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Pausing At The Threshold

As is our wont on Sundays, we will trip off into some heavy-duty navel staring today.  Contemplating the nature of reality is something most people don't do enough of and should.  After all, as creatures that inhabit this Universe, it is our job to figure out the nature of our existence and whether or not we can perceive, and even inhabit, other creations, natures and/or times.

A lot of folks are familiar with the yin and yang symbol.  Many are likely familiar, at least vaguely, with the meaning behind it.  It's safe to say most readers here will know that the black and white areas represent polar opposites...ANY polar opposites -- positive/negative, light/dark, heat/cold, etc.

The nature of these opposites is that they cannot exist without each other.  The one is defined by the fact that it is not the other.  We only know joy because we can distinguish it from sorrow.  We only know light exists because sometimes it is dark.  If any one of these conditions existed without its opposite, we would have no way to define it, much less experience it.  It simply would be the way things are, and like humans are prone to do, we would ignore those things without definitions.

What most people seldom consider is that yin and yang are actually THREE things -- light, dark and dusk.  In every instance of opposites, there is a dividing line that separates one from the other, like walking into an air-conditioned room on a hot summer day.  At the threshold, there is a line in which both conditions exist simultaneously before one of the other engulfs you.

Think about how many superstitions there are concerning thresholds and doorways.  On New Year's Day, you are supposed to kiss your beloved in a doorway.  Newly married grooms must carry their brides over the threshold.  One must never exchange gifts at the threshold.  The list is quite long.

Thresholds are magical places where two worlds blend in a mystical way.  "Threshold" is used to mean places of entry or beinning, though not always in a good way (pain threshold).  But in all cases, a threshold is the barrier between two extremes -- inside/outside, heaven/earth, etc.

This concept of a barrier between opposites suffuses nearly every culture one can think of.  Not only do we have yin/yang, but the Hindus speak of Shiva (destruction), Vishnu (balance) and Brahma (creation).  The Christians have the Father (creator), Son (creation) and Holy Spirit (the bond).  Many ancient religions have Sky, Earth and an implies boundary or threshold between the two.  Even our skin is a threshold between that which is within us and that which is without.  Our senses allow the inside and outside to blend across the barrier of Self.

In all these metaphors for Universe, there is always a balance between the two extremes, and this balance is the threshold.  It is through the threshold that we leave one and enter the other.  There is no sense of 'good' or 'bad', only one state of being or another.  And across all these descriptions there is the 'threshold', the boundary, the pivot where the two halves of Universe meet.

It's a fascinating concept, and what's more interesting is the idea always seems to imply some sort of finite and infinite acting in unison.  Our selves are defined as enclosed spaces separate from Universe with a threshold called skin and senses between the two.  We take parts of Universe into us by breathing, eating, etc., remove what we need and release the rest back into Universe.  In the same fashion, our cells are segregated from the rest of the body by a threshold called the membrane wall.  It allows oxygen and nutrients in while releasing waste, yet at all times maintains a separate identity as 'cell'.  Similarly, Earth and Sky, and so on.  Always with a finite entity separated from an infinite one via a threshold that allows both to exchange information in one form or another.

What's more, the scale of this system runs from sub-micron to vast distances.  Whether one speaks of quarks and gluons or galaxies and space, there is always some defined space, a threshold and the infinite outer space.  In all cases, balance is maintained between the two by means of the threshold.  Once that breaks down, the finite ceases to exist and it merges with the infinite once again.

I find all this rather fascinating.  It is an apt metaphor for anything -- closed and open economic systems, closed and open social systems, closed and open physical systems, closed and open conceptual systems.  Yet, in all these systems, one must have a threshold in order to define that which is closed and that which is open.

The Hebrews painted their thresholds with blood during Passover.  People remove their outer clothes at the threshold.  Superstitions and rituals abound across thresholds.  In fact, gates, doors and thresholds figure into just about every myth and legend one can think of.  There is some kind of crossing point, whether physical or spiritual, in every great cultural tale.  Hell, even in the abortion debate, there is the implied concept that a baby is tissue on one side of the vaginal threshold, and a human being on the other.

It's a remarkable idea to ponder because the implications are literally boundless.  It even has the ability to return magic into our daily lives as we become aware of all the times we cross thresholds every day, even as we cross the threshold from reality into dreams.

One of the most important things to fall out of this kind of thinking is that all thresholds can be crossed if we chose to do so.  We are only 'outside' inasmuch as we haven't yet gone 'inside', and vice versa.  Thresholds are only boundaries between one form of existence and another, not barriers.  Thresholds are not limits, only measurements.

Therefore, we are only limited beings insofar as we are not willing to cross thresholds.  However, as our superstitions, myths and rituals concerning thresholds would imply, crossing them is not to be taken lightly.  In the end, though, we can only know ourselves and our place in Universe by experiencing what is both 'in' and 'out' of our thresholds, in every sense of that concept.

Try spending one day thinking about the thresholds you cross and that cross you.  It's a very eye-opening experience.

Oh, and if you're really getting baked on this idea, remember that there is not only a boundary between yin and yang, but also a boundary around both that separates them from...something else.