mind the gap
I've discovered that words I wrote landed badly with someone, who read in them a personal attack (where a critique of ideas was intended.) It reminds me to tread gently, and it also reminds me where I most clearly perceive the sacred: in the gaps. In this case, a gap of understanding occurred and the resulting hurt became a sacred lesson in how to mind my impact on others. It also highlights how clumsy our words are when we try to investigate and describe experiences that are essentially ineffable.
In Angels Fear, Gregory Bateson sums it up thus:
We therefore must look first at the systemic discrepancies which necessarily exist between what we can say and what we are trying to describe. Before we begin to draw any map, we must be clear about the difference between “map” and “territory.”
He later goes on to say:
… while I can know nothing about any individual thing by itself, I can know something about relations between things.
Think about that: no matter how much we try to pin down a description of what something is, our words will only ever capture what something is like as it relates to our experience of other things.
Finally, he suggests that
If we try to cover life with our descriptions of it – or if we try to think of the totality of an organism as somehow fully covered by its own message systems – we at once see that more description is needed. But, however much structure is added, however minutely detailed our specifications, there are always gaps.
In my own belief system, those gaps are what constitute the sacred nature of reality. It is within gaps that all potential and possibility arises. Is this something to do with Schrodinger's cat? I'm getting beyond myself.
I'm just recalling something I was told a good twenty-odd years ago now. This was when the chemical model of mental health was being rolled out for public consumption and pharmaceuticals were in ascendency in mainstream treatment. Prozac was all the rage. Depression, I was told, was all down to the brain's signalling system: synapses were being missed and the resulting gaps meant that good feeling chemicals like serotonin couldn't reach their intended destination. (Please bear with me, this is a decades-old memory of a lecture which I could easily be butchering in my recollection.) What I do remember strongly is the workshop leader drawing the picture of a chain of links, with a broken link stopping the flow; the antidepressant's job was then to fill in the gap and allow the flow to continue. Depression was a broken brain system, and medication would fix it.
This may well be a description of the biology of brain chemistry – but biology is only one aspect of our human experience, one system in which we operate. What happens when we extend the boundaries of conceptualisation to include the social, the cultural, the spiritual systems in which we also dwell?
And what if those gaps in our synapses are sacred spaces? What if filling them in is a form of desecration? I suppose it may be the case – but then logically it follows that desecration exists everywhere in our world, in every place where the gaps are filled – every instance of solidity and action. I would argue that the sacred coexists with the profane. Eden lies hovering in every moment, and we create the world in which we live with every bite of the apple, every time we pin ourselves down in language.
So here I've been playing again with language, to try to describe ideas, and once again I realise how clumsy an instrument it is. I hope I've not offended anyone this time – but I guess I can't guarantee it. All I can do is try to mind the gap.