August 20, 2010

Bulk view

Hypercubes, happiness, and serenity

I remember reading an excerpt from Flatland in Childcraft when I was growing up, and wondering: how would a flat square understand this three-dimensional world we live in? In high school, I read a book about mathematical curiosities. Challenged by the idea of visualizing hypercubes and other higher-dimension objects, I turned to a trick I’d come across while reading: take what you see, use time as the fourth dimension, and imagine all the moments superimposed. Non-existence, birth, life, motion, death, and oblivion collapsed into a single space, further complicated by the rotation and revolution of the earth, the other motions of our galaxy and universe…

I had an existential moment: life is so short and insignificant! 

And then I thought, “Hey, this is pretty cool.” I dipped into this imagined world occasionally, thinking about the past and future of places, objects, and people. It proved to be a useful test for relationships: what would life be like with the grief of losing this person – will it have been worth it? It also helped me let go of stuff. I could see myself before I got whatever it was, and I could see myself after.

You might say it’s an odd sort of happiness that maintains an awareness of death and insignificance, but it’s the sort of calm happiness that’s confident that everything will work out. Why get upset over something that will pass?

So when I came across the ideas of unconditional serenity and emptiness in Joseph Sestito’s Write for Your Lives (an approach that draws on Buddhism), I thought, “Hmm. That’s what they call it.”

It’s still a little strange to look at someone, stretch my imagination, and see them as child and senior, idea and memory. It’s good practice, though, and it reminds me that we’re all in the middle of our own journeys.