Small Stillness

It was strange to drive a long distance again in my old Nissan. In this pandemic, Tom and I have driven short distances, usually for coffee and a walk in the woods. But the Friday before Easter, I drove to the Eastern Shore to see my father and his wife. To pass the time, I listened to one of the recent episodes on Radio Lab, about the elements of the periodic table.

At Dad’s, we discussed what lies beyond. Beyond this pandemic, this post-democratic world, beyond the mundanity of our aging bodies. Each of us faces an edge we need to cross. We are born, we learn to walk, to talk, we graduate from school, get promoted, buy the house…all the while we think: what is next? And in this question, we also glimpse a reality of who we are. It seems even the universe has an edge beyond which scientists speculate about, an edge that contains a truth we don’t yet know. They call it dark matter, an apt description for anyone facing the “what’s next?” question.

What I found compelling about the Radio Lab podcast on dark matter was how quiet it must be to find it, to get to the edge. There are are scientists working in a place miles below the surface of the earth, trying to hear the whispers of dark matter as it passes through Xenon, the 54th element of the periodic table. This struck me:

It’s Isiah’s call, you know. He’s lying on his mat and he hears the whisper because…that’s for me alone. That call is for me alone, and that’s that sense that this experiment gives to me is that here the universe has been shouting, and shouting, and shouting at us and we’ve gathered all this scientific knowledge out of the shout, out of the clapping, out of the cheers. Now where we’re at in the 21st century is we’re going down to what’s it saying in the whisper, and those whispers go clear back to conception. They go clear back to birth. If we understand these whispers, we’re very close to understanding gestation. 

Radio Lab, “Elements,” March 25, 2021

These were the ideas that swirled in my head as I got a bit of time in the studio last week. I started teaching Yoga and Art at All Soul’s Church Unitarian in Washington, DC the Monday after my visit to Dad’s. It is a zoom class with 8 dedicated and courageous souls who want to explore the realms of their creative spirit. The first assignment I gave them was to create something small — no bigger than 4″ x 4″ or more than 500 words. We shared our creations this week, in a supportive and spirited discussion after a gentle flow focused on the balancing and purifying of energy within.

I began my creation with the cosmic egg. Technically, I wanted to see if I could carve shapes and designs into its edge, to balance it on this spiral, to cup it in dark matter. I worked only with things that I had at my disposal in the studio — a Chemistry textbook from the 1940s, given to me by Marie, and the forms I made of bee hives used in my rubbings last year, the inside of an AirPod box, wire. Tacky glue holds it together, mod podge gives the “sink” its shine.

Big answers come in small, quiet packages. Informal mindfulness practices like art-making and formal practices like meditation lead to a profound quiet, where we can hear the whisper that is the moment of conception, feel the energy that holds us and animates us. Like a top whirling, we appear to be motionless, but we are pure energy, the centripetal force of the things that are outside rooting us to the center.

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