Emptiness and the Dome of Heaven

Each dome of heaven arises from emptiness and embodies emptiness in it beginnings. In a very early post I discussed the work of Anselm Kiefer and specifically referred to his work titled “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”. If you are not familiar with this particular painting by Kiefer then just Google the title and you can appreciate it for yourself. In the painting, the dome of heaven is depicted as a transparent hemisphere, so you will have to visualize your own dome of heaven (DOH) with you standing just beneath its highest point. Now consider that everyone around you sits at the center point of his or her own DOH. This may be difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice.

Before a child is born, that is while they are in utero, it resides beneath the expectant mother’s DOH. Recollections of pregnancy and birthing, no matter how uncomfortable and painful aspects of the whole experience was, will remain beneath her DOH. Her child will remain there as well, no matter how old they are. There is your first hint re: the raison d’etre of one’s DOH. It exists to contain everything that is important to you and everything you have created in life. Thus at birth, a newborn’s DOH is essentially empty and therefore in the Taoist sense, useful in its emptiness. The first contents under the infant’s DOH are warmth, security, food, suckling,  being kept comfortable and a sense of mother. Although these things take on different forms as we age, the want of them remain beneath our DOH. An infant’s DOH is initially very small.

Even though the infant’s DOH is small, as it does not have much to contain, it is very important. It is foundational. Maslow (hierarchy of need) considers these first elements that an infant includes beneath a newly formed DOH as basic needs. If those needs go unsatisfied then there is little hope for social development. Indeed, if some of those basic needs are not satisfied, the infant’s existence is in jeopardy. As an infant matures, it gathers more and more beneath its DOH. The sound of voices belonging to those close to the infant are added first, followed by facial expressions when eyes begin to focus. Other sensation, sounds, odors and sights gather under the evolving dome, as long the sensations are pleasant. Unpleasant sensations and experiences try to intrude on the infant’s DOH but never achieve permanent resident status. And so, the infant’s DOH increases in the diversity of contents as their experience with the world around them grows.

The Taoist’s concepts of emptiness of action, thought and mind all apply to the newborn, save and accept the movements of the fetus in utero. These are movements in the context of the emptiness of thought and mind, better thought of as the emptiness of intention. Most movements of a newborn fall into the same category for a while. Some movements, like the startle reflex can never be intentional by their very nature. Even though an infant moves about, for the first while, those movements can be considered examples of emptiness of action because they are empty of intent. Emptiness of thought and mind are also characteristic of the infant. The emptiness of mind is not an absolute because the brain is continually recording information re: the sensations that are experienced. The emptiness of thought diminishes very slowly. Even though these sorts of mental functions are in play, the storage of information is essentially sensory in nature. Associations between events and sensations build slowly. Most relational aspects of sensation develop slowly, except for a sense of comfort and warmth which is rapidly associated with its mother. The initial emptiness of action, thought and mind at birth moves toward increasing fullness as the infant experiences the world, and so with that experience the infant’s DOH grows.

The idea of each of us having our own DOH is an incredibly useful concept. The most interesting aspect of this idea is the role we play in constructing our personal DOH. I intent to explore that idea in my next post. Until then . . .

L

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