RYAN BUSH PHOTOGRAPHY
The Space Beyond Words
A Photographic Cycle of Consciousness (2015-2019)
Inspired by cycles of consciousness like The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, Christian books of hours, Zen Buddhism’s Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, and Carl Jung’s Red Book, The Space Beyond Words is a cycle of twenty-four diptych photographs, and corresponding text in a two-volume set of books, that takes the viewer on a journey through the full range of human states of consciousness. The photographs are of deceptively simple subjects, such as earth, air, fire, water, and ether, to evoke the basic elements of existence.
About the series
Inspired by cycles of consciousness like The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, Christian books of hours, Zen Buddhism’s Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, and Carl Jung’s Red Book, The Space Beyond Words is a cycle of twenty-four diptych photographs, and corresponding text in a two-volume set of books, that takes the viewer on a journey through the gamut of human states of consciousness. The photographs are of deceptively simple subjects, such as earth, air, fire, water, and ether, to evoke the basic elements of existence.
Each diptych represents a different state of consciousness, and the journey starts with the world upturned, as can happen when our lives are thrown out of balance by an illness, the loss of a loved one or a job, or by the chaotic state of the world today. Upheaval can be a powerful catalyst for us to learn and adapt, but if we don’t take the opportunity, the journey will continue through lower states of chaos, suffering, and stuckness. As difficult as the dark night of the soul is (as I know from going through more than four and half years of agonizing back pain), the darkness makes it easier to find the inextinguishable light inside us, no matter how covered up it may be.
If we perservere, eventually we’ll find the strength and resources to recover, and the journey continues in a return to the ordinary world and reconnection with others, learning to swim in the waters of the unconscious, and learning to follow our intuition and guidance. At various times, we may find ourselves in a profoundly wordless place, which might happen spontaneously when we’re awed by a beautiful sight in nature, or by art, music, or architechture, when we’re meditating, or when we’re connecting deeply with the body such as during exercise, yoga, massage, authentic movement, or dancing.
Some traditions might call this wordless state ‘witness consciousness’, non-duality, the Reiki space, or the fully-open state, while ‘the space beyond words’ comes from Karen Armstrong’s The Case For God. This wordless state isn’t usually valued in our society, as we place great value on the rational mind, gut instinct, and constantly doing, doing, doing. However, there is great value in the space beyond words because we feel connected with everything, are vividly alive and fully present in the here-and-now, and can accept everything exactly as it is without judgment. Furthermore, if we stay in the space beyond words, and if various other factors are aligned (which I discuss in the full text, as well as in other words like From Wandering to Illumination and in my forthcoming book The Journey of a Thousand Paths: A Practical Guide to Integral Spirituality), this wordless place can lead directly to life-changing experiences of awakening, which some traditions would call satori, moksha, fanaa, transcendence, illumination, or being born again.
Eventually, we must return to the ordinary world, but both we and the world are transformed — from this expansive viewpoint, everything is radiantly beautiful, and we know that we have never left Eden. Whether we believe in places like Heaven or Hell, it’s clear that our experience can be like Heaven or Hell, depending on our state of consciousness. There is value in all states of being — as we have to go through the entire gamut of consciousness before we can be truly whole — but if we are tired of living in a hellish world of pain and suffering (i.e. the lower level of functioning that some would call the lower self, the shadow, id, or pain body), there are many practical tools and techniques that can help us return to the ordinary level of being (i.e. the ego, ordinary self, monkey mind, or grasping mind), or connect with the heavenly levels of compassion, joy, and openness associated with the higher self (i.e. the superconscious, Buddha self, Christ consciousness, the Self, wisdom mind, spacious mind, luminous self, or the soul).
The Space Beyond Words is meant to be a practical tool for consciousness, not just a series of artistic images, as I use this series as my personal book of hours. If I find myself stuck in some state or another, it can be helpful to look at the diptych for that state to find inspiration, or to read the corresponding text to remember the techniques, meditations, and pointers that have been helpful to me in the past. Meanwhile, I also find it useful to periodically look through the whole series to remind myself of the entire range of experience that’s possible. After all, most of the time we confine ourselves to playing the same few notes over and over, rather than embracing the whole spectrum.
The space beyond words is associated with the crown chakra and the pituitary gland, which integrate our experience into a unified state where we feel completely whole. It’s our natural state as children, wide open, curious, and full of joy, before we close ourselves off from the world with veils of caution, doubt, fear, anger, and judgment. Fortunately, we can experience non-duality when our rational minds calm down and we let down our barriers, such as when out in nature, when we’re “in the zone”, in a state of flow, or in deep meditation.
While we might enter the space beyond words spontaneously, as when in nature, connecting with the body, or other examples mentioned above, some techniques to try to enter the space beyond words intentionally include meditation, contemplating the true nature of the mind (as a pure luminous presence that’s always there from moment to moment), by meditating on Zen koans (like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”), with mystic poetry (such as Blake, Hafez or Rumi), or by overwhelming the rational mind with complexity (as with James Joyce’s Ulysses, or my series of 3-D photographs From Wandering to Illumination).
The Space Beyond Words aims to help viewers enter this calm, meditative place, by looking at the diptychs from the space between the photographs. Each diptych consists of two photographs taken one after another as I try to remain in the space beyond words. I usually hold the camera by hand, so I can be as spontaneous as possible, coming back to the same point from different perspectives again and again, until the two pictures complement each other like two halves of a larger whole. Neither half is complete without the other (just as our lower and higher selves are both important parts of our whole self, which we can unite through the heart and love), and the viewer is the only one who can unite these halves back together.
Aside from the symbolism, there is a practical reason to use diptychs to reach the space beyond words. When we look at a single photograph of an ordinary subject, it is all-too-easy to just think “Oh, that’s just some water (or trees, or whatever), so what?” But when we see the same subject repeated side-by-side from different perspectives, our brain starts looking for patterns connecting the two images together. At some point, a magical transformation may occur, and the two images are combined into a greater whole. It may feel like time slows down or stops, entering a longer sense of now, sometimes called mythic time, universal time, or non-local spacetime. In non-duality, all divisions and categories vanish, as subject and object merge together. The photographs are barely edited in Photoshop, so they directly reflect the eternal moments I saw and experienced in the camera when I took the photographs.
Consciousness and spirituality can be sensitive subjects for some, so if the concept of the sacred or the divine doesn’t resonate with you, please treat it as a metaphor for whatever concept works for you. Once we let go of the limiting filters of words, judgments, categories and boundaries, we can see the world as it truly is, and understand that all the different traditions are pointing to the same great mystery, whether you call it the Source, the Tao, the Brahman, God, Allah, the True Self, the Buddha Self, the Great Bright Light, the Bulk, the fundamental ground of being, the holographic universe, love, wholeness, or simply everything.
When viewing the diptych photographs and videos from The Space Beyond Words, I suggest you look from the space in between the two photographs, which represents the gap between our thoughts, the space beyond word. I especially like letting the images take up my whole field of vision, and looking from the same place until the images join them together into a whole in my mind’s eye. We can also use this cycle of photographs to reflect on a particular state of consciousness, such as the state of consciousness we’re currently in, where we tend to get stuck, or where we want to be. In dark nights of the soul, this book can be a reminder that we are always loved, the light is always there even if it is hidden, and it is possible to experience joy again.
Each diptych photograph consists of two separate photographs, available framed or unframed, with print sizes available of 20x30, 40x60, and 58x87. Collectors can hang the works in any arrangement they want, as long as the two halves of the diptychs are not displayed separately, or sold separately. All photographs are printed on the highly-textured Hahnemuhle “William Turner” paper.
The original artist book (in two volumes) is available for exhibition purposes, while a reproduction will be available in a forthcoming publication from Beyond Editions.