There is nothing more shocking than realizing you have forgotten something you once knew so well. And realizing you are worse at something you once were very good at.

And yet all life is rise and fall.

And that is good–for whatever way do we know to live? Both heaven and hell, as perfect and unchanging, are such monstrous concepts because of this. But true infinity is the coincidentia oppositorum. The yin yang. The mobius strip–the symbol of infinity. Cosine and Sine. The wave and the trough. The eternal drama of one changing into two and back again. Motion is eternal and therefore always appears changing though it follows a set pattern. And that is how we experience living.

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Though many are familiar with religious and philosophical sayings about the beginning being the end, and the divine being a perfect circle (Plato/Campbell), or the circumference of a circle and its center (Augustine), or the alpha (first letter) and omega (last level), or the trinity (think in terms of time), the experience or representation of the divine is generally the outer limits of human experience or the totality of the representation. So, the alpha and omega are the borders to the alphabet (like the circumference and center are borders to the circle by defining or limiting its diameter), which represent the entirety of it. This, however, is not how humans experience the world. Though the eternity of the ocean might be helped by the flowing of rivers which find their sources in mountains (quite the coincidentia oppositorum there–the top of a mountain leading to the depths of the sea), humans, or people, do not experience the totality of being all at once, but generally temporally, or in part. And this is how most would wish to as well! For when I ask students about Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso they frequently respond in the same way!

“What does one do in heaven?” Of course they do not ask this about hell, because in all circles of Dante’s hell the sinners are suffering, except those hopeless few in Limbo. But this is a fine question–do the souls simply revel in eternal glory without willfully desiring anything else? Well, we can hardly imagine doing one thing with all our hearts and forever enjoying it–we think in temporal and material terms about diminishing utility, and how we could never be satisfied doing one thing for all time. And this makes sense given the fact that human nature strives always for growth sprung from conflict, and that life without change becomes stagnant. As the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus once said, “even the posset separates if it is not being stirred.” This is also born out perfectly well by our symbols for immortality or eternity–even on this vase painting below we see several:


At the top edge is a conjoined chain, mobius strips, together symbolizing infinity, but differentiated into light and dark. We see beneath them two men, one white and one dark. Surrounding them are several other symbols of completeness: a circle comprising white and dark with a dark center. Four conjoined circles with lines through them. A square made of up of nine smaller squares with the space between being light and the squares being dark. And even in front of Polyphemos’ soon-to-be blind eye we see a symbol of the labyrinth, or eternally moving forward and inward. What these symbols represent, rather simply than the divine perspective of a god, is the more human experience of change, or cycle from one thing to another. For though the totality exists, and perhaps is how some divine being perceives things, like the author of a book with the whole story present in his mind, but it is the shifting of things, the turning of pages, until we reach the dramatic conclusion which seems most real to humans!

One of the best symbols for this is the shield of Achilles.  It is surrounded by Ocean and has the Heavens in its center. There is both dancing (leisure) and harvesting (work) occurring on it; there is a trial for a murder (an end) as well as a wedding (an end and a beginning–as represented by rings in our culture); and of course there is a city at war, and another at peace. Humans experience the totality of things only by experiencing the totality of things. Simply to see and understand the symbol does not provide one with such an experience, but it can guide one along the way.

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