View into Skyland


Another way to explore the blurring line between self and landscape is to look up at the sky. Skyland presents some perceptual problems and insights. It is in front, behind and above, all around. Like landscape, sky isn’t easily placeable because it is near and far, figure and ground, all at once. As the source of light, we see with it, not at it. Thus, sky is not an object of perception; it is a ground. Merleau-Ponty (1964) puts it well: "we do not so much see the sky as we see in it."Like the mind-body problem, the sky-earth problem persists in ecology and landscape theory (Ingold 2011; Elkin 2007). We can ponder the question, “Is the sky a part of the landscape,” forever. Is the landscape a part of the sky? 

Sky determines the color of the landscape, and it reaches from the horizon to the eyeballs and beyond. Emerson uses it as an analogy for the We: “From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.”  

Sky and seeing and Seer run into each other for a moment up there in the light. The Chinese translation of the Heart Sutra puts it another way: “Color is not other than sky; sky is not other than color. Color is exactly sky; sky is exactly color.” Sky and color refer to emptiness and form. In this sense, "space,” “light,” "color," "sky," and “I can see,” all have the same meaning. “The eyes through which I see God are the same eyes through which God sees me”-Meister Eckhart’s revelatory vision. Tim Ingold: “Sky is openness or transparency itself, sheer luminosity, against which things stand out by virtue of their opacity or closure” (2000: 264). Seeing with the sky is similar to William James’s 1882 observation: “The first time we see light, we are it rather than see it." Bille and Sorensen (2007): Light – from old English leoht, meaning luminous, from Indo-European leuk, to shine, to see…– has been studied as lumen – light as external, objective matter – and lux – light as subjective, and interior; as sight and mental sensation.

Ingold puts it well: open your eyes, and find yourself, almost literally, ‘in the open’. This phrase captures the magic, and delirium, of vision: we live in visual space from the inside, we inhabit it, yet that space is always already outside, open to the horizon, boundless. When we see sky, the boundary between inside and outside, or between self and world, dissolves. Merleau-Ponty: “I am the sky itself as it is drawn together and unified, and as it begins to exist for itself; my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue.” 

Sky metaphors structure conceptions of “higher” selves, and higher potentials. Sogyal Rinpoche: “Giving up ego is like loosing the clouds but gaining the sky.” Rilke: “Ah, not to be cut off, not through the slightest partition shut out from the law of the stars. The inner—what is it? If not intensified sky, hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming." Japanese phenomenologist Ichikawa says people experience themselves more as a spirit  than as a meaty body. Drew Leder also explains this phenomenon in his book, "The Absent Body." Western phenomenology of religion operates with the notion that the self has a “glassy essence” (Rorty 1979). Dzogchen teachers refer to the nature of the mind as a crystal: clear light that appears to be whatever it is on. 

What a mystery is the sky, what an enigma to these human senses. So look up whenever you get a chance, and see into the magic of seeing itself.