How to Make Your Own Kaleidoscopic Life

Reflections by Sunanda Satwah

‘It is the silence between the notes, that makes the music.’
-Zen saying

I must have been seven or eight, the first time I peered through a kaleidoscope. It was a fascinating optical instrument of shimmering colors, patterns & light, ever-changing with every turn. No two patterns were the same.

I don’t recall how I came about it or what became of it. I vaguely remember an idle afternoon over thirty years ago, when I had peered into that magical device, rotating the cylindrical tube ever so slightly between my little fingers- mesmerized by the patterns that burst forth. It was one of those childhood experiences that leaves a mark.

Recently, when I was called upon to write an article on the theme of ‘interstices’, the memory of that kaleidoscope suddenly hit me with unexpected strength. Every once in a while, we feel gripped by an idea that just won’t let go & refuses to leave us in peace until we have given it our all. This, was one of those moments.

I realized I didn’t want to merely write about the kaleidoscope as an allegory for powerful interstices, but wanted to recreate the experience & so I set about procuring the materials to build one myself — 3 rectangular pieces of mirrors, clear plastic sheet, cylindrical tube, tape & colorful bits & beads.

As I started piecing the kaleidoscope together, I couldn’t help but notice, how this innocuous instrument, a child’s toy, is in strange ways a reflection of the life we live.

Our breath contained within the hollow space of the 3 inescapable mirrors- the three mirrors I would like to think of as ‘me’ (the individual), the world within, the world outside. ‘Me’ consists of my existential parameters- my age, gender, health, race, profession. My ‘inner world’ consists of my beliefs, thought, secrets, aspirations, fears. My ‘outer world’ consists of the outer manifestation of my personality- the image I project and an outward perception of my relationships with people & things.

Within the hollowed space where one mirror directly impacts the other, the colorful beads & bits represent our circumstances, people, things, that add drama to our lives. Together- every moment, every view is different. A kaleidoscope seems to represent the sum total of beads and people alike.

‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ — Aristotle

In a kaleidoscope, if we come across a pattern not to our liking all we have to do is rotate it ever so slightly, until the pieces shift into a different assembly, creating a new pattern.

The inadvertent shift in pattern, is the sure passage of time & changing circumstances. Yes, we can exercise the choice to keep the kaleidoscope aside, but whenever we pick it up again, we can be assured of a new pattern. Like a new day.

The kaleidoscope offers several permutations & combinations of patterns- each diverse & beautiful. Some patterns we like better than others. It’s amazing how a few pieces of colorful beads can create several hundred patterns- each unique in its own way. I would like to think of this optical toy as an exercise in brevity, reminding us that every great piece of English literature ever written, uses the same 26 alphabets. And when you have the right ingredients, to quote architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, even

‘less is more’

As I revisit the kaleidoscope, with a better understanding of mirrors, geometry & fractals, I can’t help but marvel at the simple honesty of complex patterns. Perhaps, that is all there is to life. A few colorful bits, space & deep reflection.

The peep hole at the end of the tube, I’d like to think of as, our world-perspective in the role of an observer. Sometimes, we need to step aside from the contraptions of our life & examine events dispassionately, to introspect & determine whether we truly like what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we do & sometimes we don’t. No matter; for it’s never too late to uncap the fascinating kaleidoscope of life, change the bits, recap, twist-turn & have a relook.

It’s yours. Make it beautiful.

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