Fabric Softener

 

through-the-wormhole-pic

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. – The Beatles

Morgan Freeman really gets around these days.  While hosting the brilliantly mind-bending series Through The Wormhole for several seasons on the Science Channel, someone over at National Geographic clearly saw how perfect his temperament and delivery worked in the service of exploring foreign and often misunderstood ideas.  And what ideas are more rampantly misunderstood than the ones that inform people’s religious beliefs?   So earlier this year, NatGeo hired him to host a miniseries entitled The Story of God and now, as almost a companion piece to that religion-based series, he hosts a similar show called The Story of Us.  Pantheist that I am, I see little difference between the subject matter of these two recent programs and Mr. Freeman approaches both topics with his characteristic respect and genuine curiosity.  But I’ll get back to Easy Reader shortly.  First, we must take our own little trip through the wormhole.

The overarching aim of the paradoxically aimless discipline of Mahayana Buddhism is for the practitioner to attain a state of undisturbed equilibrium through the perfect conjoining of Prajna (wisdom, right view) and Karuna (compassion, lovingkindness).   I’ve talked an awful lot here about concepts that I feel illustrate the correct apprehension of reality – right view — in a necessarily awkward and imperfect attempt to show that the ideas explored by science and spirituality and philosophy and meditative awareness are all artificially separated, relatively specified aspects of an unbreakable Whole.  But if you view such expositions as being applicable only to the wisdom aspect of the Prajna-Karuna field, then it’s a safe bet you do not understand them correctly.  It is the job of that ornery yet insubstantial bogeyman we call the Ego to focus attention on one step of the grand dance at a time, as this reinforces the illusion that the observer himself is also a distinct and unique thing with definable boundaries.  This is what gives us our erroneous sense of self and it is at the heart of all interpersonal struggle.  A more holistic viewpoint would clearly help to lessen our anxieties, all of which have one single mental error as their basis: the mistaken belief in the self as an inherently existing entity with the skin marking its definitive boundary from and against everything else.

Meditation is the method by which one can begin to feel the reality of Universal interconnection rather than just understand it intellectually, but more detail about that is beyond the scope of this post.   For now, suffice it to say that Einstein’s use of the word fabric in describing the space-time continuum was more ubiquitously applicable than he even realized.  He was attempting to illustrate the idea of curved space in describing the movements of celestial bodies.  However, space itself is inseparable from the perceived objects within its field.  Space does not contain things, nor are things surrounded by space.  Every single phenomenal “thing” is, in fact, a space-thing where every outline or boundary is shared and hence non-existent.  But in order to really know this, one cannot rely on words or concepts – the very symbols for reality that we confuse as being reality.  That is the entire problem.  I leave it to you to decide how or even if you wish to embark upon such metaphysical explorations, but not before adding with a bit of urgency that at the current crossroads we face as a species, it is very important that you do.

Much like the undefinable physical boundaries discussed above, wisdom and compassion exist interdependently.  I could say that it is important to understand Universal interconnection in the scientific sense because it helps one to understand the logic of developing compassion and empathy for those who are simply different aspects of the same shared field.  Or, conversely, I could tell you that it is vital to practice compassion for self and others because it will expand your view of humanity’s (and by extension, the Universe’s) interconnectedness.   It really makes no difference because both of those differently worded statements actually made the exact same observation.  Is your skin the boundary of you or is it the boundary of the space around you?  The answer to both questions, of course, is “yes”.

The ego’s job is to discriminate.  Although the word itself has a very bad reputation, this imaginary yet effective illusion of individualism is also essential for navigating life in the phenomenal world.  Just because there is no subatomic separation between your constituent elements and those of a brick wall you are approaching doesn’t mean you should just keep walking into the wall.  I assure you, that wouldn’t be a pleasant experiment to conduct.  So we must necessarily pick and choose when a situation calls for Ultimate wisdom or relative wisdom.  Relative wisdom discriminates; it is what tells you to stop walking because there’s a big fucking wall just inches from your nose.  Ultimate wisdom understands that just because you wisely avoided an unnecessary and almost certainly unpleasant broken nose doesn’t really mean that you did anything.  You and the wall did not do a dance, but collectively you are a dance.  The wall was just as essential to the waltz as you were, and yet there was only one dancer, that can be defined simply (if esoterically) as Self.  The capital S is meant to differentiate it from our usual egocentric definition of the word self, to align it with the Hindu concept of the Atman, the god-spark, the breath of Brahman that both animates and is all things.  That’s it.  Whether your mind embraces this to mean that there is only one Thing or that there is not actually a single Thing in existence is irrelevant.   The way to proceed from there – from right understanding – is the same either way.

Now we see Lila, the grand dance, and all of its constituent movements.  These movements are no longer composite elements but literally elegant steps in an infinite masquerade ball – a way of playing with the phenomenal world gracefully, artfully, in the unspoken knowledge that no one is doing anything nor is anything doing us.  Actor and action are inseparable, as are life and death, inside and outside.  1-2-3-4, step ball heel toe, grand jete, repeat.

Back to the relative action.  Most of us are rightly very worried at the current state of our human interactions due to the growing influence of gross ignorance upon them.  “What can we do?” has become a rhetorical question born of sad desperation.  In truth, none of us can do a damn thing about the cruel machinations of nationalism and totalitarianism sweeping across the globe, but if you need to feel like there’s something you can do, go enter a booth somewhere in your district next November and pull the levers that make you feel best about yourself.  Someone will even give you a little sticker to pin to your lapel on your way out broadcasting to the world that you just pulled the best levers a person can possibly pull.

But if you really want to help, you need to continually remind yourself of the inextricable bond between all life forms until it becomes clear that charity is not helping others, nor is it helping yourself, it is simply helping and this is where Karuna merges with Prajna to form The Great Perfection.  This is already what you are, as am I, as is everyone, but without the proper experiential understanding, it cannot be integrated into the elegance of the dance, which is another way of saying that if you suffer from the delusion of self you will never understand the sheer power of the lovingkindness of Self.  The reason this is an essential thing to grasp is because once it is understood, you will be naturally guided at all times to the most helpful actions towards seeming “others” because you will know in a very real sense that he and she and they are all literally you.

Now back to Morgan Freeman.  An episode of The Story of Us explored the power of Love in various human interactions.  The final segment of this installment of the series had Morgan in London visiting a hair stylist with a very inspiring hobby.  His shop is located in a section of the city that has a significant homeless population and for many years, this man felt impotent to help in any significant way these brothers and sisters who had fallen on such hard times.  Then one day he had an idea.  After closing his business each day, he now goes out on the streets, stool in hand, in search of suitable recipients of his daily acts of lovingkindness.  When he finds a homeless person that seems a good candidate, he has a brief chat with them before setting them on the stool where ever they may be – in an alleyway, below an underpass – and then he proceeds to give his new friend a shave and a haircut.  That’s it.  And the emotional effect of his selflessness on these long-forgotten human beings is as great as if he had gone around purchasing houses for them because you see, the real tragedy is the fact that we are scared of our unfortunate fellow travelers in this dance, ashamed of ourselves for feeling this way and consequently unwilling or unable to conjure the courage to help them.  Our warm-hearted hair stylist understands this.  He knows that what these people really lack isn’t just shelter but dignity and he does his best to give a little bit back to them.

Whoever we are, where ever we are, we can adopt similar hobbies.  How better to quiet one’s neurotic stream of consciousness than to direct that stream outward?  Do you really want to save the world?  Do you wish to vanquish racism and xenophobia and hatred?  Ensure a better, safer world for your children?  Fine.  All you need to do is go help someone.  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter how.  Just help.  If you do this often enough, you will eventually come to realize that helping yourself and saving the world are two phrases describing the same exact thing.  If it helps to sweeten the deal at the onset, just remind yourself that in the mind of one Donald T***p, an act of charity is a hostile act.  So let’s be as hostile as our hearts will allow and transform our habitat – our shared fabric —  with the magic of love and compassion.

Gesundheit!

2742538-supersneezeae9

Every time you sneeze, somebody dies.

In the unified field that is the phenomenal Universe, every action is significant and bears directly upon every other action initiated at that moment in time and ever after. Does this mean that those suffering from hay fever are effectively serial killers? Of course not. All I really did in putting forth that idea was manipulate our conveniently imperfect language to make an absurd proposition sound theoretically plausible. But the reason the statement was absurd is probably not what you think. In a very real sense, somebody does die every time you sneeze. Likewise when you fart, masturbate or scratch your elbow. But even if intentionally avoiding such behaviors were possible, their very lack of performance would result in the end of someone else’s life. It would also necessarily bring about someone else’s conception or birth, a compensating factor that would surely bode well for a criminal defendant, not to mention the lack of malice aforethought in the execution of the sneeze (or stifling of said sneeze). Finally, the infinite number of “compensating factors” contributing to anyone’s death or birth negate the appropriateness of blame or praise being leveled upon any single organism. My sneeze resulted in the death of some fisherman in Pago Pago only because you yawned at the same moment that I sneezed and because everyone and everything else in the Universe did whatever it did in unison with my sneeze and your yawn. The unfathomable multitude of specifics at any given moment creates a fateful perfect storm for somebody, somewhere.

I imagine that astronauts orbiting the planet experience a god-like feeling as they gaze down upon the earth whose only movement from that perspective is that of the shifting strata of the upper atmosphere. From that far out, the frantic non-stop hive movements of the organisms upon the planet could not be discerned even if they were unobscured by clouds. So for as long as an astronaut inhabits a vessel in orbit, the only activities of life he can discern are his own. God-like. Our normal lack of such panoramic perspective is the reason we had to invent God in the first place. Our extremely limited and specialized sense organs are the only obvious windows of perception at our disposal. We navigate our lives with the aid of extremely narrow spotlights that illuminate only one very small feature of our environment at a time. The more we try to widen our perspective, the less clear become its constituent elements. Therefore, compared to those of us currently tethered to the surface of the earth by gravity, our intrepid space traveler truly does have a god-like view of our spherical habitat.

But that, again, is just a matter of perspective. In a Universe that is suspected to have existed for almost 14 billion years and that expands its parameters ever further with each passing moment, the only entity that could possibly be afforded a complete singular view of a field on such a massive scale would have to be something that exists outside of it and this is where the notion of god comes in. Yet the whole notion of god as some kind of creative spirit that resides on a plane beyond phenomena and from which our lives were conjured is as patently absurd as believing that you should send a sympathy card to every household in the world every time you sneeze. If a singular force is indeed responsible for the creation and sustenance of all that is, it would also logically need to be all that is. So this thing we so quaintly anthropomorphize in scripture is us. Reading the bible or any other monotheistic religious text is similar to re-reading one’s own diary.  And like most diaries, it is fundamentally dishonest and self-absorbed in its tone. It assumes a split, a separation between us and our creator and this makes each of us feel separate and unique…and anxiety-ridden. Replacing our egotistic sense of self with the more accurate feeling that each person is just a movement within the whole threatens our erroneous sense of what we are. It reminds us of our utter insignificance as imagined “individuals”. But at the same time, if this really were how we understood ourselves and our place in the larger field, there would no longer be the residual fear of self-preservation. The Self as imagined correctly doesn’t need preservation — it just is unless and until it isn’t.

I’ve spoken of a human being or any other life form as a unified field as opposed to a self-contained system, taking into account all of the “external” environmental factors necessary for life as well as our symbiotic impact upon those factors. From a strictly biological perspective, this is accurate. However, any description of a specific “part” of the whole is like describing a field within a larger field and thus inaccurate. The “field” that is me is illusory for the simple reason that one can never draw a definitive border around my sphere of influence. The entire Universe is its own singular field of influence and I as an infinitesimal energy knot am inseparable and indistinguishable from the vast fluid Singularity. I chose that word, incidentally, because it dawns on me that when astrophysicists use it to describe the extremely pressurized theoretical point that allegedly exploded into the rapidly expanding Universe, they inadvertently trap themselves in a linguistic double-bind. A “thing”, in this case the mysterious pre-creation singularity of Universal potential, cannot be discerned without space around it and other “things” inhabiting that space creating the possibility for distinction and discrimination. And if something cannot be discerned even theoretically, that is tantamount to saying that it didn’t or doesn’t exist. Perhaps the real source of confusion is the same old culprit — language. The words “beginning” and “end” are inapplicable to reality yet they cause us to assume that every event and every process must have the quality of these arbitrary bookends even though every “end” is a “beginning” and vice-versa. Our minds are incapable of intellectually grasping anything that does not have a finite span, so in the absence of suitable answers to life’s mysteries, we imagine an impossible being that lives unencumbered by the physical laws which bind us. Really, that’s just our way of throwing in the towel in our collective and ongoing search for truth. It’s our reaction upon reaching a seeming exhaustion of natural explanations to assume such things can only be explained by the existence of something super-natural, as big a load of semantic horseshit as has ever been proposed. Supernatural is a meaningless fucking term. Or as Love and Rockets once put it, “You cannot go against nature because when you do go against nature, it’s part of nature, too.”

For as long as we continue to feel like temporary skin-enclosed biochemical systems wrapped around an etheric immortal soul, we can never hope to achieve anything more than our familiar neurosis-breeding false view of reality. At the same time, it is precisely this stunted perspective that allows us to discern small patterns within slightly larger patterns in day to day life. For instance, a spectator in the bleachers of a football game would have a much harder time keeping track of the interplay between 22 participants evenly divided in their goals without the aid of panoramic images being transmitted from the dirigible floating above the stadium. However, from that vantage point, the colors of the uniforms being worn by the two teams wouldn’t be nearly as visible so if the action on the field isn’t occurring in an obvious directional trajectory, the pilot of the blimp couldn’t tell you who was winning or even which team was playing offense or defense. So a collaboration of perspectives takes place — the overhead footage from the zeppelin, the in-the-action perspective of the referees, the slightly elevated viewpoint of the fans — all combine to provide us with the most complete picture of the play possible, but this can only be pulled together after the fact. What you witnessed at the moment the last play was executed is entirely dependent upon where you were located and as such was woefully incomplete and inaccurately understood. This analogy was meant to be infinitely expandable so that you understand there is absolutely nothing that can be understood without the correct understanding of our utter inability to understand anything at all. A Universe that conjures itself from moment to moment does not stop to contemplate its own meaning or purpose, and that is why it can paradoxically be said to understand itself completely. It understands, quite simply, that there is nothing that needs to be understood.

I am far from enlightened and therefore, I entertain just as many silly notions having no basis in truth as anyone. It’s what we call wishful thinking. And I’m going to engage in a bit of that right now just to illustrate its impracticality. One, two, three…AH-CHOOO!!

Nope.  I just waited 10 minutes and apparently, Donald T***p is still spreading his noxious fumes across the Asian continent as we speak, so my deliberate sneeze was predictably impotent. I wonder if that unnecessary experiment was worth the life of a poor fisherman in Pago Pago.

A Geek Bearing Gifts

textwalkpole

God is dead…Physics is all that we are. – C.R. Dudley

Newton’s First Law of Motion or Inertia: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

When presented with such scientific and/or mathematical postulates, even ones as elementary as the preceding example, our minds tend to shift into an analytical mode that contains little emotion or ostensible humanity.  It can almost be said that to understand formulas and theories describing the underlying “laws” of the phenomenal world, one must temporarily suspend engagement with this world and adopt a state of mind more akin to a computer program than that of an emotional and reactionary participant in the thing being analyzed.

But this is only due to the limitations of language and its effects on our outlook.  We read the above as a rather lifeless albeit accurate maxim of physics simply because that’s how it’s been presented to us all along: as information to memorize for the purpose of passing exams.  If an illustration is needed to clarify the words or the formula, we invariably choose things like apples or undefined masses of matter labeled by a variable such as X.  Rarely, if ever, will you encounter a professor who opts to illustrate the application of the formula with things like groups of people or attitudes or sociopolitical trends.

And yet…there is nothing in existence that falls outside the parameters of the catch-all designation “the workings of the Universe”.  Not even “God” or your “immortal soul”, so if you were thinking you had the perfect fly to contaminate my ointment, you need to just simmer down.  Of course, the “workings of the Universe” aren’t nearly as formulaic as our descriptions of each isolated event imply.  In fact, we tend only to look at an effect as the natural outcome of a cause without understanding that it’s actually an ongoing perpetual circular motion of an effect following a cause which in turn causes the effect to become a cause affecting the next event.  It is an infinite process.  But since most of us tend to view reality in relation to the confines of our own lifetimes, the built-in stabilizing element of the system is considered unimportant.  If the force of motion – whether inducing a positive, negative or neutral effect on our lives – is strong enough to keep such aspects energized for the better part of a century (not even a drop in the bucket of “eternity” which cannot be contained by even the most massive of buckets), then what comes next is of no significance to us. (“What does the future of the species matter to me if I won’t be alive to experience it?”)

The mass hallucination called the United States of America is younger than 3 successive human lifetimes as roughly defined in the previous paragraph.  A mere baby among many older and often wiser mass hallucinations across the globe.  Truly, it hasn’t existed long enough to have achieved a level of “greatness” that needs to be recaptured “again”.  But the actual people living within the mass hallucination represent varying levels of intellectual, emotional, social, political and cultural evolution.  As usual, those who have stagnated in their evolution are the most vocal and forceful in demanding that nothing be done to upset the status quo.  And in their minds, the “status quo” is a white, male-dominated top-down system that affords them the best opportunities and the least criticism for the cowardice underlying this fucked up vision of Utopia.  In a sense, there was a moment in modern times when this was almost the way things operated and that probably occurred sometime in the early 1950s.  Just before a large swath of Americans re-learned the power of protest resulting in the counter-culture movement of the sixties, things weren’t just easier for white Christian males, they were unquestionably so, as if it were the God-given right of the majority to be the majority.  But just a quick glance back at the simplest maxims of Newtonian physics shows us why this was an untenable situation that could not have persisted indefinitely.  Forward motion brought the situation to where it was at that time, but the motion didn’t stop simply because a few people found themselves in an undeservedly fortunate position.  It kept going, ensuring that this desire for rights and freedom and economic security started to infect everyone who lived within the nation’s borders: women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT, Asians, Muslims, etc.  Therefore, anyone who proudly dons a stupid baseball cap bearing the acronym “MAGA” is fully ignorant of the most basic laws of physics.  If there hadn’t been preexisting communities of minorities throughout the country at the time of this pinnacle of white male dominance, some other division would have eventually arisen to restore balance to this unevenly skewed landscape.  Perhaps guys with mustaches would have banded together to protest the unfair advantage held by the clean shaven.  Whatever.  See, the specifics of who one considers inferior or a threat to his lifestyle are irrelevant.  Bigoted whites don’t hate blacks specifically because they’re black.  They hate them because there is an observable physical “difference” and ignorance is incapable of grasping subtleties such as interconnection or the troublesome implications of a genetic distinction as infinitesimal as .0001%.  In other words, what they really hate is change.  As such, it is the scariest thing imaginable for them to internalize the fact that change is actually the only constant “law of the Universe”.

At the present, American politics is in a seeming ideological stalemate.  The way to describe this in the language of classical physics is the situation of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.   But fortunately, that is a paradox in itself.  If a force were truly irresistible, it would follow that no object could be considered immovable when acted upon by said force.  If an object were truly immovable, there would be no such thing as a force that it couldn’t resist.  So we will move on.  And we will move forward.  There’s no sense speculating about what the “end result” might be, because as we’ve already covered, there is no such endpoint to this or any other process.  But we can at least take comfort in this: tribalism and its constituent aspects of bigotry and hatred for “outsiders” (otherwise known as xenophobia) is what appears to be the “immovable object” right now.  But this is only because the soon-to-be temporarily “irresistible force” of progressive acceptance and cooperation hasn’t yet gathered enough strength to demolish the object.  It’s powerful enough to move it – we might have witnessed that in a few of last night’s election results – but this object isn’t a can to be kicked down the road, it’s an eyesore to be destroyed.  We who embrace change can be patient and hopeful in the knowledge that sooner or later, the spirit of cooperation and compromise will prevail in the eradication of the object, just as those who stubbornly cling to it know that its elements will begin to gather and coalesce into a similar stagnant phenomenon immediately upon the disintegration of its current form.  “Luck” means being alive during that sweet spot in history and geography when either the winds of change blow unhindered or they’re kept at bay by a massive blockade.  Which of those is considered a fortunate situation depends upon your personal values.  Those who value freedom and inclusiveness find the unobstructed flow of the wind to be most soothing while those who value predictability and stagnation cling fearfully to metaphorical rocks.  However, every rock must disintegrate sooner or later but the wind will continue to blow.

So cheer up, my fellow good-hearted citizens.  Physics is on our side.