The Gift of Maya

Driving to the gallery today, I began thinking about the beautiful letter written to me the other day.

The reader claimed “The Red Speck“, “stalked” her.  The book would magically appear in places she hadn’t left it.  The slim text “fell” on her chest twice while she slept…

I love the idea of the book as more than an inanimate object, walking around on little legs, hiding, waiting for the opportune moment to plop down on an unsuspecting reader, all for purely positive purposes.

I filled it with magic and symbolism from a variety of traditions, choosing concepts to help move the main character forward through emotional pain and broken thinking.  Why wouldn’t the book be able to materialize magically?  She called the book to her on a subconscious level, repeatedly.

The point to this long winded blog post is that in writing the book I was determined not to explain myself. If the reader understood the concepts presented within the allegory great, if not, it was my hope, that the book would still be understood albeit on more of a surface level, but understood nonetheless.  What has shocked me over the last couple of years is how strongly people relate to “The Red Speck” on a purely visceral level.  I attribute this to the use of symbolism.  I purposely avoided the intellect and spoke directly to the collective unconscious, through ancient symbols.

Now with time and a bit of separation, I’m ready to explain certain aspects of the book. Whereas “The Red Speck” is written in the simplest of language, as a fairy tale of sorts, the concepts held within are a bit more complicated.  Bear with me, the definitions are a bit laborious, but I think worth the effort.

In Chapter Nine “The Gift of Maya”, Sophie meets a character named Maya.  Maya appears as a little girl who gifts Sophie a prism. In this chapter I’m having a wonderful time playing with two really interesting and completely different concepts, one from religion and  one from physics: maya, and Total Internal Reflection.

Maya : 

“In the religions of India, Maya (Sanskrit māyā, from“not” and yā “this”) is a term denoting three interrelated concepts: 1) power which enables those in its possession, most often gods, to produce forms in the physical word, 2) the reality produced by this process, 3) the illusion of the phenomenal world of separate objects. In early Vedic mythology, maya was the power with which the gods created and maintained the physical universe. With the onset of the more philosophical Upanishads and eventually the school of Advaita Vedanta, maya came to refer to the illusion of the worldly realm as it related to Brahman, the supreme cosmic power. Each physical object, as well as each independent ego-consciousness, is deemed illusory when considered in the monistic context of Brahman. In many branches of Hinduism, maya must be overcome in order to liberate the soul from reincarnation and karma. Similar conceptions of maya are held within Buddhism and Sikhism.” – from the New World Encyclopedia

Total Internal Reflection :

“When light propagates from air into glass or from glass in to air it may change its direction of travel.  Snell’s law reveals the relationship between the directions of travel in the two media.

n1sinθ1 = n2sinθ2

Consider light propagating in glass with index of refraction n1 = 1.5 towards a glass-air boundary.  If the angle the light makes with the normal to the boundary in the glass is θ1, then the angle it makes in the air is given by

sinθ2 = (n1/n2)sinθ1 = 1.5 sinθ1.

If sinθ1 > (1/1.5) = 2/3, or θ1 > 41.8o, then sinθ2 is greater than 1 and there is no solution for θ2. The angle θc for which sinθc = n2/n1 = 1 is called the critical angle.  For angles greater than the critical angle there exists no solution for θ2, and there is no refracted ray.  The incident light is totally reflected, obeying the law of reflection.  If n2 = 1.5 and n1 = 1 then the critical angle is θc = 41.8o.

Total internal reflection occurs only if light travels from a medium of high index of refraction to a medium of low index of refraction. 

Summary:  Let light travel from medium 1 into medium 2 and let n1 > n2.  Then the critical angle θc is given by

sinθc = n2/n1

For angles greater than the critical angle the incident light is totally reflected, obeying the law of reflection.

Prism reflectors

An ordinary glass mirror consists of a reflective metallic coating on the back of a sheet of glass. This is not the only way to make a mirror. Total internal reflection can be exploited to make a perfectly reflecting mirror using only glass, with no metal backing.  It is possible to use prisms of various shapes to reorient images.” –  More

Maya literally means “not this“.  Maya is an illusion.  The little Indian girl does not exist, she embodies a concept.  She gives Sophie the prism, a tool to help her in overcoming false realities created in the mind and manifested in the material world, all based on the projection of an inner narrative that does not serve her best interests.  It is possible to use prisms of various shapes to reorient images.”  

The term and physical phenomenon of “Total Inner Reflection” is so metaphorically perfect for what I was trying to communicate, as it highlights the process of allowing light from the outside world in, (…from a medium of high index of refraction to a medium of low index of refraction…), to illuminate our beings.  …that at just the right angle, it creates a reflective mirror like surface with which we can examine ourselves completely, was a gift from the writing gods.


S. Conde

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