The Spatial Matrix - Being Conscious of Space
The Spatial Matrix is the space our senses take in information from. Here are a couple of definitions: Spatial means 'pertaining to space':
1. a continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied.
"a table took up much of the space"
2. the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move.
1. the cultural, social, or political environment in which something develops.
"Oxbridge was the matrix of the ideology"
2. a mass of fine-grained rock in which gems, crystals, or fossils are embedded.
"nodules of secondary limestone set in a matrix of porous dolomite"
Untitled sculpture, 2010 " The Infinite Space of Consciousness
The Spatial Matrix
Therefore, using these definitions we can take that the 'Spatial Matrix' is 'the area or expanse in which all things exist, move, develop and which lies available to the human experience'. The 'Spatial Matrix' is the dimension of spatial intelligence in living organisms, and an essential context for a broad range of disciplines and human activities, from movement, martial arts and dance, architecture and Feng Shui, Sculpture and Landscape design, and tracking and hunting in natural environments to name a few.
Very importantly, there is an individual's awareness of space, an origin of awareness that, for each person, lies somewhere in their being, and in normal states of consciousness, 'looks out' or 'perceives from' that place.
So each of us is an agent of attention, within the Spatial Matrix, with the seat of our awareness being orientated to a 'central point'. When standing or sitting, there is an 'axis' which runs from above us to below us, and we can 'feel' difference', indicating a perception of gravity.
Obviously there things that are physically in this matrix, and unless we were in the vacuum of 'outer-space', we are able to perceive those things.
So we can locate objects by turning our attention with our sight, and likewise our hearing. We can also locate or sense things with a felt sensation. Importantly, we can sense the absence of an object, we can sense and perceive empty space. We can sense the shape of a space, using a combination of sight and 'putting ourselves in the space', from a distance. For example, a person can measure (unconsciously usually) the size of a doorway with their spatial awareness and come to the conclusion that they will fit through (or not!). We can, just by looking, and using our own 'body-map' awareness, tell if a moving car is close enough to hit us when we cross the road. This goes on with any number of actions, throwing or catching a ball or ducking under a branch.
Perceiving and judging space is closely linked to our physical ability to interact with the space or the objects in it. For example, a professional rock-climber will be able to look at a climb or even a tree in a park, and 'place themselves in the climb' imagining what it would be like, and thus having a detailed sense of what the climb would be. This is 'physical imagination'.
Another important example is that of a 'game tracker' in a hunter-gatherer setting using this ability to follow the movement and behavior of an animal through a landscape. Awareness of how an animal moves through space improves the ability to physically imagine the animal moving, or place ones self in the experience of the animal, and thus better follow the trail.
The repetition of a movement or awareness pattern slowly 'locks in' the experience to the neural-map of reality. Our spatial map, within the spatial matrix, is the record of the space we inhabit, from the room we sit in, to the room were in earlier to the day, to the park we went to or the park we walked through yesterday. We can, with our 'minds eye' and also our 'physical imagination', recall previous experiences of the spatial matrix as recorded in our neural maps.
This ability has a 'high skill cap', if any, and different contexts will have different 'spatial-syntax'.
Tommah sizing up a coconut palm, ready to drop the bunches from 30+feet high. Below: Voila!
This is a great short video (thanks for link Simon!) of an infant by the name of Adia testing the Spatial Matrix, slowly expanding the 'neural map'.
The ability is innate
Children begin tentative exploration of their surroundings, and assuming normal development, slowly work out a functional neural-map. This article has some good stuff on the development of spatial awareness in infants: https://exploringcognition.wordpress.com/spatial-language-abilities/how-do-we-develop-our-spatial-skills/
So we all have the hardware required to establish spatial intelligence and awareness, and learn through exploration, repetition, and reflection, how to move in, and relate our own 'central point of awareness' to, the space around us. As with all variable dimensions of experience, we each have 'established norms', modes that are more comfortable or familiar. We are creatures of habit, which we can use to our advantage.
As our spatial awareness changes, through practice, altered states of consciousness, and context, so to does our experience of reality.
The attention and spatial-awareness
Training the attention, the ability to choose and maintain focus, of a single point or a shifting point within a small area, is the process of directing this innate ability. Any action sufficiently repeated will develop into mastery and we can find examples everywhere.
We can choose an object to focus on, or a movement, or a shape, or an 'empty space' as defined by its physical parameters e.g: the space inside a cup.
Interestingly, attention ability is trans-contextual or transferable. This is why we can practice single pointed focus as a meditation, and find that our overall concentration improves. By training the attention, we improve competence in any discipline that utilizes attention. By extension, if we practice moving the attention in a sequence of points, we get better at maintaining focus through the transitions between those points.
Because attention is 'amplified' by utility, (spatial intelligence is about problem solving, after all), we can use movements to assist the development of the attention. Conversely, stilling the body and mind can give access to a subtler spatial zone.
So the elements are available to us to start to deliberately shape our experience of space. Movements of the body, and of the attention during 'stillness', when repeated, begin to shape our neural-map, shifting what is 'familiar' to us over time.
Single pointed focus in Zen archery, giving access to the subtleties of the Spatial Matrix.
Much of my exposure to 'spiritual teachings' and ideas has focused on the cessation of suffering, healing, or progressing on the path to some form of enlightenment. It was through these kinds of lenses that I was introduced to the Vipassana tradition, awareness of multiple different conceptual paradigms, the occult, psychology and motivation in human experience, creative therapy, and embodiment practices.
This all happened alongside my formal training in sculpture, performance, and installation art. These days I can't help but run my 'Spatial Matrix' filters as move through the world. Shopping malls are INTENSE.
All of these topics and practices have informed this metaphor:
Spatial Matrix as Canvas – Consciousness as Paint – Attention as Brush.
So hopefully I have defined the canvas as being an essentially limitless dimension of awareness, in any direction within our perception, on a sliding scale of size, the spatial matrix. Also hopefully I have attended to attention, (heh heh...) the ability to direct awareness, the brush.
So what of consciousness as paint? Well consciousness is an interesting term, it is used in lots of different ways and I want to be clear what I mean. Here is the Google definition:
1. the state of being aware of and responsive to one's surroundings.
"she failed to regain consciousness and died two days later"
2. a person's awareness or perception of something.
"her acute consciousness of Luke's presence"
awareness of, knowledge of the existence of, alertness to, sensitivity to, realization of, cognizance of, mindfulness of, perception of,apprehension of, recognition of
"her acute consciousness of Luke's presence"
Woah man...Consciousness is a medium with depth.
We can say 'I became conscious of an idea when I read about it in a book' and so consciousness of something is the result of 'being exposed' to it. Then we can say a child's consciousness of the taste of lemon is the result of being exposed to it.
Here the term is loosely used in the way we might use the word 'awareness'. What I want to do is stretch the term a little bit. I'd like to define consciousness as a 'malleable substance-like' awareness. We know that through attention and movement practices, taking advantage of brain plasticity and neural-mapping, we can alter our consciousness of our bodies and of the space. This process is assisted by the ability to remember and recall experience using symbolic language e.g if the child has a good memory, the lemon taste is symbolized by the color and shape and context, within the spatial matrix.
Obviously, this is fundamentally important to the survival of the organism. More, the process of learning the symbolic meaning of things, as pertaining to ones personal experience, is one of the great marvels and joys of being human, all the more because we can be 'conscious of the process' as it happens.
We also know this alteration persists overtime, which makes paint a useful metaphor, as it behaves the same way, and importantly, paint is a creative medium.
Phew, that was chunky as! SO...Consciousness as Paint. Cool. Well paint has different qualities, and also quantities. Qualities include color, tone, brightness etc. Also when painting, one can dollop a whole lot of paint on the canvas, or put just a little spot in the corner. A painter might choose a color of paint to represent something or communicate a 'feeling or mood'. For example 'what mood do you want in the children's bedroom'. It could also be totally random, and then the audience interprets as they will.
Likewise, consciousness has different qualities. It can be sharp, or vague, light or heavy. It can have an emotional aspect. For example happy feelings can be associated with consciousness of the beach, either as symbolized in memory, or as in actual experience of being at the beach. Other qualities could include 'comfortable, peaceful, content, inspired', for instance. I know I'm often inspired to update my consciousness of the contents of the fridge.
So when we apply paint to canvas, we do so with a certain technique. We might aggressively gesture with the black acrylic, or delicately paint a small circle with sky blue. In each case a quality is being recorded. Consciousness is no different. The way in which we put our attention on the subject, either a symbol or a space within the spatial matrix, will be part of the information recorded by the neural-map.
There are many techniques of 'painting with consciousness'. And there is a spectrum of awareness about whats happening when it's happening. This is why we can say 'so and so seemed very unconscious with their affect on the space'. They might also be very conscious and just not really mind what the consequences are.
'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth', 'Biting the hand that feeds', 'looking on the bright-side of life', 'bull in a china-shop', 'appreciate the little things in life'.
All of these metaphors refer to techniques for painting with consciousness. It is arguable that the 'bull in a china-shop' is not using any technique, but still getting results...
The calligraphy traditions of China and Japan are some of my favorite visual art disciplines in the world. The refinement of touch, the conviction of gesture, and the simplicity of composition all speak to something deep in my psyche. In much the same way, slow deliberate movement and comfortable arcs in martial arts and dance are symbolic of time and care put into technique.
The technique required to create beauty is closely associated to the technique required to perceive beauty. The care and consideration, the balance of creative intention and attention to the medium that is demonstrated in these art forms is applicable to the spatial-matrix.
The term gratitude can mean 'appreciating something' or recognizing its value. In this way, gratitude is a quality of consciousness. It is a way of seeing, a way of looking and perceiving deeply without bias. It is an essentially practical method of painting with consciousness.
Whats super cool is that the better get at using a technique in one context, the more readily accessible that technique is in others, this is to say that if we get really good at painting a certain pattern, we can get a brand new canvas and make use of our access to the practiced skill within our neural-map. You can put a rock-singer or a comedian on any stage and if they are well practiced, should be able to access their established patterns, or techniques of consciousness. So the skill is transferable in ideal circumstance, with 'best practice'.
So it seems to be clear now that the possibilities are vast if not endless. Whoa, that can be overwhelming. Well since we are using our own attention as the brush, and our own consciousness as the paint, the choice is undeniably up to the individual themselves. There are myriad coloring in books of consciousness available to those who want to experiment with color. There are 'connect the dots', 'learn how to draw aliens', 'paint like Van Gogh' courses and teachings. The are go-to guides and how-tos. But is there a DIY section for the 'consciousness artist', the 'wizards and witches' of the world? A mentor can offer the techniques that they use to paint their canvas.
As a student of such mentors, I fumbled through clumsy attempts to get 'my blue to look like the instructions' and 'get the perspective right in the landscape image'. One of the main barriers to my progress was trying to paint with consciousness before understanding the colors or the canvas. This is to say I only had limited resources. Therapy in this context can be thought of as rediscovering resources within ourselves. I had lots of black and red, but not much else. And my canvas as all torn and grubby, and I couldn't see the edges. You get the idea.
So in many ways, we can only really 'work with what we have'. Some people get really good at this, and then don't ever want to move outside the comfort zone. However! Other people go on a mad rainbow ride, rediscovering colors and shapes and techniques they either never knew existed, or had forgotten within themselves.
Perhaps health is simply effective process, essential to which is curiosity, experimentation and appreciation of ones works, and the works of others.
The point is, it's a trans formative process...We change as we practice. Maybe some-days we want to paint big and bold, and others we are more inconspicuous.
The flexibility to both try new things, and practice the ones we love, means that we can have a variety of resources to 'draw on' (pun intended), and tangle with the wondrous mess of life.
Getting to know the Spatial-Matrix, Understanding the Canvas.
As a personal practice, working in the Spatial-Matrix has been a step by step incremental exploration. Sometimes, unexpected things happen. In-fact, the spatial matrix is by its very nature unknown. A blank canvas is very uncertain. As we move through life, things can spill and qualities of consciousness can show up without our permission or control. In negotiating with the uncertainty, we run many risks.
It is very important to note here that all experience happens in our own neural-map...meaning that the experience of the spatial matrix is actually the experience of our own maps, which are characterized by karmic influences in our past, our genetic and ancestral past, right back through the eons to God Knows When.
Rediscovering, or becoming familiar with this uncertain nature of the matrix is an ongoing process, and one which involves negotiating with both pleasant and unsavory experiences.
At some point for me, it became possible to direct the previously 'negative' qualities of consciousness, into creative expression. Indeed, doing this in the spatial-matrix has been essential to 'clearing' or 'purifying' practices that have helped me move forward.
This process is repeatable and gets easier...both easier to identify when its needed, and easier to move through. Often the clearing of the spatial-matrix is a good session in its self.
Once the canvas is reliable, this is to say that you can set about doing some work, and rely on the spatial-matrix to respond your intention and practice without it exploding with un-dealt with qualities of consciousness, then you can dance with all the colors and brushes that you choose, and have a jolly good time and then a nice nap.
Happy painting! :)
Family shot doing mosaics as a kid, SA about 1994 or '95.
The Title is Empty - Moving Meditation Performance Sun Worhship
Georgeous Mortar Butoh: 'Shamanic Techniques of Consciousness in the Butoh-Dance" 'Shadow Spirit' - Body-State and Realm shift - aka - Darkness be my Friend
In this article I will assume, on the part of the reader, an interest in individual experience, mind-body practices, exploring possibilities, and creative responses to life. I've used a bunch of ideas and my own understandings of some of my teachers theories to describe or point to insights I've gained from practice.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spatial_intelligence_(psychology) This page has some good points which might help to put things in context.
My use of 'Body maps' terminology is largely made possible by my readings and experience of material presented by Simon Thakur of Ancestral Movement: http://ancestralmovement.com/bodymaps-and-sensorimotor-amnesia/
Edit: *Update* Thankyou Simon for the heads up on this page on 'Grid Cells': https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_cell, and the TED talk by Neil Burgess https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd71719_G8Y