The light above and the depths below are two primal archetypes which alter and diffuse our consciousness in ways which are often as mysterious to us as they are potent. Sea and sky, the corresponding symbolic representations in their turn dominate the inner latitudes of the mind more than almost any other symbols.
In Jungian theory, the watery deep is considered a psychological symbol of the unconscious; or the depths of the unknown that paradoxically exist both within us and beyond us. It is a threatening concept, and one that calls into question the very fundamental idea of self-hood as envisioned by the conscious mind. For the existence of an internal other is fundamentally inconsistent with a unified and stable entity, and indeed there is a primordial, irrational terror of being swallowed by this self-within-a-self; the great serpent of the unknown that wants and thinks of its own accord.
The burning sky above is likewise a near universal embodiment of divinity, and represents an outside that comes to dwell within, rather than an inside that seeks to escape. The powers of heaven, which even as they exist beyond us are felt with immediacy, and through their embrace allow a transcendence of that same self that fears the below. This division may even be conceptualized as negative or positive relations of the consciousness to the essential experience of other.
Self and other, and their connectedness are the keys to understanding these symbols which so permeate our psychological lives. The reality of our consciousness is that it exists in a constant state of flux. The boundaries of our awareness and very self-hood are consistently both waxing and waning. As we integrate, subsume, repress, and sublimate we are internally clarifying and classifying ourselves as a conceptual object. We are defying the boundaries of our consciousness, and by doing so ourselves.
On one side of the perceived duality between upper and lower is the internal that threatens to shrink the consciousness, on the other the external that promises to expand it. Such duality itself is ultimately misplaced however, as both the sea and sky are components of the same otherness, and illustrate the futility of all such limited conceptualizations of self.
While the self-concept may be expanded to an extent that is inclusive of both heavens and chthonic hells, in doing so it remains weighted by the oppositional dualities themselves. The illusion is broken when it is understood that the essence of duality is conceptual, and there are no mental construct whatsoever for experiences which are existential ineffable. Confronting such radical expansions necessitates a letting go of the calcified and static echoes of the past, and demands existence instead as a momentary and timeless experience of now.
The world as it appears to us is constructed of thought, an edifice of understanding against the tumultuous waves of pure, unfettered reality, unsculpted, and lacking inherent meaning. An empty and pure thing, unfathomable in unalterable clarity and depth, that is carved like canyons that run without thought. Words are the chisel out of which towers are built to keep the deluge at bay, but they are a prison for beings of capable of transformation, and of light that may learn to swim. There is no ark for the whales and the fishes.
Nor is one needed. To embrace direct experience of the external is to discard the perception of differentiation. To embrace the other is to embrace both internal and external aspects of otherness, to see self equally in the darkness of the night sky as in the face of another. The totality that emerges out of this is one of unity of opposites, that discards self-identity into a light that coexists without diminishing the darkness.
Bio: My name is Noah Alexander Isaac Stein and I’m a visual artist based in Portland, OR. My art focuses on exploring mental states, both through subject matter, as a component of the creative process. The mind itself, and specifically it relation to itself through identity, symbols, and mythology is a central facet of this.
Find Noah here: www.nastein.com