Archive for September 27th, 2009

In the title of one of his books, Stephen Hawking declares: “God made the integers.” While we discovered numbers, mathematics is a remarkable lens on  the properties of the Universe.

Number is archetypal, an essential objective pattern underlying and organizing the cosmos. Numbers are to mathematics what words are to poetry and literature and all conversational forms of communication.  

The archetype of number is, as Jung expressed it, part of our collective unconscious. It is a revelatory medium, albeit an abstract one, that sheds light  on the structure and inter-relationships among objects and forces in the physical world.

Since consciousness arises out of matter, it is easy to fall into the trap of dualism: mind vs body. In fact, they are the same thing. Mind is a property of the Universe and, so, when we engage in mathematical explorations, we act as the vehicle for matter’s reflection on itself. 

Mathematicians engaged in complex investigations into the properties of numbers ( number theorists) and those employed in all the other branches of the field, invest in a unique form of contemplation  (if very stylized and formal).

We do not have to go to the farthest extremes of mathematical preparation and sophistication to take a spiritual journey through numbers. A few moments of thought in quiet active imagination can yield a small taste of the  exquisite character of the deep structure of our world.

Numbers are magical, mysterious, and can unlock our innate mysticism. Numbers are everywhere. They are  richly presented in sacred scripture.

Just consider a few of the powerful, evocative, and profoundly meaningful numbers repeated so often in western Biblical sources:

  • The number three and the trinity,
  • The 12 (the Ogdoad), and the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles, and the twelve signs of the zodiac;
  • The number “8” and its use as a signifier of the Christ in ancient texts ( the “888”);
  • The number “9” and the  nine planets, the nine personalities described by the Enneagram, the nine major planets, etc.

Consider also the archetypal character of number in the fractal geometries of nature: the number of petals on flowers, the shapes of leaves, the manner in which trees grow. Mathematics  is the language of nature, and  I agree with Mario Livio when he says ( in his book of the same title) that  “God is a Mathematician”.

Number is everywhere, in us and all around us. They can be potent vehicles for lifting our sights in contemplative prayer as much as does poetry. This morning, I am taking a few moments to meditate on a four-number sequence: 0, 1, 2, 3 & 4.

If you would allow my free associations without self-editing or analysis in the sequence 0 to 4:

  • zero – the state of latent being, not yet here, absent but not meaningless, pregnant with portent, the moment just before the big bang, the moment just before the joining of sperm and ovum, the state of potential energy, the place of nothingness out of which I came, the place to which I will one day return, the alpha and the omega, the prima materia, the moment before the first breath, the moment after the last.
  • one – I am, you are, a person’s sense of aloneness, a solitude yearning for companionship, a sense of being special, uniquely named, uniquely destined, a purpose incarnate, a thought, a word, a prime, that moment just before going from rest to motion, the singularity.
  • two – right-left cerebral hemispheres, Gemini, the couple, the Janus head , holding hands, stereoscopic vision, the line, two dimensionality, two ones in an embrace, the basic dance, the simple molecule, a tending toward attraction, bonds, forces in convergence, forces in interference, conflict and exchange, shifting perspective, a chance to be so much more.
  • three– the family, the two setting common sight on the third, the complete musical chord, two on the road to Emmaus met by the third, their master/ teacher and friend, friendship, the platonic solids, the dimensionality of space as we see it and experience it, the cube, the middle way, the trend, the birth of interpretation, movement from items to groups, possibilities, a tending toward fullness ( the “pleroma”), faith-hope-charity, the triune G-d, past-present-future, the narrator in a fictional work, the Easter Triduum,the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).
  • four –  adding the Gospel of John, time, the fourth dimension, seeing through mind into Mind, the abstract, fantasy, the author behind the narrator in the story, sibling play & rivalry, structure of the heart, playing the 7th with the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the musical chord, the number of seasons, the compass rose, variations, the observer, in-laws and the eternal cycle, 4! (factorial) =24, a leap to higher dimensions, the G-d within.

We need not shy away from number (or math in general) when we think of matters spiritual. Like  the evolution of the World’s languages, the symbolic language and the natural quality of numeracy in nature is a reminder that Spirit is everywhere. It calls us to the next level, and then the next, with each thought, act, discovery, and product of mind.

A deep structure, a pattern of givens tending toward consciousness, and reaching back to before our universe came into being, is at the Heart of all that we are and all that we are becoming.

Perhaps you too will find some value in trying out this approach to meditation: one quite different from the usual that can illuminate and add great depth to a short time set aside in quiet repose and contemplation.

Counting Petals

© The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

I cannot draw to save my life ( or, so I told myself for years).

I simply have not had much success rendering objects as they actually appear. So, when I draw or paint, I generally cheat by going abstract (one of the benefits of living through the late 20th and early 21st centuries where a red rectangle on canvas can fetch a fortune).

Anyway, some years ago, my wife, who is an artist, and one who can render objects as they really appear, taught me how to see.

We were spending the day at a Jesuit retreat house investing in some much needed quiet time. One meditative activity was to do some pencil sketches. I resisted and suggested I do something else, but she encouraged me with some advice I’ve never forgotten: ” pick the ugliest rock you can find and try drawing that.”

Well, I did just that and my drawing was dead on!

The lesson that day was that the blocks to seeing are largely rooted in expectations about how something should look and a failure to focus on true rather than expected shapes, edges, dimensions and contours.

The practice of “ugly rock” drawing is a great way to break through and discover the power of drawing as a meditative discipline that can improve our overall acuity.

This memory also dredges up another dating back to when I was an undergraduate in a botany class. On day one, the instructor had us all go outside to a line of small trees and challenged us to draw what we saw on looking at a “leaf”.

This was an extraordinarily difficult assignment (though at first we all thought this challenge was proof positive of an easy “A” in this class). We all struggled mightily to recognize the difference between describing what we expected to see from the object at which we were actually looking.

The professor came to me and commented simply: “That’s not what you’re seeing but what you’re thinking; imagine you don’t know what a leaf is, and you’re seeing one for the first time. ”

I’ve forgotten just about everything else from that class but that one experience was worth the tuition. I commend this practice of meditative drawing to you.

Rendering a thing in its essence, in truth, as it is in the world, is epiphany.

Wisdom of the Stones

© The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »