That is what the Sefer Yetzirah calls them, the ten sefirot of nothingness, these gaping indexicals through which the world is given form: this, that, here, there, now, then, next. The tree models and constitutes subjectivity, the consciousness that blooms and blossoms everywhere, in dialogue with itself, dividing and communicating.
Let there be…and being ripples through the waters, stirring them, setting it to whirl away from itself, back into itself. The wave rises, the wave subsides, the wave crashes. The word stirs creation and sets it at odds and evens with itself.
Up, down, left, right, forward, backward, the orientations from which heaven and earth, north and south, east and west can be born. In the beginning, it is just consciousness, tumbling this way and that, throwing out its awareness in all directions, and the directions changing as it wheels into being.
Up-down acquires objective heft in the formation of objects under the guidance of gravity. Up-down, gravity. The pole that splits our world is fixed by the planet beneath our feet pulling us downward and by the moon whose subtle presence stretches and tugs our bodies and that of the earth itself. We rise and fall, slither, swim, fly and leap, within the world ordered by these nothings.
Then the sun marks daily a line across the surface of sky and earth, a line we can follow with our eyes and with our bodies. No matter how we turn, its line is implacable and constant. We can, finally, run perpendicular from it such that north and south are born from east and west. Our body’s being, it’s lively mobile orientation, now traces its signature along the ever-expanding scroll of the earth.
But not alone. The signature we trace overlap all of the others, until the surface is more dense and filigreed than the finest arabesque. When we come into contact with our other consciousnesses, there is all the joy, pain, and mystery that we could hope for. The sense we develop of how to interact with our fellow consciousnesses defines an ethical and moral sensibility.
All of this stretched between the skein of time, each present state of our conscious being occurring within a world that is already made but now-departed, bundled tightly about its roller, and into a world that is empty but which we discover only as the present rushes headlong into it, filling it.
The exhausting expansiveness of these forms of nothingness…that’s why we need all those lines within the sefirotic diagram. They are snapshots of the substance which forms within the nothingness and by reflection on them we can move the edge of the cliff to observe their expanse without tilting over into oblivion within them. Just holding them in my awareness as I write my way through this summary of them is wearying. Without a world to catch myself in, where would I be?
That is the core I keep coming back to. The diagram is a lesson in penmanship, carefully spaced lines between which you can draw the pen of your awareness through well-established forms. When you write, what you write and how you write will show the traces of the work that taught you, but it won’t be identical to it.
And there is no surface before the work of the many pens, no surface until the great dark pens whose minds we cannot easily grasp begin their work of writing stars and planets, earth and water, life and matter. And perhaps no pen, only bubbling fountains of ink in the nothingness.