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Dust Particles In A Shaft Of Light

March 10, 2015 8 comments

light and dust

A beam of sunlight filters in through an open window of a room bathed in shadow. The air is still. In the ray of light, dust particles bounce off of one another, illuminated. The fine concentration of light is filled with tiny, radiant specs that are suspended in space, and yet, in motion: floating, shimmering, tumbling together, touching, separating, touching once more.


The physics of it does not matter. The dust-air interaction does not matter. Brownian motion does not matter. Lucretius’ remarkable vision poem of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe does not matter. Nor does Einstein’s explanation of it. Here’s what matters: You can see it. It is the dust of the world, dazzling in the light.


This is your whole life, right here, right now, contained and elevated, in the ephemeral ray of light pouring in. And you tell yourself: this is the dust of me, the dust around me, what I breathe in, what I breathe out. The dust is filled with thoughts, memories. Mine, yours. Dust from old books. Dust of letters I’ve opened, of papers torn. Dust from my son’s drawings. Dust from cars as their tires leave behind bits of journeys that float through my window, into the beam. Dust of a tissue from my mother’s purse. Dust of my cats, here, and then not here, alive in an eternal way, I suppose, luminous in this narrow beam. Tears evaporate and find their way into the shining zig zag motion. Cherish what you have, and what you have lost. Look for it all, shimmering and tumbling, as dust particles in a shaft of light.

dust particles in light

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. ~Kurt Vonnegut
RIP, kitty

beautiful kitty

tica and kitty

Moth

December 28, 2014 8 comments

It seemed too warm and too early for snow. But, from my window, I see it falling in the night light of a streetlamp. Leonard Cohen’s The Traitor is playing in the background.

The song, Cohen says, is about the feeling we have of betraying some mission we believed we were mandated to fulfill, but unable to fulfill; then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it; and the deep courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself.

The snowflakes remind me of moths surrounding the streetlight in a flutter of wings. Lepidopterists say moths are positively phototactic, which means if you turn on a light, they’ll head for it. There is no explanation for this phenomenon, only theories.

Moths might use the light as a reference point, moving towards it to adjust their flight position by maintaining a constant angle relative to the light source. The circling behavior may be caused by a visual distortion common to sighted creatures, called a Mach band. The band is the region surrounding a bright light, in the darkest part of the sky. Moths might be attracted to the band because they seek the cover of darkness for safety as they circle the light until they can navigate away from it. This path is disorienting, pulling them close to the light. It’s a coin toss spiral to freedom or fiery doom.

I’m thinking about moths, missions, snow, listening to Cohen’s words, “…On the battlefields from here to Barcelona, I’m listed with the enemies of love…” The soldier’s military duty is his mandate, but he is pulled off course, war nerves perhaps, seeking refuge, surrendering to desire, knowing the cost of his path.

Love and war. Lust and duty.
We can anthropomorphize moths to a flame, though no moth measured longing against reason. No moth fanned a smoldering desire, felt guilt, guiltless, or asked forgiveness.

The soldier says, “Should rumor of a shabby ending reach you, it was half my fault and half the atmosphere.” That bright light. We understand it, and know its attraction. It calls us away from where we believe we should be. We’ve been flying into the tail lights, under the truth

With our mission failed and unfulfilled, we are light warriors. We may be traitors to our own war, but we head for that light, blinded by it, burned out and burned up by it. Then again, we may be blessed and unburdened by it. Our failure becomes our freedom.

In the dark of night, on a country porch or outside a city window, a light goes on. The pull towards it, and away from everything else, may be your truest mission. May you have the deep courage to stand guiltless, fearless. Get stuck, get scorched, get saved.

Toni Tan

Abscission

October 24, 2014 5 comments

©Toni Tan

I see it, a story told in the ephemeral nature of color. It’s impossible not to look, but I close my eyes, and listen. It’s the sound of change. Autumn calling out in its rustling and rain of leaves when the wind blows. I want to remember it. Not just see it, but feel it. On a fall day enveloped in grey mist, a flash of red leaves will interrupt the fog, burning through the space. On a brighter autumn day, sunshine moving through the leaves is as illuminating as enlightenment.

Change is forever our status. Fluidity in time and space, the flow of the circle. We don’t think about change, but sometimes something shakes you into awareness: a birth, a death, or the brief and brilliant leaves coming loose from their branches.

This is part of the cyclical design. Trees are actively cutting off their leaves in a survival process: abscission. As days of autumn fade into cold temps and less sunlight, trees reabsorb nutrients from their leaves. This includes chlorophyll and deprived of it, leafy greenness gives way to color. The leaf shedding allows trees to pull in energy and get through winter. It is a cycle of conservation. And sacrifice. The trees grow new skin over every spot where a leaf once was. The trees will live. The leaves will not, but they are making a grand exit.

Nature shows us tangible, real-time change. Change endlessly seeking balance. Here’s a truth about nature, from the Tao: “heaven and earth are ruthless.” Sometimes brutal. Sometimes bittersweet. Life bulldozes through its bleakness – its broken rocks and its broken hearts and its bankruptcy. It’s a dusty path that leads to more busted rocks and broken hearts. More loss. Loss and gain. Gain too, because it’s a green path as well. Life dances through its brightness – its beauty and its bounty. Hearts and moons waxing to full, emptying, filling. A spectrum from bleak to bright.

Energy is always moving. A seed planted, a harvest reaped. Growth, decay, growth. A mended fence. A broken window. Repair. Despair. Gain. Loss. Life. The ever evolving permutation of things swirling in the yin yang pinwheel. We live, survive, thrive, fail, fly.

There’s a red arrow on the map: You are here on this autumn day. And everything is changing. The leaves animate the space. Vivid. Vibrant. Radiant. For now.

Toni Tan