The Rubin Vase


Regardless whether we recognize the name, many of us recognize the picture:

rubin vase

The Rubin Vase is a classic example of an ambiguous figure/ground illusion, because the picture can be perceived either as two black faces looking at one another or as a white vase.  Whether a person perceives the faces or a vase at each moment depends on whether that person’s mind interprets black or white as the “background” — if one sees a black background, then the perceived-image is a white vase; but if one sees a white background, then the perceived-image is two faces.

Although the picture does not change, and thus the image on our retina remains constant, the perceived-image that we “see” at any moment can fluctuate between the faces and the vase as our neocortex regroups the elements in the image.  The way our neocortex groups the elements at any moment is impacted by the shape of the “vase” in a particular image, where one focuses attention within the image, and each person’s perceptual biases and interests.  Because our neocortex perceives the faces or vase by “moving” one color to the foreground and the other to the background, it is difficult to perceive the faces and the vase at the same time. . . .  difficult, but not impossible.

And so it is with seeing the Light of the Infinite G-d within our finite material world . . .  difficult, but not impossible.

Mystics speak of G-d as the “ground” of all that exists in in the finite world.  For example, as Hillel Zeitlin explained:

Whatever a person sees, he sees it only by the power of the life energy flowing forth from the blessed Creator.  If you see people, for example, you notice their form, hear their voices and speech, learn from their wisdom–all this is the life-force flowing through them.  This is true of everything you see or hear, for each thing has the structure and purpose befitting it, a particular appearance or smell.  All of this is the life-energy of the Creator within each thing, since all is from Him, just dressed up in diverse garments.

The Fundamentals of Hasidism, as translated by Rabbi Arthur Green, Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era: The Religious Writings of Hillel Zeitlin, pp. 81-82.  Other mystics discuss seeing a web of light or energy that connects all living and non-living things.

And, yes, I understand that there is a section of the Tanya that has been interpreted to assert that “becoming able to see and acknowledge the divine life force in the material world would necessarily nullify the material world.”  Alter Rebbe, chapter 3, Shaar HaYichud VeEmunah (Book of the Gate of Unity and Faith) (emphasis added).  However, as HIllel Zeitlin explained, the Alter Rebbe was not suggesting the material world would, in fact, be “destroyed;” rather, he was suggesting that our eyes would not be able to perceive the material world, while perceiving G-d’s life-energy.  Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era at 82.  . . . This, it seems to me, is no different than the way it can be difficult to see objects around us after looking in the direction of the sun on a bright summer day . . . and, just as we continue to live, work, and play outside of buildings on blindingly bright sunny days, I fail to see why we should avoid looking for the light of G-d as we wander about in this finite existence that we all share.

Regardless how hard it may be to see Divine Light, I believe each of us must train ourselves to acknowledge and respect the divine life-force that flows through every material being and object.  As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “A religious man is a person who holds G-d and man in one thought at one time, at all times . . . .”

And, contrary to what some people imply, learning to “see” that divine spark in other living and non-living things will never negate the existence of the material world!! Rather, one who truly sees will be inspired to begin acting in accordance with the knowledge that all finite beings and objects are portraits of The One.  That person will stop being selfish and start caring about others.  It compels one not to deny the material world, but to keep looking for more of G-d’s Light in the material world . . . to be on the lookout for blessed moments in which the mind can perceive the Infinite G-d that is the ground of our existence, rather than seeing only the finite objects . . .

Praying you allow yourself to “see” and acknowledge the Infinite, jen



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s