Thursday, March 10, 2011

Waxing Lyrical About the Moon!

I love the moon at this time of month. Its “waxing crescent” and if that isn’t the name of a yoga move, it should be. There’s something playful about the tiny slice of light and its daily game of hide and seek. I keep expecting to see a kid fishing off the end of it with his knee under his chin. This slender crescent is seen in its glory in the morning which is also my favorite time of day. I get up early, a zillion thoughts in my head, barely knowing where to begin, and the silver slither watches over me without judgment. There is something benevolent about the moon as it both impacts human mood and behavior and also shines down without preference.

The moon has always been a cause of great wonder. It waxes and wanes in diverse beauty and shines an endless stream of light on science, poetry and every day inspiration alike. A 4,000 year old verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text says “O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect; you enlighten us through the right path.”

The moon brings together science and spirituality, intellect and emotions, ancient and modern hopes and dreams. It’s a curious irony to westerners that the first Indian moon landing took place just recently in 2008. A week before the launch, millions of Hindu women fasted, according to ancient custom, until the first sighting of the moon’s reflection in a bowl of oil. They do this as part of an ancient belief that it will safeguard the welfare of their family. It’s a beautiful parallel, nature and humanity both reaching toward and reflecting the other, people looking for moon magic even while technology lassoes possibility and pulls it a little closer to here and now.

The magical qualities of the moon don’t seem to be compromised by getting up close and personal with the giant ball of silly putty in the sky. As scientific advance chips away at superstition, like thinning slices of a fading moon, imagination still runs free. Wonder affirms both the curiosity of science and the collective imagination of people and cultures. The moon is its own metaphor for the relationship between science and spirituality, with its yin/yang shades of light and dark, receiving and reflecting the sun’s rays. Her front porch is lit with guiding light, while the inner parts of the house are in deep darkness. She is whole, no matter how little we see or understand. How whole the moon! What a wonder!

The prized gift of wonder is the ability to see yourself as a participant in a greater whole. You are a player on life’s stage with a love so large it can travel to the moon and back, shedding beauty and softness on the whole and never lose its luster. In the words of the classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, wonder “throws a lasso around the moon and pull it down, then you can swallow it…and then moonbeams shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair.”

Wonder is a uniquely human trait with its adaptive evolutionary qualities. It allows you to suspend judgment, consider new possibilities and shift perspective. Wonder is like a stray flower in winter or a light hearted story at a funeral. It has the ability to upturn your assumptions and turn up your optimism. Wonder allows you to experience the world in a new way; with fresh, unprejudiced attention.

When the child sees in the moon a giant rabbit standing over a kitchen table, maybe the child is intuiting something about the wondrous kitchen table wisdom of the universe. What wisdom is contained on that dusty, cratered orb! How many stories the moon has heard! How much life it has seen!

Wonder taps into the miracle of being alive and the joy of sharing in new life. Every moment is a miracle, every person pure magic. As a father, I wonder at the single cells I contributed to the miracle of new life. Each cell is so small that it’s invisible to the naked eye, and the nucleus in the center of the cell that contains the DNA is even smaller. And yet if you unraveled the DNA of this single cell, unwound and uncoiled it, it would stretch to over six feet long. Now if you are like me and you look eye to six foot high eye with your child, you are looking eye to eye with the miracle and wonder of life. In my case, I’m looking at a six foot bundle of creative potential with the world at his feet. Then I lower my gaze to my second, and I see a five foot bundle of gentle compassion who holds the world in his heart. Then I lower my gaze still further to my four foot miracle of sweetness with my heart wrapped around her finger.

Now as you look at your four, five or six foot miracles, consider that if you took all the DNA from all the 50 trillion cells in each young body, and unraveled and uncoiled it, it would stretch to the moon and back multiple times. It’s no accident that this is also the amount that you love them. To the moon and back…. multiple times. That’s how far a parent’s love stretches and it’s also how far human wonder reaches.

Wonder could even be another name for God, the mysterious symmetry that defies any names or description, the moments of magic that change everything. As the Swedish Nobel Prize winner, Dag Hammarskjold said in his book of meditations, “Markings”,

“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” Dag Hammarskjold

You could replace the word “God” with wonder and it would have the same meaning in the quote. Your relationship with wonder is only limited by your imagination. The moon is a constant reminder of the mystery that goes by many names and no name. Shine on you crazy diamond. Fill us with the light of your lunar wisdom. Teach us to bask in the beauty of it all, scientific curiosity and spiritual imagination alike. All of life has a unity. Each moment is filled with enough beauty and mystery to keep our attention locked in wonder’s gaze forever.

The silver light, which, hallowing tree and tower,
Sheds beauty and deep softness o'er the whole,
Breathes also to the heart, and o'er it throws
A loving languor which is not repose. Lord Byron

Please visit Soulseeds for resources that celebrate nature and wonder.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Physics of Love

So many of the problems we experience in life are due to the illusion of separateness. We imagine that we are alone and isolated. The answer is to wake up to the oneness that is already and always there. The problem is that we so often don’t recognize each other. You know the old saying. “Jews don’t recognize Jesus. Protestants don’t recognize the Pope. And Baptists don’t recognize each other in Hooters.” The tragedy is that we fail to recognize each other; the beauty, the potential, the wholeness, and we fail to recognize the oneness of life; the beauty, the wholeness, the symmetry, the wonder of life.

The problem is that we think we see things and people as they are. We don’t. We see them as we are. We can only see the beauty outside of ourselves once we are able to see beauty inside ourselves. If only you recognized the light within, your jaw would drop in awe of your own wholeness. If only we recognized the light in each other, we would go weak at the knees in astonishment at the beauty. Kindness would instantly replace hostility and oneness would immediately replace division.

Oneness or unity is a universal theme that is emphasized in many traditions. Judaism expresses it simply as “I am.” Christianity describes it as “the love of God from which we can never be separated.” Various circumstances can make us FEEL separate and isolated but this is just a protective mechanism. The oneness is just hidden in those cases. Just as the various traditions speak of oneness, so nature manifests unity in diversity. Last century, the British evolutionary biologist J B S Haldane was asked, “Mr Haldane, you have spent so many years studying life. What do your studies of life tell you about the nature of God?” Haldane replied, “God seems to have an inordinate fondness for beetles.” He was referring to the fact that there are millions of different species of beetles on the planet. Why? There is no obvious reason why there should be millions of species of beetles. It’s an expression of diversity. Mind you, I’m not arguing the case for an intelligent creator, but for the intelligence of creation itself, the wisdom of diversity, creativity for its own sake.

Science and Inclusive Spirituality

Alongside spiritual traditions and nature itself, science is another source of wisdom when it comes to oneness. One of the features of inclusive spirituality is that it finds wisdom in many, maybe all, traditions. Some people find wisdom in predominantly one tradition. Others find wisdom in many traditions. Either way, it’s fine. Wherever you find wisdom, take it and let it move you a little close to the light of who you are. Science is one of the wisdom traditions that inclusive spirituality looks to for meaning and guidance. The incredible thing is that ancient wisdom from many spiritual traditions resonates with the wisdom of science, all of which resonates deep within our human intuition. Not only is science compatible with spirituality. It actually confirms many ancient spiritual truths, such as oneness.

It’s unfortunate that we often think of science as being based in facts while spirituality is based in feelings or intuition. We mistakenly think that science is values-free or objective, while spirituality relates to values and a particular perspective. But that is the lowest common denominator of science and a narrow vision for spirituality. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences applies to both. Both science and spirituality are at their best when they take into account multiple perspectives and intelligences. Spirituality at its best deals in fact as well as intuition, otherwise it risks falling back into a magical or superstitious worldview. Science at its best incorporates the most comprehensive view of knowledge that includes head and heart, fact and intuition. Otherwise it risks not knowing why certain facts are important.

There are some wonderful examples of scientists who conduct their work in the context of relationship. Take for example the British scientist Jane Goodall, aka “the monkey lady.” Goodall lived alone from 1960 to 1990 in the East African jungle while she studied the habits of gorillas and chimpanzees. Her contribution to the scientific understanding of monkeys is legendary. But her greatest legacy, like Temple Grandin after her who uses her genius to improve the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, is her work in conservation and animal welfare.

Goodall approaches science as a relationship with her subjects. This was always the case. When she was 18 months old, she took a handful of earthworms into her bed. Her mother tried to explain that the worms would die unless there were returned to the earth, so she gathered them up and returned them to their home in the garden. When conducting her research in the forest, Goodall took the controversial approach of naming the monkeys rather than numbering them. She gave them names that matched their personalities.

Goodall tells a story that inspired her and explains the relationship with animals. An American, Rick Swope, was visiting the zoo with his family when he saw an adult male chimpanzee drowning in the moat around the enclosure. Despite the protests of his family, the warning of zoo keepers and the imminent threat of the other male chimpanzees of the group, he dived into the water and dragged the barely alive, 130 pound body of the chimpanzee to safety. When asked what had made him risk his life he answered: “I looked into his eyes. It was like looking into the eyes of a man. And the message was: Won’t anybody help me?”

Science, at its best, is a relationship of service and a vision of a more connected world. Some would say that relationship removes the objectivity of the scientific method. But on the contrary I believe it opens up the limitless dimensions of the discoveries as well as a clearer sense of why science is important and what it is truly contributing to the planet.

The Science of Relationship

Goodall models a scientific method that is based in relationship, as does Temple Grandin. It’s all about relationship. The universe is a series of relationships whether we live like that or not. It’s about relationships that stretch beyond those you care about and includes those who are far away and unlike you. This includes all species and all people, and it includes nature.

When asked if she believed in God, Jane Goodall: “I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I don’t know what to call it. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”

The science of relationships suggests that everything is part of a living whole, and all of it is related to the source of creativity and life. This is part of the wisdom of science. You see through the lens of Hubble’s telescope and gaze into infinity, and you “know” that our concepts of beginnings and endings, size and scope, are limited and partial. You learn about the millions of species of beetles and know that there is more going on in the universe than just the ends and needs of humanity. Science tells us about species of ants that lived in tropical rainforests for hundreds of millions of years before humans came onto the scene, and you know that the universe has a life beyond human intervention. The wisdom of science is humility and wonder in the presence of nature and the ability to study nature with empathy.

The Physics of Observation

One of the distinctions that some people draw between science and spirituality is that the scientific method keeps an objective distance between the person making observations and the thing being observed, while spirituality seeks to cross these boundaries, if not remove them altogether. But this too is a false distinction. As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Science has evolved in its understanding of observation. Observation seems to at least somewhat impact what is being observed, like a watched pot that refuses to boil. The most obvious example is when you put air pressure in a tire. It’s likely that you will release some air in the process of observing the pressure levels. The Physicist Erwin Schrodinger conducted the famous experiment with a cat sealed in a box with poison. (Unfortunately Schrodinger didn’t share Goodall or Grandin’s concern for animal welfare) Until you open the box to observe the cat, it could be either alive or dead. The point is that the way you set up the experiment as well as your observation does affect the outcome. The outcome doesn’t exist until the observation is made.

A more serious discussion has taken place concerning the observation of light. Over the last 3 centuries, scientists have gone back and forth on the question of whether light is made up of particles or waves. Newton argued that light was made up of particles, but Einstein and others later showed that particles also have waves and vice versa. Quantum physics suggests that light exists as both particle and waves. When observed, light acts like particles, and when not being observed light acts like waves. From this perspective, there is no such thing as a neutral observer. The observation participates in the process.

This wisdom from science brings us full circle to the spiritual wisdom that is often associated with the Jewish text the Talmud, but is more likely from the author Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” You participate in every conflict in your life, as well as every opportunity at least to some degree. You co-create reality with your observation.

The Physics of Connection

Physics is the study of energy in motion. Quantum physics studies the behavior of matter interacting with energy at an atomic level. Quantum physics suggests that the ideal of oneness that spiritual traditions have taught for centuries is actually built in to the nature of the universe. The 1982 physics experiment in France studied the behavior of two subatomic particles that were once localized and interrelated, then separated from one another by some distance. Even at a distance, however, a change in the state of one particle was observed to bring about a simultaneous change in the other. This is similar to the incredible stories you hear about twins who know are separated but continue to “know” what is happening in the other’s life. This concept of non local connection violated Einstein’s principle that nothing could possibly travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein called the idea of non local connection ’spooky action at a distance’.

As a way to wrap your mind around the implications of this possibility, think about homing pigeons. No one can fully explain how homing pigeons do what they do. It’s as if they have an invisible elastic band connecting them to their home. It gives them a sense of direction to return home even when they have no sign posts. The physics of relationships suggests that there is an invisible elastic band between you and other people, including other species in the world. Our intimate connection to each other is more than a metaphor. Quantum physics seems to point to the same truth as Lakota wisdom that doesn’t even have a word for “I”. It only has words for “we” and “us”. We could use the analogy of waves in an ocean. Each wave is unique and different, but never ceases to be part of the ocean. The ocean is one and all the parts of this whole are always connected whether we realize it or not.

Your thoughts are like homing pigeons. They come back to you, so make sure you send out thoughts that you are happy to receive back. I’ve heard that we have something close to 70000 thoughts per day. But more frightening is the fact that 90-96% of our thoughts are the same from one day to the next. We think by habit. Then we wonder why the results are the same from one day to the next. Change your thoughts and you change your life.

There is a beautiful extract in J. D. Salinger’s 1954 short story, Teddy. Teddy is a ten year old boy with enormous spiritual insight, and he is having a conversation with an adult on a cruise ship. This is Teddy’s insight.

“I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all,” Teddy said. “It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was a tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”

Love is like that. Once you come to realize that the world is intimately related, you and everything in it, you begin to see everything around you with new eyes. You feel more connected. You feel more compassionate. You feel like you are participating in something related and awesome, and so much larger than yourself. The boundaries between yourself and the rest of life begin to dissolve.

This has huge implications for our understanding of relationships. We tend to approach relationships as a transaction between separate people rather than as a sharing of intimacy from within the heart of love. We look for love outside of ourselves as if it’s separate from us. Inevitably other people will disappoint us, and so we will blame them for our unhappiness. We make an art of blame. We need to make ourselves right by making others wrong, forgetting that we are all one to begin with. This doesn’t mean that all relationships work. There is often good reason to end a relationship or a job or many other things. The problem is when we take the opportunity to create an enemy in the process, and all we are doing is creating enemies within.

Love By Numbers

The wisdom of science is just as ambitious as spiritual wisdom. It aims for unity. This is a great aim, but of course most of us only catch glimpses of this oneness. Most of us live with the challenges and ambiguities of life that drag us back into living separately. Don’t let your inability to dwell in unity become a new reason for guilt and shame. Just do the best you can in each moment. If you can’t quite get to oneness, then aim for halfness and let that be a spring board for progress. If you can’t quite forgive your ex, your former boss, your former church, your former God and become one with them, then become half with them. Become a quarter with them or whatever you can do at the time. Most importantly if you can’t fully accept and become one with yourself, then accept part of yourself. Let that partial acceptance blossom into ever increasing joy.

Learn to love the fractions, and wholeness will come a whole lot closer. If you can’t forgive all your enemies, forgive some of them. If you can’t forgive all of your faults, forgive some of them. If you can’t trust your partner all of the way, then forgive your partner with small things and let trust grow. Trust, empathy, forgiveness, understanding, even love itself, are all a process and a journey. Break oneness down into manageable parts and create a Fibonacci sequence of love and acceptance that will have mathematicians scrambling for their calculators. It’s all unfolding in perfect patterns of mysterious and deliciously unpredictable order. For in the end love has no formula. As the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times, in life after life, in age after age forever.”

The light in me honors the light in you. Namaste.