Every Breath A Thoughtograph

“Our cells vibrate; there is music in them, even if we don’t hear it.  Different animals hear some frequencies better than we do.  Perhaps a mite, lost in the canyon of a crease of skin, hears our cells ringing like a mountain of wind chimes every time we move.”

-Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 1990

Thoughtograph of Prince Katzura, Nagoya, Japan, 1913

Thoughtography is the ability to create an image using thoughts alone.  In this instance, from a book called Clairvoyance & Thoughtography, by T. Fukurai (President of the Psychical Institute of Japan) c. 1913, a man by the name of Kohichi Mita was claimed to have burned this image of a Japanese Prince onto one of a dozen photographic plates placed 2 meters away from him, and proceeded to name the exact plate out of the dozen onto which the image would appear.

The basic assumption of solipsism, as I understand it, is that existence and reality are totally confined to me; when I cease to exist, the known universe will automatically cease with me, and in the meantime it is all an illusory construction of my mind, a simulacrum of my own projected creation.  As I awaken, don my work clothes and walk to the bakery, every sense perception is a manufacture of my whimsy, my thoughts creating all existence around me.  Hinted at in Stone’s novel of historical fiction about the life of Van Gogh, on a day in which he feels well, the street he walks down is electric with sunshine, glowing with promise, the churning light swaying in ecstasy.  Then after one of his many romantic rejections, he walks down the same street, experiencing the same weather even, but it is crowding and stifling, menacing with the scorch of confusion, the oppressive heat of a soul entrapped in sorrow.

I hear more and more of this during the last few years- a dangerous assumption that we in fact create, and are responsible for, all that happens to us, all that transpires, based merely on our state of mind at the time.  This assertion is usually applied in a positive way, granting a dubious promise that we can have love, money, and success in everything if we project thoughts into some sort of carefully attentive ether that will respond with material results.  But if this extreme view were to be true, then the opposite swing of the pendulum would also be true.  If everything that happens wonderfully is our job to cajole from this mysteriously attentive ether, then it follows that every horrible thing that happens is our fault, our responsibility.  The 3 year old Tibetan child buried alive in an earthquake brought it upon himself; the rape survivor was asking the universe to do this to him or her; every single random trauma that happens in human existence is the experiencer’s fault- a simple problem of not having the right mindset.  Is this really an acceptable theory that explains  the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

Part of the problem that leads to this runaway solipsism is the compartmentalization of our natural response to things.  Once human emotion itself becomes dubbed a mood disorder, it becomes a sort of moral duty to police feelings with all the intensity of riot containment.  The toxic gas canisters hurled at these powerful, churning emotions take the shape of pills which alter our brain and body chemistry.  Instead of rubber bullets, face shields and batons, we attempt to overrun this inner crowd with repeated intimidations, rationalizations, wrecking balls of radical non-acceptance of how we honestly feel.

Surely the realities we experience are, to a certain degree, a matter of perspective.  Looking across the vast spectrum of scale, we can see that our sense perception is limited in many ways.  We are too big to perceive the music of our own cells, too small to perceive the music of vast, giant stars.  To some, solipsism is so ingrained that every sentient being is devoid of its own separate identity; a tool to be used for our own benefit.  Serial killers and sociopaths for example have the curious conviction that other beings are not really alive at all, not like the individual perceiving them.  People and other sentient beings therefore become like lumber; easy to turn into their own private version of ash.  People become a template for self-worth through domination and subjugation, in fact in some cases the dehumanization of the Other becomes absolutely crucial for self-acceptance at all.  Hierarchy itself becomes a new art of thoughtography- instead of seeing a fellow human, one sees one’s own projected image of “lesser,” “lower,” “higher,” “better,” “holier.”  These selfish cartoons poison our days with conflict; thoughts which lead to the violence of assumed division.  Yet to the person who has convinced themselves of this as necessary, as innate or ingrained, no amount of the sheer mystery, the delicate awe of the present moment can pierce such a thoughtograph.

I can sit here, telling myself that the vast, open sky, the baffling, ineffable nature of artistic creation, and the daunting labyrinths of the heart are all my progeny, a collection of pictures strung together by my own mind.  But I prefer a more subtle challenge: if every breath is a thoughtograph, let these thoughts be mirrors, as still as the surface of a quiet lake, or a dewdrop on a leaf.  If my thoughts are grounded enough, still enough, they will mirror the rest of existence the way that Dogen Zenji spoke of the moon being reflected in a dewdrop, in 12th century Japan.  Distortions and projections may be diabolically easy; inner crowd control by arbitrary force may be tempting.  But it is my conviction today that the illusion of solipsism may dissipate under the glare of a mirror unobstructed by the fog of my human breath upon it; and that I may practice daily a way to reflect not my thoughts upon a world, but a world upon thought.  Then everything as it is will be a thoughtograph with no thinker, and as long as my own breath continues, I can stroll unchallenged through a perception wide enough to include all sentient beings, undivided, in fact, inseparable.


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