Having laid out, in the opening installment of SEEING THINGS WHOLE, a very broad framework --declaring that ""There is nothing more important, or more rewarding, than attending to the vast and profound interconnectedness of things," and that the rewards are intellectual, emotional and spiritual-- I will present, in the next several installments of SEEING THINGS WHOLE, a diversity of illustrative examples of different kinds of interconnectedness.
I want to bring this huge and abstract subject down to earth, using vivid concrete examples, and to bring forth a variety of KINDS of illustrations in order to give some quick suggestion of the magnitude of the territory to be explored and mapped.
There are so many different possible vignettes and dimensions of how patterns and connections operate in our world, the subject quickly overwhelms in both its richness and its complexity.
So I hope that you'll enjoy the richness, and add to it with illustrative cases of your own, and that you'll not be too intimidated or confused by the challenge of putting all THESE pieces together.
We can work, over time, to gain clarity about how the many dimensions of Wholeness fit together-- and indeed about WHETHER it is indeed valid to regard them as different dimensions of the same thing. My intuition says that they are, but I also have my uncertainties.
Think of this process as one in which we are like the blind men and the elephant in the old Sufi story. One, feeling the leg, thinks it's a pillar, while another, feeling a tusk, thinks it's a spear, and so forth. In their separate experiences, no one of them had any concept of the Elephant they were touching.
Here, each of the vignettes will be like the testimony of one of the blind men. And our job, apart from the relishing and developing of each particular view, will be to see if any concept of the Elephant can emerge from exploring the many specific vignettes and the relations among them.
The Elephant, I'm certain, is --in its nature and vastness and depth and complexity-- WAY OVER OUR HEADS. But that's no reason not to go forth to see what of it we can comprehend, or perhaps just glimpse.
Here's the first such attempt at identifying one of the dimensions of that Elephant.
CONNECTIONS THROUGH TIME
I got a glimmer of an inspiration for this project early last spring, when my wife and I were hiking around the English countryside. The landscape there showed such an interpenetration of past and present that it triggered in my mind various thoughts I cannot now retrieve, and inspired a vision (that I recall no better) of a work that explored such interconnectedness, particularly the web of patterns that flow in cultures through time.
As I spoke with my wife about this idea, I recalled a passage that had reached me once or twice via email, and that I thought illustrated in a concrete and vivid way this connection between past and present. It apparently turns out that this instance is mostly just an "urban legend," but I am going to share it here anyway because, even if it is false, it does so well exemplify one kind of interconnectedness that I hope we can explore.
Here's the story which, as an well-distributed urban legend, may well be familiar already to many:
The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is four feet, eight and a half inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the U.S. railroads.
Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the prerailroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.