ma space

I thought perhaps
we could
do with …

a little

‘cos so long ago
wandered off …

… and we don’t know where to find her.

~  ~  ~

There is no equivalent single-word term for Ma in the English language

~  ~  ~

The Sense of Ma, an enigma of Japanese awareness, has baffled architects, philosophers, painters, musicians, and actors from all over the world

~  ~  ~

I have a feeling that it’s one of those things that the locals understand intuitively but cannot quite explain and that Westerners overthink

~  ~ ~

… the combination and integration of space and time. Ma deals with intervals of space. This points out a fundamental difference in the mindset of the general American public and that of Japan. To the American mind, this is the best explanation. The one word ma has two meanings: an interval of time and an interval of space. When talking about space from a Japanese perspective, time is an integral part of the experience of space

~  ~  ~

Ma does not exist between sounds, but sounds exist to define ma

~  ~  ~

the space and time between the movements when something unknown or unplanned can emerge and be felt

~  ~  ~

a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.”

~  ~  ~

Ma is not … created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements

~  ~  ~

In his 2001 book The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher discusses the importance of exemplifying “space” as a substance

~  ~  ~

“The Taoist philosopher Lao Tse wrote extensively on the concept of Ma including his poem The Uses of Not :

Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
but the empty space between them
is the essence of the wheel.

Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space between it
is the essence of the pot.

Walls with windows and doors form the house,
but the empty space within it
is the essence of the house

~  ~  ~

dynamism in repose, an interval or gap between two things that does not separate but binds and relate

~  ~  ~

the more one concentrates on the objects, the more one perceives MA, or an “active absence

~  ~  ~

In Shakuhachi music, it …  is not merely a pause or rest, but rather silence as an equivalent value of sound

~  ~  ~

… sense of silence. Sense of space

~  ~  ~

Ma is created by those appearances that one might refer to as “consideration” or “allure” that appear in the vicinity of people, things, sounds and pictures … This concept of ma is unlikely to emerge in the Western world, where absolutism is the dominating principle

~  ~  ~

The names, the existence, and the periphery of separate parts of the world are unclear. It is not clear precisely where a mountain ends. People possess a sense of appearances and territory in their vicinity, and there are no clear borders existing between people and things. Ma results from this gathering together of appearances on the periphery

~  ~  ~

“the concept of ‘ma’ carries great value and can not be regarded as ‘nothing’ or ‘empty’, but rather as an enormous potential

~  ~  ~

These have been some other people’s thoughts on something we probably can’t grasp …

I’m sort in inclined to say that if you can’t translate the Japanese wiki entry on 間, you shouldn’t write a wiki entry in English … You can’t “understand” a language without actually understanding it. You just can’t. It’s unfortunate that the English-speaking culture propagates the idea that you can understand the meaning behind a foreign language without actually speaking it.

… but we can certainly play with the concept & quite possibly enrich ourselves along the way.

July 7, 2011. Uncategorized.


  1. aferrismoon replied:

    Nevertheless its quite amusing that English doesn’t have a word for it : )

    Joyce’s Finnegans Wake uses ‘English’ in a way that ‘tells’ about 4 different stories at once. If u read passages aloud for about 10 minutes a ‘space’ develops in the mind.

    I always remember at school or home , that if u weren’t actively doing something then you were doing ‘nothing’.

    I used to think, well if I’m doing anything there’s hardly likely to arise some problem – but problems are good ‘coz they give u something to do.

    The ‘western’ way is to keep people occupied until they don’t know what they’re doing only what they’re supposed to do, which is generally someone else’s idea , built upon compulsivelu doing things



  2. Michael Skaggs replied:

    I loved this, thank you for shedding new light upon the subject for us.
    It will indeed be a difficult concept for a Westerner to grab, but you cannot really grasp the concept in your mind, you have to experience “Ma”.

    Love to you Alex,


  3. pso replied:

    I am-ma westerner and I can agree that we are so completely effed up that we can’t see the [ma at] all; we only see the ma-terial objects instead, the ma-tter is the only worth, while the Ma-ster keeps his illusory house of cards together.

    The dementia of the Ma-ster has spilled over into the consciousness of all ma-nkind that has ma-de a choice. The choice for ma-mmon with ma-cabre ma-hem of ma-niacal ma-verick’s opinions pertaining to things spiritual as though Ma-ry replaced Christ and at the end of the day -Oklaho-ma is still just a mediocre play. Ro-ma-nce is a ma-de up dance, while to-ma-toes are the only fair weather plants….

    IOW, we is screwed here. Ma-y you always be blessed Alex.
    Ma-y you always be the a-ma-zing wo-ma-n that you are.
    and ma-y the Celtic rebel ma-ke you his partner for life, since he needs that ma-sculine overtones to be harmonized by the fema-le influence, which should be ma-ndatory in all 50 states.

    I AMMA WESTERNER AND I AMMA pretty sure ma post is way offa the deepa end.
    But then again, we are so close, so very, very ,very close to the final curtain, of the greatest and most tragic dra-ma of all:America

    The earth holds the Ma. Ma is in the eye of the beholder, eh?


  4. pso replied:

    um, yeah, I wanted to use the word Ma-mmary real bad, but..


  5. aferrismoon replied:

    Check out the Egyptian God – SHU.



  6. alex robinson replied:

    Greetings mr moon,
    I just looked up Finnegans Wake & see it is set in Howth Castle & environs, as that is where my mother grew up I looked up Howth & find;
    “Howth (pronounced /ˈhoʊθ/; from Old Norse: Hovuð meaning “head” – which seems to tie back your article & to another of Irish ancestry who had his own wake after his head was “done in”.

    I am most surely coming to a conclusion that doing nothing is doing something quite astonishing & without it we are lost. I was thinking how children are no longer allowed to do nothing, but must have THEIR time filled with activity, either sporty, electronic or via mandatory ‘friends’. Without solitude & quiet of body & mind how can dreams grow?

    I gave my son a wiki run-down of Vine-agains Rake & he expressed interest :)

    Hiya Michael
    I figure we need an approach of 'all ideas gratefully accepted' to help us create something new & splendid – ma is definitely very welcome here!
    Hope you are very well m'dear

    Allo Patrick – you had fun I think! I liked how you could find ma in so many spaces & places!

    You know AMerica has MA backwards – I think that says a lot, but don’t give up – we’re a whole lot greater & creator, than we think.

    The Living Tiki would definitely appreciate your mammary tendencies :)

    very best to you


  7. alex robinson replied:

    Haha AWESOME!! – just came thro’ as I posted this. I’ve written about Shu before but never clicked!



  8. Ed replied:

    In Miyamoto Musashi’s book of five rings, he explains ma in the book of void section. I can’t remember the exact words, but it goes something like

    “Knowing things that exist, you know things that do not exist, that is the nature of the void.”

    or something like that. Which is very similar to one of the Hellenic philosophers who I can’t remember to be honest, but the saying was

    “When you grasp one form, you can know all forms”

    which is similar to “From one thing know ten thousand things” again from Musashi.

    breath of night
    silence of life
    lone companion

    my best regards


  9. brad replied:

    Great post Alex….

    the love of Ma is what will save us all…

    : )


  10. Joanne replied:

    Great choices in imagery for this one Alex. You really have a knack for that, btw, your choice in imagery is always very complimentary to your writing style.

    What a concept, that Ma. I’d say more, but I’m trying to appreciate her :]

    (on that note, do you think this is a feminine concept? Because I can’t help but think that the West’s pursuit of SOMETHINGNESS is very masculine)


  11. A Toast to MArissa | TheLoosh replied:

    […] Ma when you need […]


  12. Shane replied:

    Dunno if anyone has said anything about this before, but I just thought, “Perhaps the English word for ‘Ma’ is like the French phrase we sometimes hear people use- Je ne sais qua”.

    ALso, “…but sounds exist to define ma.“ – This is such an interesting sync, because I’ve just recently begun reading a book about Mantras, and the author describes them the same way.

    As always, I hope you’re well, Alex. :)


  13. alex robinson replied:

    Aha Ed, would you believe I have Musashi’s book on the desk in front of me – my aikido teacher lent it to me while I was researching for ‘wipe out’.

    “Polish the twofold spirit heart & mind, & sharpen the twofold gaze perception & sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.”

    Thank you for those directions.

    Your leave taking was delightful & most interestingly points towards two avenues I’m currently working on.

    Very best to you

    Thanks Brad, it’s time for her to come home or us to travel to/with her isn’t it!!
    Best as always, to you

    Thanks Joanne
    The picture hunt takes enormous time & attention & is a very specific part of how my work has developed – the two live & breathe & work together for me.

    I would have to say I definitely see ma as a feminine concept – esp when I think of the space that is the womb.
    Of course we really have to approach this lightly because we haven’t developed/or we lost the ability to understand ma, but yes it seems like the masculine forms the structures that shape ‘space’ – they work together of course, but the Western world seems to have betrayed space. It took over & created & shaped space according to it’s plans. When I look around now, say within a shop I see how it’s all laid out according to what you see & what’s on sale, I can see no attention to harmonising with space – space is just something you fill with merchandise. Land is something you fill with houses, malls & roads. Bodily spaces constantly have to be filled with junk. Outer space is something that is conquered & filled with satellites. It’s as if there is a mad mission to wipe out space.

    More to follow (but in an article) … :)

    Very best to you & thanks for all the linking


  14. alex robinson replied:

    Hi Shane
    That’s a grand idea – funny how we still have to borrow from another language to try & feel this spaciousness.

    From the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
    “Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.
    In the void is virtue, and no evil” – how wonderful I think, to be able to think in a wide sense.

    Very best to you


  15. Michael Skaggs replied:

    Thought you might get a kick out of this…

    “The Kogi believe that they live in order to care for the world and keep its natural order. Their spiritual leaders, the Mamas, are raised in the dark for their first 18 years, to communicate with “ALUNA”, the thought process that shapes and maintains reality, the source of life and intelligence. They connect with Spirit through the water and deep thought and concentration. They tell us that our life depends on the constant cycle of water moving between the sea and freshwater lakes and rivers.”

    Double MA, interesting!



    • alex robinson replied:

      Wow Michael, that’s an amazing find – ties in with so many ideas I’ve come across previously & just makes me think & think. THANKS for that!


  16. pso replied:

    “Their spiritual leaders, the Mamas, are raised in the dark for their first 18 years, to communicate with “ALUNA”, the thought process that shapes and maintains reality, the source of life and intelligence.”

    That almost can be read that ‘a MOON’ somehow shapes and maintains reality as well as being that which is the source of life here, and the source of intelligence.

    Does David Icke know about this “ALUNA”?

    The movie called Aluna has a tagline-
    “There is no life without thought”,

    Aluna the movie

    Aluna, the movie speaks of The Kogi-
    “The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by our world. The mountain they inhabit is an isolated triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on earth. It is on a separate tectonic plate from the Andes, and its unique structure means that it is virtually a miniature version of the planet, with all the world’s climates represented. The mountain is quite literally a micro-cosmos, a mirror of the planet on which every ecological zone is represented and in which most of the plants and animals of the planet can find homes.”


    • alex robinson replied:

      Good point Patrick, it sure does ‘sound’ as if they speak of the night & the moon, tho from what I heard of ‘the movie’ – mama = sun & illumination.
      Seeing that the movie comes out in 2012 & we are again being threatened with doom for not changing ‘our’ ways however, makes me turn away. I’m tired of the doom messages, this breakdown of the world is orchestrated to the ‘nth’ degree at levels we don’t seem to have access to – human beings are neither destructive nor vindictive by nature & kicking them in the balls & dooming them for ‘not listening’ is not productive, in my mind. We can learn from all kinds of cultures but we still have our own lives to create (in my humble tho slightly ranting opinion)

      Best to you :)


  17. Michael Skaggs replied:

    Well said Alex!

    I know in astrology the Sun = Ego and the Moon = Emotions, so not sure about the mixed messages of the doom and gloom either. Kind of counter productive…and the fact they are being toted through London….well, we gno what goes on in England don’t we? ;)

    Doom and gloom will be served up more readily ad-nauseam the closer we get. Why don’t the Kogi focus upon the “PTBs” that are destroying the planet, not your average Joe Cucumber.

    Food for Thought ;)


  18. Michael Skaggs replied:


    My apologies for straying off the course of “Ma”…I would like to go dwell within the space between the space of Nature just to nest and rest awhile..


  19. alex robinson replied:

    Great! Michael, this is what I have wondered too – if these cultures are SO ‘knowledgeable’ how come they haven’t figured out what’s going on? If they have access to inner worlds & energies surely they should have felt a major discrepancy instead of lumping it all on the whole of mankind. Aren’t people basically the same wherever you go – almost all want that which brings a sense of achievement, life & love.

    Some of their ideas are interesting, but I’ll create my own path & fear mongering is not welcome.



  20. celticrebel replied:

    Well thank you penisless Alex for helping me understand Ma finally. :grin: After all a penis is all about positive space, and it must take feminine space, which Nietsche might blindly suggest is “empty” to comprehend.

    I can relate it to Western (“scientific”) perspectives on Dark Matter or “Junk DNA.” If we can’t see it or understand, it must not exist or do anything useful. Then again ,the “west”ern school of narrow thought was given to us by men who like boys and despise women … which would suggest their “Ma” as well.


  21. the living tiki replied:

    Absolutely ma-velous dahling!

    Actually, the last three articles you’ve written have been amazing! (And you’ve done a lot of homework for me about Japan that I haven’t had the time to do – thanks! I will reference “Wipe Out” in my follow up about Japan.) That’s why this comment is a bit long – I’m combining the three articles. Sorry I’m lazy!

    I (naturally) thought of ma in art, and it struck me how we tend to call the empty space in art “negative” space, like there is an un-positve sense about it. Sometimes what artists don’t paint is more important to the picture than what they do.

    Loved the haiku. I’m working on an article about evolution and one of the first animals with a backbone (a chordate, i.e. one of our “ancestors”) was a fish the size of a thumbnail scientists decided to name “haikuichthys” (haiku fish). I’m sorry, I know that information is completely pointless and useless – I just liked the name.

    Thank you for doing your research as close to the “source” as possible (the Japanese you have known). I personally got a taste of how truly different our cultures are when I was trying to get Kanji translations of phrases I wanted to put in my art from various Japanese people who could do them for me. I would often get replies such as, “If I translate this directly, it could be interpreted a dozen different ways. What is the concept or idea you are trying to impart with this phrase?” I was dumbfounded because I thought it was a simple phrase that was obvious, but now I’m starting to realize English is a fast-food language. We throw words out willy-nilly and follow them up with, “Oh, well, you know what I mean.” And that made me think of a recent language trend (kind of fading out now) where people would use the words “I mean” to begin a sentence. I mean I started hearing it everywhere. I mean even in sentences where the words “I mean” aren’t even necessary. I mean maybe English speakers need a few more words like “ma” to define what they mean a bit more.

    A phrase (forgot the source – dammit!) I had translated into Thai: “Just as fish forget they live in lakes and rivers, people forget they live in the river of the Tao.”

    I love all eastern (non-alphabet) languages. I consider them art forms unto themselves. English seems like graffiti to me. Not even good or interesting graffiti. Take just the word “graffiti”: Ugh.

    Oh good grief… that just made me think of an Americanized book about the Tao using Winnie-the-Pooh called [wait for it, Celtic Rebel……]
    “The Tao of Pooh”. .

    OK, I’m rambling so I’ll make a point: I feel the Japanese are more screwed than we think because I keep hearing about their politicians lying to the public about the Fukushima situation exactly like OUR politicians lie to us about, well, everything. But Japan is their country, their people, and their future. And with leaders acting like this in a country that holds honor extremely high, it means those leaders give their allegiance to something else other than their land and their brothers and sisters.

    My father (a U.S. Naval Academy grad) was talking about Pearl Harbor one time when he boasted, “And where did those Japanese men who planned and executed the Pearl Harbor attack receive their education? The United States military.” If I can remember correctly, I think they attended West Point. He saw it as cleverness at using our own war tactics/knowledge against us. But I’m now seeing it as just another puzzle piece in the overall manipulation of Japan.

    Wait, one more from dad: He once told me the photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima was completely staged. Since the platoon was mostly from Texas, they originally raised a Texas flag with no fanfare (you have to be Texan to understand) but the press (or whomever) realized it was the perfect photo-op and the Marines were told to take it down and replace it, and that’s when the photo was taken. (That may be a “talI tale” as well – you have to be Texan to understand). It truly was a “theater”. Kinda makes the SCULPTURE of the Iwo Jima photo in Washington, D.C. seem absolutely ridiculous.

    No, I lied… one more: I once drew a picture for a girl who loved seahorses. It showed a prawn riding on its back holding a javelin. “I don’t get it,” she stated. “It’s Prawn Quixote,” I replied.



  22. aferrismoon replied:

    People often ask about the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – and how odd it is, or even illogical, that the Mother isn’t included.

    As you’ve written ‘female’ energy is ‘negative energy’ or ‘space’.

    In Hebrew:

    AB = father
    BN = son

    AM = mother

    B one letter back = A
    N one letter back = M

    So the ‘mother’ as in eastern thinking is ‘invisible’ yet obviously in existence.

    I assume humans are both male and female to greater or lesser degrees.



    • alex robinson replied:

      Excellent points mr rebel
      I find myself in a state of wonder on this concept – not trying to become Japanese & understand it, just allowing myself to be taught by something that feels motherly & all-embracing. I keep thinking of how the West is all about things ‘measurable’ & denigrate & denies the unseen/unknown. So many origin stories begin with the unseen/unknown. All things created come from this ‘no place’.

      When I let my eyes take in space as well as objects, the most wonderful softening happens within my gaze – I think that’s the closest I’ve got thus far to what the Japanese see without trying.

      very best to you

      Ah the lazy tiki :)
      No thing enjoyed is wasted – I too liked your fishy story!

      Ah so the executors were western educated … how interesting & “West point” – that’s one for the rebel. So the takeover began before the war & simply continued after – I would presume the Western system of ruling was well & truly put in place, in the MacArthur years & we know with that system – you cannot be caring about the people or the land AND get into ‘power’ – tho’ you must ‘appear’ to or the people might spot something fishy. Perhaps a number of movies showing what a great job the govt do & how threatened the people would be without them …. In the West we do our best despite the govt, not because of it.

      Your Iwo Jima story rings all too true & ‘dramatic’.

      Loved the prawn Quixote :)

      Very best to you

      Hi mr moon
      I just did not question that all male trinity – I reckon they threw in mother mary in as a token female for the girls. I’d fallen for the story of woman causing the fall & thus had to accept they had a lesser place in existence – I didn’t like it, but no one questioned it.

      Ma is becoming a new way of thinking & seeing for me – new worlds of ideas are springing/surging up & I love it :)

      Yes I would think we are both male & female, but with have a heavier emphasis on one or t’other



  23. Easy to be Hard | replied:

    […] admit to something else – that Ma concept that Lady Alex first brought to my attention? I still struggle with that one. I don’t think I’ve […]


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