Shōrin-zu byōbu — left side of a diptych by Hasgawa Tohaku who used negative space to define the image.
Not too long ago I ran across a phrase that so accurately represented my experience of the dream world that I had the feeling of having been lost yet finally coming home to myself. This was especially true as it related to all those times when I’ve awakened to find only a whisper, or trace, of having had a dream but otherwise lost in a strange emptiness that try as I would couldn’t be filled.
The phrase is the “presence of absence”.
As soon as I read it images of blank sheets of paper, the negative spaces of an artist’s canvas, and that wisp of and rapidly fading memory of a world lost upon awakening and how each defined and gave form to the reality present and the reality to be. To me the dream and the blank spaces that give presence by their absence are where the ineffable soul meets us in the bounded world of the material and where what can’t be described describes what is, was, and is yet to be.
I am always excited by the blank sheet of paper, or blank document of the word processor for in these is present the beauty of the infinite potential of the soul’s creativity. I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I begin to write– each filled blankness being a journey never taken before.
The artist’s use of what is not there to hint at what is has always fascinated me and helped me to realize that often reality is defined more by the abstract and the potential than the concrete and fixed.
I also feel the experience of something that becomes more present by its absence every time I am stirred by some event or object to recall a close friend or loved one. In some ways they have become closer through their not being than they were when they were here e.g. I am more frequently reminded of them as I travel about in the haunts of our shared past.
As I looked at the phrase again a memory of a moment in time when I was wandering with friends along a forest trail, my mind becalmed, my body luxuriating in the undefined sounds and smells of the world about me when something quite remarkable occurred. At one moment I was a ‘Being’ walking amongst the other Beings of the forest and in the very next second a new presence consumed me, separation disappeared, everything dissolved, and then folded into one. I was gripped by an ineffable joy that filled me with the never before experience of being the whole of creation. At that moment I knew that somehow I had touched the face of God. No object was he or I for that matter, but its presence became very real in the absence of me.
The presence of absence has often been a defining experience for me and has opened doors into all new manner of realities.