I have been thinking about light. Of course I have. Even more than usual. MK Countryman sent me a fascinating interview from NPR with Arthur Zajonc, an academic who “bring[s] together physical and poetic understandings.” Zajonc is a physicist and also a committed meditator, and his practice of contemplation-enriched science really spoke to me (remember, I grew up in the space between science and poetry, and have a strong interest myself in both).
The interview is full of interesting topics. Zajonc touches on Rudolf Steiner, Goethe, and Einstein. I highly recommend reading it in full. A couple of points resonated the most with me.
“But…if you don’t have an object for light to fall on, in fact, we only see darkness.” Zajonc takes this image and uses it as a metaphor for all of contemplation. He imagines light to me this kind of meditation, this thinking, this falling into the spirit of things. Through careful use of this light, “one comes to know the inside of every outside. It’s not only human beings that have an interior or an inside, but that the world around us as well can be known inwardly. So life is dense with those levels of experience, but we need to calm ourselves, get clear, get quiet, direct attention, sustain the attention, open up to what is normally invisible, and certain things begin to show themselves. Maybe gently to begin with, but nonetheless it deepens and enriches our lives. If we are committed to knowledge, then we ought to be committed also to exploring the world with these lenses, with this method in mind and heart. You know, otherwise we’re kind of doing it halfway. And then when we go to solve the problems of our world, whether they’re educational or environmental, we’re bringing only half of our intelligence to bear; we’ve left the other half idle or relegated it to religious philosophers. But if we’re going to be integral ourselves, you know, have a perspective which is whole, then we need to bring all of our capacities to the issues that we confront, spiritual capacities as well as more conventional sensory-based intellects and the like.”
This passage is long, but the ideas it contains strike a gong deep inside of me, and remind me that the word light came to me, now, for a reason. The internal light, brought to bear on our experience, can help us knit together the worlds of the intellect and the spirit. And it is in this combination that the true meaning of our life here on earth is found.
Zajonc talks about another important duality: “colors come in to being through the interaction or the conflict or the meeting of light and darkness.” This makes me think of my own musings on light and shadow, and of my belief that it is in the shadows that the most important and interesting insights are found. Where light borders darkness, in the liminal corners of life. These are the places I am drawn to, the places I find the most richness.
I think part of why I like the light this time of year, or in summer evenings, is that I can actually see the light. As opposed to most of the time, when light – unless you look incredibly closely, and have a finely-tuned eye, which I’m not sure I do – is invisible, illuminating all that we see without getting involved. This is why I love my photograph of the setting sun on the Church of the Nativity. I love moments when light itself is a participant in my experience, because they remind me of the immense power of something that is often so invisible. Invisible, and yet crucial, to our sight.
At the end of the interview, Tippett asks Zajonc about his “vocabulary of mystery.” I adore this image, and wonder if it isn’t another, more poetic way to describe what I keep writing and searching for, so fumblingly, about here.