“There is a concept which corrupts and upsets all others. I refer not to Evil, whose limited realm is that of ethics, I refer to the Infinite.” — Jorge Luis Borges, Avatars of the Tortoise
Infinity is a daunting topic. First off, what exactly is it? Does it have relevance to our lives? And does it play a role in the healing process?
Except for mathematicians, physicists and philosophers, very few people take the time to contemplate infinity. There are too many things to do; who’s got the time to spend on issues that have no bearing on our lives? or so we think. We think of infinity as some abstract thing, something that will never show up in our bank accounts (though it sure would be nice to have an infinite amount of money sitting in our checking accounts), or on our scorecards after playing a round of golf (could there be such a thing as a par infinity?)
Yet, the truth is that we are on a slow march to infinity. Although infinity connotes some sort of Absoluteness, something akin to God, it has been determined that Absolute infinity isn’t the only type of infinity – there are also physical infinities, and mental infinities. It has also been determined that there are stages, or degrees, of infinity, with the physical infinities leading to the mental ones, and the mental infinities ultimately leading to the Absolute infinities. What this means is that at all levels of life, infinity plays a role.
An example of physical infinities is the art created by the painter M.C. Escher. For instance, in his painting Print Gallery, a young man inside a gallery is looking at a picture of a ship that is anchored in the harbor of a town. In the town is a print gallery, in which there is a young man who is looking at a ship that is anchored in the harbor of a town. As you look at the painting, and you go through all the buildings of the town, the picture comes back to the original point where it starts, to begin its oscillation again. Escher has created a physical infinity with his picture, a feedback loop with no end.
Mental infinities are the things that are not physical: minds, thoughts, ideas, and forms. Consciousness, also, is a mental infinity. All of these are part of a greater whole, a Mindscape that consists of an emerging mind.
There are a growing number of scientists who believe that there are three fundamental aspects to our universe: matter, energy, and information, which we can also call consciousness, and/or Mind. Matter and energy are considered local and finite; information/consciousness is considered non-local and infinite.
If consciousness is infinite, and non-local, some questions arise, such as, Where does it come from, and where does it exist? This is the area where science and philosophy blend and merge.
According to Zen Buddhism, all minds emanate from a Universal Mind, or No Mind. This Universal Mind is the great consciousness, of which we are just a part. And some of the forward thinking physicists of the 20th century also had similar thoughts. For instance, Sir James Jeans said, “The universe exists in the mind of some eternal Spirit.” Sir Arthur Eddington said, “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.” Erwin Schrodinger said, “Mind has erected the outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff.”
And Wolfgang Pauli said, “It would be most satisfactory of all if matter and mind could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality.”
No matter what we do in our personal and working lives, Mind is there. The challenge is that we lose sight of this and get caught up in the contraction of consciousness that creates our separate self, or the ego. Buddhism teaches the need to get in touch with the Witness, the ever-present Self, that lies at the root of the ego; then we can become aware and mindful of our actions, and who we are.
If consciousness is infinite, and we all have consciousness inherent within, is it possible that we are infinite? Yes and no. There’s a part of us that is part of the Absolute, and from that regard, we are infinite. Yet, in this relative realm, the world of everyday life, we are a finite segment of the infinite. We maintain some sort of physical infinity within the relative realm, yet our bodies only have a finite lifespan. We will all return to the earth from which we came.
At the same token, we use such a small percentage of our infinite mind and capabilities in the relative realm. There is so much of the mental infinities that we do not tap into in the least. Locked into the contraction of consciousness, we are incapable of perceiving the vastness of infinity. We prefer a clockwork universe, something that seems familiar and knowable, capable of being controlled. But the truth is that we live in an open-ended universe, with a dynamic that can never be controlled. Shit happens, and change is always around the bend – sometimes very unexpectedly.
And so, often, when we try to control, or we try to maintain some sort of status quo amidst the turbulence, we are fighting against the pulse of the universe. And we will suffer for it, especially within our physical, mental and/or spiritual being. Most of the great physicians of the classic traditions of medicine – Chinese, Ayurvedic, Hippocratic, Arabic, Shamanic – have recognized that most illnesses have a spiritual, or a psychospiritual nature. They understood that people get themselves in a bind when they live a life that goes against the infinite aspects of our lives, and the universe. And they devised treatments that try to reestablish that proper flow – energy work, herbal decoctions, psychospiritual growth processes, and so on.
Ultimately, our lives follow a trajectory: we go from living a life totally caught up in the physical; to becoming mindful and aware of Mind; to finally becoming Mind itself. That last part may sound a little fanciful, and partly something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The challenge is, how can we bring this understanding into the everyday, and make it an integral part of our lives?