A Few Words on the Photon

comments 28
Course Ideas / Poetry

When asked to explain the self,
the Buddha demurred.
How would this help?
Likewise, a trusted computer
will not look too closely
at division by zero,
not because it is impossible,
but because of the hypnotic ramifications.
Caught in its beguiling web,
the self resists clear understanding.

Better to consider the photon.

When a filament of refined metallic earth
is filled to the brimming point
with a humming sweetness,
or space itself collapses
into an incredible, whirling Power–
a photon comes into being.
This child is a weightless propensity,
an extension of its source…
An idea?
A particle of tungsten?
A memory of the sun’s interior?
A painted-on resonance?
A wave packet of probabilities?
A message?
The child dashes through space
like a aye, aye, yessir! trained army squirrel
with a one-track mind,
a pack on its back bearing a dispatch
and a tiny twinkling helmet.
It weaves through whole battalions
of other commissioned squirrels also whisking
through space in every direction
up down diagonal sideways and perpendicular,
forming an invisible, zooming plaid of fur–
a gauntlet of bushy tails scarcely interacting,
each a skittering remainder term
loosed from one cosmic equation and
eager to dive into the cover of a certain other,
full of desire to convey its re-balancing to all that is.
While in transit, where does balance reside?
In a massless flight through non-existence?
A photon is a qubit of light
shimmering with frequency and color,
the pace car of time,
invisible to all but
its final beholder,
an indestructible potential
that must be caught and held eventually
to register in the fields of evidence,
to deliver its innermost quality to another–
to spin the turning wheel of phenomena.
A photon is a relationship,
a link between Sender and Receiver,
an inheritance, a memory, an urgency.
What is a photon
without a leaf, or an eye,
or a woolen sweater
in which to burrow?
Where do captured photons go?
Do they still exist?
If the leaf is later dried, and burned,
will the photon that was caught
be the same one to emerge
and catapult from the flame?

How would we know?

Two photons of the same color blue.
One from the sun.
One from the burning leaf.
They are indistinguishable–
the selfsame point on Planck’s Curve–
but somehow not identical.
Where did the first one go, then?
Notice how seldom
you’ve worried about this.


Because photons are vocabulary.
Without explanation or training, we know this.
Photons are linkages, inseparable from their
beginnings and endings.
They are messengers
from the glowing heart
of phenomena that pour through
cracks in the world–
words in a flickering conversation.
The self resists clear understanding,
but still, we can see that we are gifts.
We have been given, and we will be received.
We will disappear, only to reappear.

Will the next be the same one as before?

This is our deepest worry.
Because we thought we were vocabulary,
but not the story.
How very strange.
We are the story,
the only story there is,
a story that takes up residence,
brimming and humming
in every particle of its telling.


  1. Another wild ride Michael.XD My mind and squirrel are confused, but happy to be part of the unfolding story, the dialog between sender and receiver. The dance goes on… 🙂


    • Don’t worry, the photons are confused, too. To simplify things, they have established union rules. If no one is watching you can interfere with yourself and go down two paths at once. But if you find out someone is looking, you pick one path and one path only. Maybe it’s better to talk about the self. 🙂


      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I would quite like to be a photon one day, assuming photons have experience. What do you think a photon’s experience would be like Michael?


  3. So good! It’s a metaphor the Buddha could have used if photons had been known in those days as they are today. ‘… photons are vocabulary. Without explanation or training, we know this.’ It’s the ‘knowing’ part that does it – the fear and unknowing is just gone…


    • Thanks, Tiramit! I wonder about the way the Buddha pictured the world… you know without the benefit of photons. It is amazing how those timeless teachings persist so meaningfully through all the changes of consciousness through which the world passes. I also often think: we could be totally wrong about these photons… These images we have, they’re kind of cooked up and endorsed by enough people until they seem to be a certain thing, but all we ever measure are effects. Little blips and chirps. It is with our minds that we connect the dots…



      • This is it exactly, it’s the way we apply our focus to these scientific discoveries. The Buddha and other wise teachers of the time, had an understanding of basic units like photons and the ‘little blips and chirps’. Their take on it was they’re tiny sparks of energy in the cause/effect continuum – it fits with what you’re saying. You can find out about cittas in the Abhidhamma, which is a lengthy task to read. There’s also a more readable book by Dutch researcher, Nina Van Gorkhom, also very detailed and instructional: Abhidhamma in Daily Life. Here’s the link, you may have to copy and paste:


      • Extract from Abhidhamma in Daily Life (Ch. 16. ‘Objects and doors’)

        Citta knows or experiences something, it experiences an object. There cannot be any Citta without an object. When an object presents itself through one of the five senses or through the mind-door, do we realise that it is Citta which experiences that object? When we do not see things as they are, we think that a self experiences objects, and, moreover, we take objects for permanent and for self. For example, when we see a log of wood, we are used to thinking that the object which is seen at that moment is the log of wood; we do not realise that only visible object is the object which can be seen. When we touch the log of wood, hardness or cold, for example, can be experienced through the body sense. We take the log of wood for a thing which lasts, but what we call ‘log of wood’ are many different Rūpas [Rūpa: physical phenomena which cannot experience anything] which arise and fall away. Only one characteristic of Rūpa can be experienced at a time, when it presents itself. If we develop our understanding to see different characteristics which appear through different doorways we will be able to see things as they really are.


        • Thank you and Tiramit both for sharing this. It is lovely writing and I am inclined to read further. I looked and this particular book appears to be close to $80US on Amazon, so I will have to do some library inter-being-loaning to see if I can find it in the near term.

          The last sentence here is very much in line with the practice Marga described a few months ago, gleaned from Peter Kingsley’s book Reality, where he talks about perceiving through all of our senses at once, and the type of mindfulness it requires to do so.

          It is amazing to me that when we realize it’s all just blips and chirps, this realization brings a fresh and vibrant way of seeing. Really beautiful.



      • At a guess, then I wouldn’t think Abhidhamma will be your cup of tea at all Michael; either the original texts or Van Gorkom’s lighter take. You undoubtedly have the intellect for it – the Pali canonical texts are heavily scholastic – but it’s really only something that warrants absorbing within a broad understanding of, and appetite for, Buddhist psychology more generally I feel. Tiramit may well think differently of course.


        • Well, I much enjoyed what you sent, Hariod, though present circumstances are unlikely in the short term to permit me the time to curl up with a treasure such as this and really try and grok it. So I fear it is something of a moot point. We have started a new project work, and I am going in six directions at once it seems. It will undoubtedly settle out, but for the moment I feel like I stepped into one of those revolving hotel lobby doors, and someone cranked it up to Reality Defying Speed while I was upon the threshold… I fear I’ve been reduced to a Rupa of pure movement. 🙂



    • Thank you, Sarah. I was trying to picture the world as a carpet of zooming beings whooshing past one another continuously. Squirrels are so crazy like that. I never seem to see one walking slowly. They’re either sprinting, or awaiting instructions…



  4. I love the way your write, combining knowledge, linguistics and whimsy. I look forward to discovering your blog! All good things to you – Lisa


    • Thank you, Lisa. I look forward to discovering yours as well. I have read some of the Course in Miracles blog you’ve been working on in partnership with Julianne. But somehow I don’t think I made it all the way back to your personal space. Looking forward to spending a bit of time there.



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