⌆ Musing with Yiming: 004 — The Mundane Egg
Snapshots of memories
Connecting with people can feel like candid photography: you zoom in and out, adjust angles, focus, trying to seize an authentic moment of their story. It’s lifetime artistry - to learn about acknowledging the light in other’s presence and let it expose a picture inside of you.
Most conversations in today’s social interactions have limited focal length. They capture the world in a way similar to how an ordinary eye sees: “What’s new with work?… how’s the family? … how’s the recent trip to the seaside?…” Same as camera lenses, questions can get heavy and clumsy when it wants to look further into life. We feel it is only appropriate to leave those responsibilities to professionals.
Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about taking photos. You have to work with what you have, and equipment is just part of it. Understanding how light travels is more important than having big lenses. Maybe try some filters when working in limited conditions. You’d be surprised how they influence the outcome.
I am a fan of Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. She usually starts her interview with the same question: “What’s the spiritual background of your childhood?” This question carries a magical hazy effect, like a mist lens filter that creates a subtle dreamy atmosphere. Sweet childhood memory lowers the contrast of talking about spirituality on a normal weekday. It leads to interesting portraits.
Recently, I asked the same question to a filmmaker at a random party. Perhaps because he digs stories as much as I do, after sharing his own, he returned the question to me. I told him, like most Chinese people, none of my family belongs to any organized religion. They lead a quite simple, secular life, with a special connection to their land, the moon and a lunar calendar, certain rituals, and their ancestors. An elder Chinese like my grandmother, knows it is necessary to bribe the kitchen deity with sticky candy before the Lunar New Year so it would only speak good words of the family. This animistic lifestyle seemed to surprise him.
When a Chinese baby reaches their first birthday, traditionally a ritual called Zhuazhou (抓周) will be performed. It means to “grab the anniversary.” The family will put various objects in front of the baby for them to choose from. The child’s pick would predict their future. These things usually are symbols of how people make a living: a book for scholars, a calculator for businessmen, a pen for writers, etc, etc. When I had my ritual, I got my hands on an egg.
An egg is an ambiguous option to even have in this ritual. Maybe it tells a life of raising chickens. Maybe it says a person always enjoying food. When I first heard the story as a kid, I felt disappointed. I secretly wished my parents had put more exotic things and I would have chosen them: perhaps a crystal, or a sword, anything interesting, just not a simple egg.
When I went to school, I first heard the famous (fabricated) story about Da Vinci and his egg drawings. I thought, “Oh, there are more to eggs.” But it would take me many more years to see an egg as something beyond food or props, but as a symbol.
A few years ago I went on a long hike with some friends. I told my egg story to one of them. He happened to be reading The Hobbit along the way. So he shared the famous Bilbo’s riddle:
A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.
Maybe an egg is not that simple. After all, it hides life inside.
In myths from many cultures, the cosmos is an egg. It cracked open and birthed all beings. It’s the World Egg, the Cosmic Egg, or the Mundane Egg.
The word “mundane” is an interesting one. In the dictionary, it is both “referring to something of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual world,” as well as “not interesting or exciting.” This word shows the dualistic view of our thinking: as if the spiritual and earthy aspects of being are put in a gladiator’s ring. At first, they were equal parts, as the Latin root “mundus” simply means “world.” Over the years, as human minds dwell in the earthy realm for too long, they become bored of it. “Mundane life” sounds like a drag, isn’t it?
For a while, I forgot spirituality is mundane, or mundane life is spiritual. For the life force to flow from the cosmos to us, it needs to be undivided. Transcendence is not a journey from low to high, the mundane to the spiritual. Instead, to transcend is to recognize a circle - a beginning as an ending; a sphere - an inner working for a latent nothing to become an active something to breakthrough. It’s like an egg.
Jung writes in the Red Book:
Set the egg before you, the God in his beginning.
And behold it.
And incubate it with the magical warmth of your gaze.
Christmas has come. The God is in the egg.
Connecting with oneself can also feel like photography: you gaze into memories of past and future, shift perspectives, focus, trying to form a truthful illustration of your existence. It’s lifetime artistry - to master understanding light and darkness and allow the dynamic range to reveal rich images.
“What’s the spiritual background of your childhood?” I asked myself.
I wasn’t promised a heaven nor warned a hell. There were no souls but spirits of living things and things that had lived. I was encouraged to observe the weather from the presence of clouds and the moon. I learned some plant and bird names. I’ve been told to respect my ancestors who had carried life.
And I picked a mundane egg for my future.