In the iconic film Powers of 10 by Ray and Charles Eames and Philip and Phylis Morrison (1977), a camera hovers above a man lying on a picnic blanket in Soldier Field in Chicago. The camera records him at 1 meter (about 3 feet), zooms out by powers of ten up to 10 to the 24th, or the size of the observable universe, and then reverses direction down to 10 to the negative 16, or the size of a quark in a Carbon atom. The film is a reminder that what we see each day is just a sliver of our world. When we actually or mentally zoom in and out we create space for gratitude, humility and connection.
Every day most of us live in the 1 meter world. We wake up, brush our teeth, make the rounds of moneymaking, housework and family. Our attention is pressed up against these daily comforts and irritations. Our own world can become flat and 2 dimensional. But what if we “zoom out” while doing something mundane, like washing dishes? Can you follow the water’s path, before it spills from the faucet, after it empties into the drain? Do you wonder many others bend over sinks, or pails of well water, or rivers right now, with you? Where is the earth on its turn around the sun, its gyration in the spiraling galaxy? Are you becoming tiny, a speck of motion in a turning world?
What if you zoom in? See the hexagons of your skin. Imagine the DNA, spiraling, unlocking, recombining, more similar than not to fern and loon. Sense yourself as a planet, supporting colonies of one-celled life on your skin and in your belly. You are the site of life and death dramas as real, and closer, than anything on the news.
Look out far enough and see only emptiness punctuated by bits of dust. Look deeply enough within and it looks similar. We live in nodes of activity. Molecules tremble and cohere, form the tree outside my window, the squirrel carrying a fat walnut, your brown eyes. They swirl and spin and transform from order to disorder and back again. If there is a beginning, if there is an end it is beyond our knowing. What we know is the continuing shift of matter and energy, implosion and explosion, activity and quietude.
Perhaps the images of Powers of 10 leave you feeling vulnerable, toes curled at the edge of an existential abyss. Everything is just a pile of atoms in flux, from insentient rock to self-aware human. All is set to decay and disperse. But maybe these pictures offer the promise of an unbreakable connection, of our part in something sacred, powerful, and eternal. Perhaps they offer protection from the fears that haunt us—loneliness, abandonment, alienation. For me they are a benediction, offering comfort and blessing. I am never alone, never separated from this world. I belong, I am protected. I am enveloped in its endless, powerful cycling. I am home.