Simple Complexity: Serenity Within the Chaos
The universe is a bubbling cauldron of frenzy and folly, spirits and stars—it is a source of vibrant energy beyond our wildest imagining. The treasure trove of elements around us displays an awesome level of variety unimaginable to the human mind. These bits of eternity swirl and jostle and flare up and freeze, zipping and speeding at cosmic velocities through the vastness of space. It is a glorious, breathtaking carnival, loud and crazy and cataclysmic all at once. But take a deep breath, step back to another level of perception, and look at it all again like a slow-motion ballet—all leaps and pirouettes and dazzling diamond-sharp brilliance. Savor the slow, majestic elegance amid the breathless activity. There is an abiding peace at the heart of the structure of infinity, a calm within the cataclysm. If you adjust your level of perception, you will discover the seeds of serenity within the seeming chaos that surrounds us.
The mandala is a microcosm within itself, a tiny representation of the universe where myriad points unite and oppose each other to achieve a harmony of peaceful unity. You can study the mandala in all its variety and intricacy and you will be looking at a universe buzzing with an infinity of subatomic particles and energy fields and forces pulling to and fro, never ceasing, never resting. But you can also look at the mandala as the relationship between all of those things, the simplicity within the complexity where infinity clicks into a stable yet ever-changing vision. Within the patterns of light and dark, color, shape and form, there is an unspoken state of harmony wherein all elements come together to compose a symphony of interconnected union. The human mind has been programmed by evolutionary processes to identify, to separate, to pick elements out of a background. This tendency, while beneficial to our physical survival, also pushes our consciousness away from the original state of universal unity. So what we tend to do when we look out at the universe, or when we study the mandala, is to identify this point, that curve, we name this star and that force. These are useful methods for studying something that is in all honesty too big for us to take in all at once, but it is only a poor approximation of the real picture that is the universe, or for that matter, the mandala.
Our image of the human psyche suffers from this same impulse to over-analyze. We separate ourselves from the universe around us. We name our body parts and we name the types of people in the world, we name the land we live on and the clouds in the sky. As I said, these are useful practices, but they lead to the widely shared illusion that the names and divisions that we have invented are real elements of the universe. In actuality, though, they obscure the unity within the structure. You are not a separate being, although when you look in the mirror it may appear that way. You are intricately, essentially tied in to the world through the materials that enter and exit your body, the air that circles the world and passes briefly through your lungs, the thoughts that are born in your mind and exit to roam the world, as well as the ones that pass through your mind without you even knowing it. There are causal connections to the people around you, a multitude of ways in which you affect the space you walk through and which, in your absence, would be markedly different. So you are not just your self, you are your environment in a very real way.
All this would appear to add many levels of complexity to what already seems an extremely complex system—the human animal—and in a way it does. But if we can see ourselves as an essential fiber in the tapestry of the universe, we will no longer be something (a person) inside something else (the universe). We will have progressed from Isolation into Unity. Then we can see everything in the universe, every star and every element, as an integral part of our greater self. In this way the dizzying complexity of the cosmos simplifies itself into a unified, though fascinatingly varied, single entity. And we are not simply a part of this vast entity. Rather we are the entity itself, in the same way that a drop of water and the ocean in which it resides differ only in measure. To attempt to identify an individual drop within the ocean’s expansiveness would be pointless and futile. At their essential core they are indistinguishable, and ultimately inseparable.
Like the universe, the mandala is a theater of cause and effect, action and reaction, of forces that push and pull and transmute the essence of existence. But it is not a unique force acting upon a unique particle, rather these are portions of a whole, gusts of breath in a cosmic wind. The infinity of particles in the universe implies complexity beyond the human ability to imagine, but the interconnectedness of these same particles fuses the chaotic universal soup into a flash of oneness that defies the chaos. It is complex and it is chaotic, but despite this there is a core of unified harmony to the universe, to the mandala, and to your self, as well.
As with the universe, we can look at the mandala with a mind to separate or with a mind to unify. Whatever we choose to do to the mandala and the universe, we will in turn do to our own mind. If we seek to divide and label our reality, our mind will never rest because there is no end to the possible divisions we can imagine. But if we could look around us with a sense of holistic unity, we would see that everything is indeed a single unified whole, that the mandala is more than simply a collection of points and lines and colors. It is an impression of infinity, and a reflection of our inner self. We need to step back, slow our thoughts, and stop the unceasing division of reality. We must restrain the impulse to isolate and dominate every aspect of our lives. We must urge our breath to slow and our vision to widen, so that the illusion of an infinity of elements clarifies itself into the reality of a flowing, peaceful whole. We need to find that flow and become one with it. If we can find the unity without, then we can find the unity within—this realization is the greatest gift of the mandala. It is a glimpse at the truth, a hint of the intrinsic unity that pervades the universe and resides at the center of our most ancient Self.
September 25, 2005
by Peter Patrick Barreda, material copyright 2009, all rights reserved