The Interlude Series
Now, my work is mostly about solitude; about the intense experiences one can have in moments of meditation and introspection. It's about finding the space in your mind to remove yourself temporarily from the madness of life in order to find healing, balance, and strength.
The French philosopher Montaigne, in his essay Of Sadness, tells the story of Psammenitus, king of Egypt, after his defeat and capture by Cambyses, King of Persia. The story goes that Psammenitus, upon seeing his daughter enslaved and dressed as a servant, while all his friends weep around him, sits quietly, neither moving nor speaking. And, as his son is marched to his death before him, he keeps the same statuesque demeanor. He reveals no emotional sign of distress at the fate of his children, but, when he sees one of his friends led among the captives, he begins to weep and beat his head with grief. How is it that he could show no emotion for his own children, but for a mere acquaintance he cries uncontrollably?
The idea is that the emotions of watching his children enslaved, demeaned, and killed are too powerful and overwhelming to be expressed. They exceed the threshold for emotional expression, as such, they cannot be externalized. He was however able to weep for his friend. Since the emotions he felt for his friend were not as great as those for his family, they fell below the threshold, and he was capable of externalizing them.
"He who can say how he burns, burns little" - Petrarch
That is why you see sculptures in graveyards and catacombs of people in grief, covering their faces. The artist understands the impossibility of conveying that level of emotion in a face, and so covers it. Through our compassion, we understand the body language and the context, and are lead to imagine the internal state of grieving figures. The hands are concealing a face, yes, but are also becoming like doors guarding the internal self. All we need, then, to understand the emotion as a viewer, is the sensitivity and courage to open that door within ourselves.
There is a moment that can be found in solitude, in a meditative mindspace, when our emotions expand to such a degree that they become frozen in time. One is paralyzed. Suspended. These are the realms I am interested in. Not the midpoint between two extremes of emotion, but the place where one extreme wraps around to meet the other. Where one emotion is not overshadowed by another but both are felt at once. In these places, one finds the infinite. One person becomes many, and many become one.
"In solitude be to thyself a throng" - Tibullus
You dive down into yourself, and there you reach a place where all of what defines you drops away. There you encounter many voices. You have an extreme experience that is both intensely focused and expansive. The personal and the universal meet. Harmony, dissonance, and all of their unknown or unmentioned in-betweens are accepted on equal terms.
There is a similar phenomenon that occurs in observing nature, opposite to intense introspection, in an extremely outward moment. In the words of Einstein, "One feels as if one is dissolved and merged into nature. Even more than usual, one feels the insignificance of the individual, and it makes one happy." It is interesting that in opposing directions of awareness, that of the inward view or the outward view, the same result can be reached. One feels a collision and unification of the universal and the individual. The peculiar becomes familiar, the familiar becomes estranged. Balance is found in simultaneous experience of the inward and the outward and everything comes to bear at once.