonderment of space. My emotions have spiralled from annoyance to awe… all in the time it took to recognise a pattern in the night.

Reflecting reality…

Thilo Frank’s Mirrored Room. Image google search, source unknown... appropriately
Thilo Frank’s Mirrored Room. Image google search, source unknown… appropriately

My son has an infinity mirror in his bedroom which startled the electrician who installed it. He thought it was ‘just’ an illuminated mirror and nearly fell through the imaginary black hole it creates when he switched it on to test it. Tiny LED lights are mirrored back into ‘space’. I take great delight in showing it to people… it always elicits the same surprise and delight, from child to adult, and it reminds me every time I see it of moment from my own childhood.

Standing between the two mirrors in the rather swish cloakroom of the store, I saw my reflection stretching, apparently, to infinity. I was fascinated by the fact that I could see myself from both the front and from the back… a view we seldom see. Not only myself, but others in the cloakroom and objects too; a vase of flowers, an ormolu clock behind whose gilded face I could see the tarnished brass door with its little keyhole. My memory of the event is vivid, though I was, perhaps only five at the time. The mirrors were flat, thin planes, yet the depth incredible.

My mother, when she had finished applying the coral pink lipstick she always wore, explained about mirrors and showed me how they reflected into each other anything that was poised between. To me, back then, it was magical. That is the kind of childhood magic that never seems to fade.

A little older and I began to see a parallel magic at work; we ourselves, or so it seemed to me, are poised between the mirrors of reality. Consciousness seems to stand somewhere undefined between those mirrors. Look one way at our reflection and we see the layers of mind and intuition, intellect and emotion… all the things that go to make up the personality we know, right on through to the senses and the body within which we move through the world. These, of course, are all tangible, measurable things… aspects of ourselves with which we are familiar and comfortable. Even the intangible aspects are measurable and we see ourselves reflected clearly, eye to eye as it were, as we gaze into the glass. Around us are the objects that make up our world and they accompany the layers of self through the infinite reflections; a familiarity that is both comforting and vaguely disturbing.

What if, I thought, just as with the mirrors, behind us the reflection stretches just as far? We can see that ‘rear view’ reflected before us, but we cannot turn and see it clearly, eye to eye, for then we have altered the angle of perception, turning ourselves again to face our face. Yet always behind us, is as much as we see in front; an unfamiliar, almost alien view of our Self that we cannot look upon directly; only its reflection is visible to our eyes. What then, I thought, was this alternate view of our Self? Were we catching a glimpse of something beyond the tangible reality we know; looking out across the plain of the Soul to the essence of our Self? So many layers… seemingly infinite…yet the being thus reflected was a single point of consciousness… all the layers occupying a single spark of life.

The whole idea fascinates me as much as the mirrored room did when I was a child, and I still feel the same sense of adventure and magic when I seek to gaze upon those reflections. This idea of reflected layers of reality even weaves itself through the books written with Stuart France as stories that tell the same story dance through the pages, layer upon layer. And that leads me to wondering if reality itself stands between such mirrors? If the world we observe spins off beyond the known into unknown realms? The possibilities are as infinite as the reflection in the mirror… and then, of course, you have to ask, are we ourselves but a reflection, and if so… what is It that is poised between them mirroring facets of becoming?

%d bloggers like this: