the empty space…

Posted on Wednesday 2 July 2008

Oriental brush drawings have always seemed to contain wisdom to me. Over the centuries, various masters have written commentaries to describe these drawings – and these commentaries are meant to extend beyond the boundries of the rice paper into life itself. One of my favorites, applied to both haiku and ink drawings is Wabi, "the quiet suchness of things happening by themselves." The drawing on the right uses the "one corner technique" to hint at the moon’s rising [rather than document it]. But this painting also demonstrates the powerful idea that "the most important part of a painting is the empty space" – those places where the paper shows through.

In metapsychological thinking, there is a related idea – "negation." An example relates to the psychic consequences of psychological trauma. In listening to the narrative of a traumatized person’s life, the most important communication is what’s "not said," a symbol of the portion of life removed from consciousness by their overwhelming experience. If you can’t "hear the spaces," you’ll never help the person.

Yet another very concrete example of the most important thing being "what isn’t" is very near and dear to my heart right now. Thirty years ago, I had a show-stopping problem with my back that required a spinal fusion that stablized my spine, but left me modestly crippled. As time progressed, it became just a part of things – always there but simply an aspect of my being. Three weeks ago, it happened again on a long drive to the beach, persisting to the present. In retrospect, there were plenty of warning signs, but I ignored them. Back discomfort, always present, had been "negated" by my mind and I missed the not so subtle signs of a coming catastrophe – common in situations of chronic pain.

I got hold of my MRI before my doctor saw it. MRI’s came after my medical training, and I couldn’t read the problem myself among the sea of "cuts" in the MRI pictures. To his trained eye, the problem was obvious. The empty space [outlined on the right] is a joint cyst from arthritis above the area of my old surgery pressing on the nerve and spinal cord – a state of affairs mercifully scheduled for correction next week.

If you’ve read this far, you might wonder how I’m going to relate all of these examples of "negative space" or "what isn’t" to my usual topic of the Bush Administration. Well, it’s more than some forced analogy, I think. The pages of my blog and a thousand others are filled with the drama of the Bush Administration. Unjust War, Torture, Politicization, Corruption, Secrecy, Power-Mongering – the list has seemed endless. But, in the end, for all of their destructive dramatics, it may well be that their greatest injury to America will be "what hasn’t been" in their two terms of office. Obsessed with foreign conquest and Neoconservative monomaniacal ideology, they’ve essentially ignored most other aspects of the job of running America. When problems arose in the economy, they’ve lowered interest rates, or cut taxes, or given rebates – putting a Band-Aid® in place when what was needed was a thorough physical exam and maybe an MRI. They’ve ignored the National Debt, the Trade Deficit, the Banking practices, Loan regulation, the Oil Market, Global Warming, etc. We learned in 1929 that unbridled Capitalism requires monitoring and regulation. The business-friendly Republicans have eroded the regulatory forces in our government since they were enacted back then. "Deregulation" has been a subtle campaign slogan until the Bush Administration, when it became a roar.

In this Administration, these noisy, dramatic people have ignored so many important aspects of our economy – probably more out of incompetence and support for their greedy contributors than from malice – that our economy is tanking under the weight of ignored warning signs and ignorance [A person who ignore things is an "ignorant."]. That’s what I’m getting at with all this talk of the most important thing being "what isn’t." The tragedy of the Bush years, the September 11th attack on New York, will be dwarfed by the tragedy they’ve created with their unjust war. But I expect that, when it’s all said and done, even their absurd war will pale in the face of the consequences of their ignoring everything else – their legacy of "negation." And unlike my cyst, there’s no surgical fix for the problems caused by these "ignorants."

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.