Principles of Experience
Porosity is a state of being as much as it is a principle of consciousness. Evoking and remaining in this state of consciousness takes practice. The practice is in some ways like an act of meditation. Through awareness, observation, and contemplation, the ullam may experience: melting, dissolving, amalgamation, coalescing, alchemy, cracking, disintegrating, surrender, balance, embodiment, transformation, transcendence, transmutation, permeating, transfer, sublimation, travel through, play, reflection, contemplation, simultaneity, becoming, being and non-being.
A moment of watching another being or landscape can be transformative if one allows for the transmutation of energy and matter. While standing and watching a tailorbird, there is an instance when the tiny weightlessness of the bird begins to melt into me. For a few seconds, the bird permeates its being through me and then there is a transfer of being-ness from one to the other. At the end of this experience, I begin to feel a sense of weightlessness. Out of this experience comes an ability to understand body, mind, and intellect differently. My being is now intrinsically intertwined to that of the tailorbird, and he dictates my sense of body, mind, intellect to help me rediscover myself. Transfer, melting, becoming, being, coalescing, and reflection are all experiential principles that I encounter through this happening.
Inspired by my early years, when my sister pointed out many birds to me and instilled my sense of wonder, I chose to interpret a scene from the life of her daughters that captured the same passion for life and magical connection with all beings. This illustration captures a playful moment for the younger child, as well as one that is mystical for the older one, visualising moments of surrender, balance, and embodiment for the younger child, and contemplation, becoming, permeation, and transcendence for the older one.
Evolving my position
Drawing from these juxtapositions of practice, aesthetics, and philosophy, I evolve a position that blends and interplays consciousness and creativity as an intrinsic aspect of ecological consciousness.
In this paper, I elaborate on the principles of practice that help me to understand the links between how both the philosophy of art and its Indian thought traditions’ ecological consciousness translates into aesthetics and creative practice. The correspondence and correlation between the inner and outer worlds were at the core of developing these principles. While my work is informed and influenced by both Eastern and Western traditions, my creative sensibilities emerge from Indian cultural roots. The central principle of consciousness that my work is based on is porosity. Through porosity, I seek to understand how our perceptions and relationships with nature can change. I see the porous principle of consciousness as freeing the limitations of the human form and enabling us to experience and embrace other beings and life forms within us, in a seemingly permeable relationship. In these instances, our very definition of human self is challenged and our perception of reality is altered. The self is not limited to ‘I’ notions of consciousness or the mind that projects this notion of identity. The limits of body’s physical form as mind or ‘I’ consciousness does not mark the boundary of the self in relation with other life forms. By carefully witnessing thoughts that arise within the bounded ‘I’, we can negate all other selves and cease their thoughts. In this process, a new and unbounded self emerges, linked to the creative root of all life.
In Tamil Shaivism, this is seen as a meeting of the ciṟrullam and pērullam — the inner heart-self and the cosmic heart-self. This negation of selves in their gross and subtle bodies then leads to a state of being which arises from the functions of the heart, a porous permeating function. This is unlike the nature of the thoughts and intellect that arise from the functions of the brain. This is a metaphorical comparison in some ways, but there is also physicality to this metaphor in the nature of self- knowingness, beingness, and aṟivu that emerges in this space. This state of being, called the ullam or the inner self, then finds a new reality in which relationships happen from a space of compassion. Ullam is a Tamil word that indicates heart, self, mind, consciousness and, being in unity. The nature of these relationships are functions of the porous, they lead us to porosity. Negation of self creates a void that is an open space, in which there is both pūrna (fullness) and shūnya (emptiness) simultaneously. It is this void, this space, which creates the conditions for compassion and love: aṉbu and nēsam, irakkam, tayai, and karuṇai. In this state of compassion and love, śāntī and śringāra rasās, the self becomes porous. This nature, or tanmai of the self, is freedom, ānandam or sat-cit-ānandam. These two feelings are not to be limited within the framework of emotions, but need to be reframed as states of being. In Indian aesthetics, they are framed within the category of rasās, essences or flavours, and the practice of performing or engaging with any of the nine emotion-states and their sub-states enable deeper inquiry into one’s own consciousness — the artist does this from a place of equilibrium, at a time when the heart is at rest; hṛdayaviśrānti (Vatsyayan, 1977; Mohd Anis, 2005). In and through the arts, one becomes very intimate with these states of being, by practicing observation of this emotion/beingness of porousness, or nekiḻci, from within and from outside, as a witness and through choosing to expressing the narratives of many others both human and more-than-human.
Both my research and artistic practice revisit the traditional notions of dissolving the self through the frame of ecological consciousness. I aim to unearth meanings in everyday, even mundane relationships with all life. I draw from personal practice and traditional wisdom, which permeates across everyday language and culture, reminding us that the greater transitions of consciousness as one conceives of them are often found in simple practice and daily ritual.
The Porous Self is an inquiry into symbol where symbol is, as Raimon Panikkar says, ‘not an objectifiable reality’. The idea of porosity as presented here does not seek to unravel it as a concept, but seeks to unfold or unfurl it as a symbol. As Panikkar clarifies, ‘The symbol reveals the symbolised in the symbol itself, not outside, transcending thus the dichotomy between subjectivism and objectivism’ (Baumer & Dupuche, 2005, p. 12).
It is in this light that the following principles of engagement are discussed. Principles of engagement are central to the exploration of porosity as a practice. Each principle allows me to deepen my engagement with nature and self in a multitude of ways. Principles of engagement have arisen from synthesising years of work and reflections on my experiences in nature. They build methodologies to decode porosity as a principle and practice of consciousness. Each of the sections below outlines a critical aspect of the research process.