This morning as I entered into the already quite serene space of the Meditation Hall at The Garrison Institute I was taken aback by the arrangement of the meditation cushions. The zubuton and zafu pairs were arranged perfectly symmetrically throughout the vast space making me feel at once both breathless and calm. I couldn’t stop looking at the space and smiling at its awesomeness. We usually meditate in a small room, the annex to this large space. But surprisingly the larger space on this cold winter morning was warmer than the little annex room. So our small group of five meditators gathered in one corner of the large hall and rearranged the few cushions and chairs we needed into a small circle. I couldn’t help feeling the entire 45-minute meditation that we were somehow out of whack with the rest of the space and that we were not respecting the symmetry. And yet the calmness of the surrounding area held us beautifully.
As I meditated and focused on my breath, my periodic thoughts—among the usual monkey mind flicking around—would come back to the symmetry of the space. I live very spatially (see The Contours Of Time In My Mind Map for some more on that note), so I was quite aware that my body was at a 45° angle to the symmetrical layout. I wasn’t parallel or perpendicular—no I was exactly 45°. Had I been sitting at a different angle like 10° or 20° it wouldn’t have been a problem; it just wouldn’t have been as soothing.
Deconstructionists love to play with unpredictability, randomness and non-symmetry for good reason. Because we humans love symmetry, when things aren’t symmetrical it causes us to be jostled a bit and re-think what we are looking at. It causes us to question the laws of the universe because although there certainly is plenty of randomness in nature, there is a remarkable amount of symmetry too.
There are different forms of symmetry though bilateral symmetry is what we commonly recognize as symmetrical. There is something so reassuring about the bilateral symmetrical form of humans and animals and many plants. When we decorate rooms we often rely on bilateral symmetry, like having matching bedside tables and lamps to create a calm sleeping oasis. There are many different forms of symmetry in nature and fractals are one of my favorites. They are also called expanding or evolving symmetry because they are iterative and appear infinite. Crystals, mountain ranges, plants, shells, snowflakes, cloud formations and even shorelines exhibit fractal form. With so much symmetry in nature, is it not surprising how universally quieting we find symmetrical forms.
At the end of our morning meditation I couldn’t help but exclaim how lovely the space was set up. The leader of our group explained that their wonderful keeper of the space arranged it for a Zen group that stays at The Garrison Institute every year between Christmas and New Year’s. “But of course it is for a Zen group,” I thought to myself. Zen is calm, Zen is soothing, Zen is exactly what this symmetrical space embodied. I am so grateful to have had such a glimpse of symmetrical perfection on this day of Winter Solstice.