Static has negative connotations. I can give you static, which is a not very nice thing for me to do. Static on a radio or television antenna is something to be avoided, noise and seeming randomness. In more than our technological world, static surrounds us. Static is the earliest thing we know. Static is one of the effects of the low level of radiation know as the cosmic microwave background radiation that bounds our visible universe. It is this microwave temperature map, shown below, that is the first tree ring of our universe — evidence of the big bang.
I recently traveled to Kyoto, Japan to take in the sites. A can’t miss temple was the famous Zen garden at Ryōan-ji. There is plenty to calm the mind about this marvelous site: the wet garden is absolutely beautiful, the grandmothers that rake the leaves are rapt with Buddha nature, and the Zen garden delivers on its promise of being calming and challenging at once. As I sat in mindful meditation, allowing myself to actively notice without judgement, I noticed myself biasing my attention to the islands amidst the “garden.” These rocks are interesting for how they seem to belong and at the same time how underwhelming some of them are. But since I was drawn to them, I consciously left them to notice the monoculture of speckled granite pebble that surrounds them.
My mind begin to be drawn into nothingness. A focus on one pebble blurred my vision in a similar manner as a wider view distorted my sensory intake. Even with the midday coming and goings of tourists, I was selflessly at sea, a pixel satisfied in the seething static. The deeper meaning of the Zen Garden for me on that day was not that it is not a garden at all but that I was not an observer.
Meditation on Static
Enlightening images and insights can come from avoiding the central element for the static at the edges. On the one hand, utilizing these challenging sensory conditions like a foggy morning, the sameness of the middle of the ocean, or an uninterrupted expanse in a Zen garden tricks us to let go of our focus on what’s out there; on the other hand, we can become mindful of the greater picture, that there is something beyond classification about the backdrop that can be focusing in a different way.
Everyone can gain insight by meditating on the surrounding elements. Everyone can gain context from sub-contexts. These are the things that we take for granted but the gain if we just review and revere them is immense — as big as the universe. The background bristles with beauty and the edges do more than define the boundary, but are an ever-changing horizon where mystery meets normalcy.
The image of static that I think is the most heartening is that of fluttering aspen leaves on a breeze day. Set against an overcast sky or the grey of the trunks of trees higher up on the hill, this static helps you to see neither the forest or the trees but the force that works noisily but invisibly on us all — the wind. Each curled leaf scoops out a bit of sky and then quickly puts it back, revealing a little more through its motion.