when the sky breaks, and the raw power of the universe roars in every direction Feb 22, 2024

I am imagining a thunderstorm. It begins with the ground, solid and ever-present. Then the cloud arrives, nebulous and ever-changing. And the lightning begins to strike, connecting the ground and the sky.

The ground represents concrete reality. It is what we are engaging with when we dive deep into a discipline, pursuing mastery. It is not about theories; Those come after. This is primarily about experience and experiment. Often we see this in professions, but it can be done in any domain: games, crafting and building, combat (both personal and large-scale), sex, design, communication, logic, healing, organization, daily living, exercise, intuition, and so on. There are so many different approaches to engagement with the concrete.

Although we can affect the things of the world, the concrete itself is completely unaffected by anything we do, or any way we think or feel. It is the rules of the world. It is what both science and religion are seeking to understand and communicate. In a slightly different sense, all life is also a seeking in this direction---Life is both asking and answering the question, "what is possible? what can survive? what is there to do?" We want to understand and to move and to be within this great world. It is difficult to point to the concrete without doing it through the lens of humanity. We don't know exactly what it is; All we have are clues, and the fact that it is always present everywhere.

The cloud represents abstraction. These are our theories and concepts about the world, about how things work. There are various scales of abstraction, measured by the amount of context they require. The largest abstractions require no context, or at least as little as we can muster: 'the universe', 'god'. They are the hardest to form because they require the most experience and openness. Then we step down to 'earth' and 'humanity'. Perhaps 'culture' and then specific cultures. And now perhaps 'me' and 'you', not the pronouns but the specific people. As we drill down, including more and more context, we get closer to the ground of reality, to the concrete. Abstraction is about going up the other way, removing details while preserving truth. That's what happens, in the ideal case, when we turn experience into understanding---We sand away the particularity of our experience and produce something more universal. Abstraction is also about drawing lines, boundaries. Where does the abstraction apply? This is it, and that is not it. Here is the earth, and there is space. Here is me, and there are you.

We can draw all the lines we want, separating the world into systems and categories and territories and property and laws. We can build walls, and cultures, and feel emotions, and make words, and form concepts. We can become many different things, and transmit many different forces. But there is only One Real line, and it isn't drawn by us. We cannot touch it. Its boundary includes within it everything that we sense, feel, think, know, are, have been, or will be. The lines we draw are the scribbling of a child in comparison with this reality. So we are constantly presented with a choice: Do we play at being masters of reality, drawing our own lines and pretending they're solid, creating our own little bubbles of order and continuity? Or do we seek after reality itself, learning about what is possible, how everything works, how everything is connected, and share our discoveries and lift up everyone?

That said, there is a great value in drawing good lines. We might look to the body for an example of the harmony which can be found between the individual and the whole. Our organs are separated from each other, both physically and in their function, and yet they cannot survive separately. The stomach is not upset that it is connected to the throat and the intestines. In fact, the stomach can only be a stomach because of these connections. It would have a hard time digesting food if it received its input from the heart, and pushed its output to the lungs. On a lower level, all of the organs are connected by the bloodstream. There are different layers of connections between the organs, each with its own capability. We might take these lessons into our own designs, whether they be on a personal or a societal scale.

Returning to the thunderstorm, the lightning represents the connections, the paths which run all the way from the bottom to the top, that can be made between these two worlds, the abstract and the concrete. What are the best abstractions? How might we be able to use multiple apparently-conflicting abstractions at the same time? When do abstractions fail, and we must simply be aware of the concrete reality?

The people who navigate these winds, in the space between the ground and the cloud, and make these connections are the greats, the masters, the saints, the heroes. In order to accomplish this, they practice both disciplines: the pursuit of specific mastery, and the pursuit of general mastery. We don't always see the full picture of their lives, but we can feel the power that they tap into. Their accomplishments create a lot of noise and light and echo for a long time, even beyond what we can detect.

May we all strive to be lightning bolts between the abstract and the concrete.

(p.s. Shoutout to red sprites, an elusive and beautiful upper-atmospheric phenomenon, which occur above thunderstorms but don't figure into this metaphor.)

when the sky breaks, and the raw power of the universe roars in every direction

links to:
- mysticism
- reconstructing the spiritual hierarchy with scientific mysticism
- the clay jug and the molten iron
- the mountain of truth

all writing, chronological
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previous: mysticism