Monday, February 13, 2017

Psychological Trigonometry

Recall the sine wave from high school trigonometry and its relationship to the psyche. 

I think of the wave as beginning at the origin where both x and y equal zero and the axes cross. From there it rises in an elegant curve to a height of one before falling again through zero to negative one then returning to zero at two pi. It mirrors this back through the negative pi values going in both directions infinitely. The sine wave is one of my favorite shapes in the universe because its curves are perfectly graceful and regular and because it always returns to zero. Up or down, positive or negative, the sine wave is always returning to zero, to a kind of balance. 

The wave never remains at zero but passes through that infinitesimally small moment. There are points along the curve when sin(x) equals zero, but a point has no length and exists in only one dimension, a thing beyond our imagination though we liken it to the period ending this sentence. A point isn’t even a blip. The moment the sine wave touches zero it is already gone from that point, moving away. There is no real moment of static balance, only the balance of coming and going. The sine wave is a thing in constant motion. It is fluctuation itself. 

As a metaphor for life, I could do worse than the sine wave. For weeks at a time I’m in the positive range, moving from the origin up to happiness and contentment, strength and love. I might then feel myself slipping, succumbing to a downward pull, but most often it’s not until I’ve crossed the axis and already in the negative that I sense the trouble. For two weeks I’ve been on that downward swing, felt myself moving through the negative arc, slip sliding away. Tonight I understood that I had arrived in the trough of negative one. My daughter noticed and told me. I realized she was right.

Usually this troubles the hell out of me, realizing that I’m deep below the line. I obsess about what brought me here and how to fix it. I don’t often figure out the reasons and even if I did, the answers don’t bring me back in balance. Fighting the downward pull I grow more anxious and guilty that I’ve let myself sink. I worry I’ll remain down this time, never get back to positive. Or I fret that even if I do rise, I’ll fall short of the height I feel I’m supposed to reach. I forget that I have always returned to balance no matter how fleeting. 

But this evening I saw the sine wave, as if my daughter had drawn it for me, showing the upward path I will follow. I picked up my notebook and pen and felt myself rising, picking up speed. The fastest moments are as the curve accelerates through zero. It’s the bottom of the trough when I move slowest. I’ve been writing for fifteen minutes and am already returning toward balance. I understand too that my life is not so regular as f(x) = sin(x) which remains bounded within a range of one and negative one and whose domain is infinite. 

The arc of my psyche moves sometimes higher and occasionally much lower. My wave expands and contracts. No life is so regular, pure, and dependable as a trigonometric function plotted on an evenly spaced grid. Life is not so elegant. Does that detract from the beauty of it? Yes and no. The curve is far from as graceful and exact, but there is beauty in the unpredictability of this life. 

Whatever my exact plot and position, regardless of the precise value of my function, I feel the shape of a curve rising and falling through time and, for this evening at least, moving upward. My wave continues away from the origin of birth and, unlike the sine wave, has a clear ending at a point along the x axis I hope not to reach for many years. Until then, I ought to enjoy the ups and downs as much as I can. It’s a beautiful trigonometric ride.