The pulse of space beats to the same rhythm that it is charged with, and this we call atmosphere. Space itself has not got an atmosphere. Space is negative in that it allows its pulse to beat to the rhythm that it is charged with, and at the same time it is positive in that it absorbs and assimilates all, sooner or later. When a person says that the atmosphere of a place is quiet, or exciting, this only means that the impression of someone who has charged the atmosphere of that place lingers there.
Atmosphere can be of two kinds: the atmosphere of presence and the atmosphere of absence. The atmosphere of presence changes with the change that takes place in someone. When a person is sitting in meditation, when he is practicing silence or repose, the atmosphere is quietening; when a person is restless, uneasy, cross, or agitated the atmosphere takes on the same rhythm. The reason for this is that the atmosphere is made of vibrations, and the life-substance in it is charged with the same rate of vibrations as that of the person who happens to be there.
The atmosphere one creates and leaves in a place remains unchanged, although in time it loses its vitality. But it is difficult to believe how long an atmosphere created by someone in a certain place remains vibrating; it stays there much longer than one would think.
Not only does man create an atmosphere, but an atmosphere is also created in man. A peaceful person can feel uneasy where there is an atmosphere of restlessness, and a very restless person may feel quiet in an atmosphere of peace. To those who can perceive it, the atmosphere tells stories. One may ask how a person can read the atmosphere which is nothing but vibrations, but the perception of vibrations is in itself the understanding of a language, just as to a musician every note says something. In his mind it is distinct;he knows what note it is, what chord it is, what theme it is; he knows its feeling, its nature, its character, its sense, its effect. To anyone who is not a musician music may be comforting, healing, and soothing; but to him who understands music it is a living thing, it speaks to him, his soul communicates with it. In the same way the one who perceives atmosphere fully, knows all about it.
There is another way of looking at this question:not only does every person have his particular atmosphere, but everything one feels, thinks, says, and does is creative of an atmosphere. The wicked will create a wicked atmosphere; the pious will create an atmosphere of piety; a singer by singing, a player by playing, a dancer by dancing, a painter by painting will create an atmosphere expressive of his action. Each feeling such as humor, grief, anger, passion, wonder, attachment, fear, or indifference shows its distinct character in the atmosphere which it has created. No matter what a person may try to hide, his atmosphere will speak of it. No one is ever able to create a false atmosphere, that is to say an atmosphere which is different from his own condition. Someone once asked my murshid what the sign of the godly is. He said, ‘Judge him not by what he says or by what he does; feel his atmosphere, and his atmosphere will tell you whether he is godly or not.’ People do not differ much from one another in size, but the difference in the horizons that their atmosphere occupies is so great that very often there is no comparison possible, and this is the secret which is behind the personalities of the sages, saints, and prophets, as well as behind their work and their influence in the world.
Since there must be something to hold everything that is significant, what is it that holds the atmosphere in space? It is capacity; space offers capacity. In other words, in space a capacity is formed of an element invisible to our eyes and yet solid enough to hold the vibrations within it. This will become clearer if we study the mystery of the wireless and of mirage. Why does not the air scatter the sounds and words spoken many miles away? It is true that the air-waves carry them a certain distance, but what holds them? It is the capacity; it is a fine element which surrounds them, not allowing them to break up, although our ears do not ordinarily hear them in space. It is the same with the phenomenon of mirage. One sees in the desert a picture which is nothing but a reflection on the waves of light of something really existing. But what holds this picture intact, not allowing it to be scattered, is the capacity, which in Sanskrit is called Akasha.
Is the atmosphere visible? All that is intelligible is audible and visible in the finer sense of these words. Our ears may not hear it, yet we may feel that we have heard it; our eyes may not see it, and yet we may feel that we have seen it. What is audible is visible, and what is visible is audible at the same time; it is only to our senses that it is either audible or visible. If a certain thing appeals to our sense of sight, it makes an impression upon that sense and our sense of hearing does not pay any attention to it; and if a thing appeals to our sense of hearing our sense of sight does not take any interest in it. This is because two senses cannot both experience something fully at the same time.
Even when two senses perceive a thing simultaneously, what they experience at that time will not be a full experience. Only the experiencing of everything through one sense at a time can give satisfaction. But apart from experiencing fully through two senses, do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that even two eyes cannot see as fully as one eye. When we close one eye in order to see a thing more clearly, we see it much better, we get a fuller vision of it; for fuller experience needs a single ray of penetration, which reveals the nature, the secret, and the mystery of the object one looks at. One particular sense is capable of experiencing vibrations according to its own capacity, and the vibrations which appeal to a particular sense engage that sense which experiences them; the other senses experience the same, but indirectly, through the sense which is actually experiencing them.
The visible atmosphere is called the aura. Those who do not feel its vibrations sometimes see it in the form of colors or light. There are some quite unevolved people who see auras for the same reason that some very unevolved people also communicate with spirits, which is really something that only an evolved person should venture upon. But they are made like that by nature, and it is the same as someone who has never been trained in the technique of art yet he draws a beautiful picture. It is in the person, it is a gift, it is his finer soul and his nervous temperament that are susceptible to finer vibrations.
The aura therefore may be called a visible atmosphere, or the atmosphere an invisible aura. Just as different degrees of the vibrations of the atmosphere have a distinct influence upon the person who perceives them, so the different colors of the aura have their particular effect upon those who see this aura. There are many who are not yet awakened to perceive an atmosphere, to see an aura, although they will feel it in the depths of their being; they cannot help it.
This shows us that there is another world besides the world that our physical eyes can see and whose sound our physical ears can hear, and it is not even very far away. We live in it and we feel it and we are influenced by it, whether we know it or not. This is the world of the atmosphere, which is finer than the physical world, though in a sense it is physical too. It is something we feel, it is something that will touch our body; and though the body may not perceive it, yet it is influenced by it. The mind perceives it more clearly. And if we are asked to what plane atmosphere belongs, we can only say that it is a bridge between the physical and the mental planes; it is on both planes.
The Sufi Message, vol. XI, “Philosophy, Psychology, Mysticism”
Philosophy, chap, v