Appearing in my consciousness are things that exist as separate objects: chairs, desks, doors, walls, lights. Things seem and feel discrete and bear no relation to other things. Everything around me presents itself as having independent existence.
This may be a false reality.
If I was a surrealist and wanted to create a black square painting I could pick up the black paintbrush and paint a square in the middle of a white canvas. When I am finished the square would appear as it is: a black square. But what if I then paint the entire canvas black? The original black square would disappear–enveloped by the blackness all around it. But what if I then pick up the white paintbrush and paint everything white, except for a trace of a square shape in the center of the canvas? The appearance of a black square would reemerge.
In this process, two things were discovered:
1) The existence of the black square was predicated on there being white space around the black square.
2) I could construct the exact appearance of a black square through the use of negative space.
This leads me to the following quandaries:
Does the black square exist? Or do the surroundings around the supposed black square make the black square exist?
To extend further:
Does an object exist? Or do the contrasting surroundings around the supposed object make the object exist?
When I pick up a fork it becomes very clear to me that the negative space surrounding the fork is what makes a fork a fork. The spaces between the fork’s teeth play an integral role in the fork’s form and function. If there were no negative space between the teeth, the teeth would cease to exist and the fork would morph into a sort of mutated spatula. In some sense, the anti-existence of the fork has as much to do with the existence of the fork as the fork itself.
If I extrapolate this exist-by-contrast logic to everything, I come to the terrifying conclusion that nothing exists by itself. Everything exists by contrast. There is no object in the universe that does not come with its anti-existent counterpart. A heavy object is considered heavy insofar as there are light objects. Large entities only exist insofar as small entities exist. Left implies right. Up implies down. The black square only exists insofar as both black and anti-black work together to contrast each other.
What I once thought was solid is now empty.
There is something deeply unsettling and dark about this. It reveals how beauty and terror are not mutually exclusive. Things are cute because they are fragile and vulnerable. Implied in the attraction of one thing is the repulsion and disgust of another thing. Integrated in trust and friendship are the tools to destroy lives. Implied in love and connection is loss and indifference. Embedded In the seeking for stability of existence is the perpetual fear of armageddon. To cling onto existence lies the inevitability to let go of it. In some sense, everything carries with it an underbelly of darkness.
Another mysterious thing about this exist-by-contrast framework is that there is an element of deception at play here. Why do things around me parade themselves as discrete entities? Everything is at all times two-faced.
As such, this makes me question who I am. I tend to see myself as a soul, a separate entity independent of a world full of external separate objects. But the things that I consider myself to be me by definition create the existence of things that are not me. Therefore I am what I am not. Everything that shows up in my consciousness is a part of me. My consciousness pervades all things which it observes.
Thus the significance of my existence is terrifyingly fantastic. My soul embodies all things with unspeakable and unshakeable depth. I am that portion of the entire cosmos that I can observe. The vastness of sky, the diversity of weather, the depths of space— all of that is me. Though I am a small human looking out into an intimidating cosmos, my existence allows the entire universe to be. And the existence of stardust allows me to be.
I am merging with reality.
Even the smallest cracks of the universe play a vital role. The entire Universe is dependent on the existence of even the smallest infraction. Embedded in the tiniest of things is the anti-existence of everything else which it is not. Thus, the very idea of insignificance becomes nullified.
As such, I can be provocative and ask:
Does the black square exist? Or does the entire universe around the black square make the black square exist?
But I can be even more provocative and ask:
Does the universe exist? Or does the small square around the universe make the universe exist?
We tend to be dismissive of negative space. We perceive silence, rest and nothingness through a lens of fear and angst. We see death and destruction as flaws within the grand majesty of design. We fetishize the industrial complex of ceaseless growth and expansion. There is a restless pursuit to fill all open fields of nothingness with vehicles of production and consumption.
If I were an unskilled painter I would not appreciate how important the blank canvas is to my art. I would treat the whiteness as a sort of dull nothingness—a deadweight that is simply just there for me to slather upon. However, if I were a master of my craft I would treat whiteness as crucial as the art itself, as something alive, dynamic and constantly harmonizing with my brushstrokes. There would be a feeling of unity with the blankness of the canvas, just like the skilled meditator feeling the potency of emptiness, brimming with energy and aliveness.
This is one of many reasons why politics is so amusing. If I were to pick a side it would reinforce the existence of another side. Opinions, perspectives, arguments, separateness, opposition—all imply and thus render the very existence of the other side. There is a humorous sense of irony here–a dragon eating its own tail.
Though terrifying, this concept of existing-by-contrast does calm my fears of “nothing” and non-existence. Non-existence implies existence. Existence and non-existence come together like black and white. Fundamentally, I need not fear death. I should see death and lifelessness the same way the skilled painter sees a blank canvas.
Only a prisoner knows what true freedom is because she has been caged. A truly happy man is only happy because he has experienced the harrow of depression. A mind that has never gone through hell will not know heaven when it is in it. Sometimes we need a mental breakdown in order for life to mend. Consciousness requires pain and suffering in order for it to know and expand upon itself. Within the darkest of darkness lies the brightest of lights.