On Knowing, Dialogue and Mysticism (Part Two)

comments 21
Reflections / Science

Last time I expressed my dissatisfaction with the attempts Julia Galef made to understand the “other” in our lives, in this case Richard Feynman’s artist friend, who felt that scientific descriptions of things, to put words in the artist’s mouth, ruin them. What Richard reported his friend actually said, speaking about the beauty of a flower, is that “you, as a scientist, you take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.”

Richard at this point described his friend as “nutty.”

The core of my dissatisfaction with Julia’s attempts to understand the artist is that she undertook her efforts without wondering if the artist knew anything she didn’t. The resulting justifications given for the artist’s position were very weak: the artist we come to “understand” through her explanations prefers image to reality for reasons of pleasure, or… if we’re unconvinced, is more confusing to us than when we started. Or should have been, at any rate.

Julia makes sure to assert she wouldn’t want to be the artist she claims to have understood, which I think begs the question why anyone would. Here is where we might learn something, but Julia is not really curious about this, and is content with the portrayal of the artist she has given. It is this contentment that vexes me. Denial of the possibility that the artist may comprehend or feel something that Julia or Richard do not transforms the exercise from one of potentially discovering a legitimate basis for the artist’s position, into one which can only establish why the artist’s position is second-best. This is elitism—an unconscious form of it perhaps, but no less real or impactful by being unintended.

So now I want to suggest there are perfectly good reasons a person may say something like, “[you scientists] take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” Not because a person can’t handle the scientific truth alongside of their aesthetic sensibilities, but because some recapitulations of the scientific view are antagonistic to elements of reality that others directly experience and hold dear. Let’s leave Richard’s artist friend out of this for a moment and insert the accomplished mystic in his place. He might say, “The whole of the universe is contained in this flower. And yet it is perfectly unique. It is remarkable. Can you see it?” Or we could put the indigenous elder into the seat, and she might say, “This flower is my relative. We gather them by the river in summer. You can hear the ones ready to give of themselves for the people. In our ceremonies, we honor them and we pray their nation is strong.”

When Richard and Julia attempt to describe the artist’s position, they both define it as an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is subjective. I like blueberries and you prefer cherries. I like Ford and you prefer Chevy. What Richard and Julia are saying when they ascribe the artist’s position to aesthetics is that the appreciation of a flower’s beauty is sort of quirky–a fashion sense, a matter of personal taste. From their point of view, they must make this assertion because it is the most benevolent one of which they are capable that is consistent with their views. But one cannot assert the mystic and the indigenous elder are experiencing a fashion sense, so those positions must be denied altogether. These two are, in essence, delusional.

The mystic and the indigenous elder above, however, are not delusional: they are simply speaking about the flower from perspectives that lie outside of the perceptual lens of a subject-object orientation. They are speaking about wholeness, and further, about the vehicle of deep interconnectedness and relationship through which wholeness arises as a form of immediate sensation and knowledge. This profound sensation of relatedness is, I believe, universal. It is accessible to anyone, and to all life. It is not unique to our planet, our time and place, our culture, or even our species. But it can be conceptually denied.

I made the assertion last time that a great many of us are debating only partial views of the whole. What I meant is that we’re trying to explain things—both the artist and the scientist—as if wholeness is not real, and when we do this we’re missing the essence of one another’s experience as well as our own. We can deny the most fundamental sensations of life, or when they arise in our experience—as they inevitably do—we can insist they are something other than they are, but we can’t prevent the very basis of our existence from seeping into our lives. We have the freedom to label what is, but not to change its very nature.

When Richard says in the video, “First of all, the beauty that [my artist friend] sees is available to me and to other people, too,” he is noting, without realizing it, that we all possess the ability to be touched by beauty directly, and further, by wholeness, even if we don’t define it as such. Richard’s artist friend, on the other hand, when suggesting that the scientific view “takes things apart” and “makes them dull things” is speaking to the direct experience of what occurs when the reality of wholeness is denied. Unfortunately, in this exchange neither Richard nor the artist, at least from the reporting we have, can see that both of their positions can be true at once.

The artist may not realize in conceptual terms that he is defending the immediate and universal reality of wholeness, but he doesn’t need to. The artist can sense directly, without effort, when the sensation of relatedness that provides him joy and the direct knowledge of being has been interrupted. Richard can sense it, too, when to his dissatisfaction the artist suggests the scientific description of our world is superfluous to a profound appreciation of reality. For Richard, the artist is denying the essential nature of the very activity that, to him, provokes the sensation of joy and deep relatedness that he, too, seeks. The mistake is the failure of Richard and his artist friend to realize that as unique individuals, the specific triggers or vehicles that return the joy of being who they are, and which place them in contact with the tangible sensation of wholeness, are not the same for them. They further err by insisting that the joy of perceiving the flower’s shape, color and texture must be somehow different than the joy of understanding the cells, the molecular composition, and the quantum electrodynamic chicanery deployed in the chloroplasts. It’s not! Joy is not conceptual!

As individuals we have unique passions, curiosities, talents and predilections. But the joy that comes of the direct sensation of relatedness to the whole, of experiencing the particularities of our own existence as good and wonderful, is the same. And the wholeness from which every expression of life and existence has emerged is our common root, our common heritage, the ultimate identity we share. When this is understood, there is room for the unique perceptions of the artist, the scientist, the mystic, the indigenous elder, and all forms and conditions of life in between.

As my friend Lee Roetcisoender recently wrote me, in a statement I thought was perfect, “What has become an urgent necessity is a way of looking at the world that does no violence to either of these two kinds of understanding and actually unites them into one.” He was speaking about the artist and the scientist. And he’s exactly right. This way, I believe, will be rooted in acknowledgment of the underlying reality of profound unity, relationship, and interconnectedness through and upon which all of our unique vantages are realized. Such a reality is universal even as it is directly personal. It is felt as the uniqueness and joy of being who we are, and has nothing to do with intellectual capacity, refinement of aesthetic sensibilities, hours in the training room, value at which your paintings or sold, number of scientific papers you’ve written, or any other criteria one might assert to distinguish themselves and their tribe from the “others.”

Wholeness is simply the heart of what makes all of us, us. And without it, we are lost.

On Knowing, Dialogue and Mysticism (Part One)

comments 29

Recently, through a series of clicks, I found myself watching a YouTube video of Julia Galef decrying the habit many of us have, in discussions with or about people who are different from us, of saying, “I just don’t understand how anyone could… [think, say, or do whatever it is the unfathomable ones in our lives think, say, or do…]” In her video she used the example of Richard Feynman, who once recounted a discussion he’d had with an artist friend. While the artist thought the scientific view of the flower detracted from the appreciation of its beauty, Feynman believed that “…science only adds to the excitement, the mystery, and the awe of the flower.” He concluded by saying, “I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

Julia Galef suggests in her video that Feynman could have tried harder to understand his artist friend, and goes on to use herself as an example of what is possible when we make the effort to understand another’s point of view. Unfortunately, I think she fails, at least from my perspective, and I think it’s interesting to consider why.

Her first attempt is to assert that “the property of mystery is commonly held to be a beautiful aesthetic property.” (Feynman, in his interview, also described the beauty of the flower as “aesthetic” and acknowledged that while his appreciation of this property may not be “as refined” as the artist’s, he appreciated it nonetheless.) As an experiment, Julia asks us to imagine we discover a key. There’s a certain allure here because initially the key is a mystery, but she notes that if we were to find out it opens a particular apartment door near where we found it, this would “not be revelatory or particularly satisfying or beautiful.” Generally, she asserts, the lack of an answer can be more aesthetically pleasing than any answer we could get. We simply enjoy the sensation of mystery.

In her second attempt, she provides a brief discussion of Construal Level Theory, which is about how abstract or concrete our thinking is about a particular subject, or the psychological distance that may exist between ourselves and the object of our thought, e.g. how “near” or “far” we are from it. Here she says that, “Far mode can have a certain beauty to it, even though I think sometimes it steers you wrong. There’s a certain beauty to abstraction and a zoomed-out, big picture.” An ocean, for instance, can be a symbol of vastness or the unknown, but if we were to look at a small portion of an actual ocean, the details we see would pull us out of the abstract view we had and this may be undesirable. In other words, the reason the artist may not wish to know the scientific details about the flower is that it would cause a shift from far mode to near mode, with loss of all the abstractly pleasurable qualities the far mode offers.

My first difficulty with Julia’s attempts to foster an appreciation for the artist’s point of view is that while she has offered two reasons the artist would not wish to comprehend the details of a flower, neither are reasons that seem very attractive to Julia herself. Or to me. The artist is a caricature in this discussion–one whose position Julia never really considers entertaining. In fact, she begins and ends her presentation with the need to ensure we understand she thinks the world would be a better place if less people felt the way the artist does. Holding this fixed vantage forces her into the position of explaining away a mistake: the best she can do is show it’s an honest one. Even though there’s something not that great about how these artist people think about flowers, at least we can understand the temptations that snared them.

This is ridiculous.

If you wish to truly understand another, it’s important to begin from the position they are your equal, and to assume that if they espouse a certain conviction there are likely very good reasons why–reasons you yourself may not understand until you experiment with those positions. Also, I think it should be considered that your own position is every bit as transparent as you perceive theirs to be, and that it is not some intellectual enfeeblement that causes the other person to think differently than you do, but an honest choice about what is more valuable to them given a reasonable understanding of the alternatives. It’s true that this condition of fully understanding the alternatives is likely not the case—meaning, at the outset it is unlikely the two of you really understand one another—but if no possibility for such an equitable footing exists, at least as a mutual goal to be arrived at, then there is no basis for genuine understanding.

This relates to a more fundamental difficulty I had with Julia’s position, which is that her understanding of the artist appears to have been based solely on her own comprehension of the world. This artist we never hear from directly is an individual who doesn’t want to understand the inner workings of a flower because he or she will lose the pleasure of perceiving it a certain way. It’s like learning Santa Clause isn’t real: once this individual learns the flower has cells, or the Calvin cycle inside of it, he or she will lose something vital. I have never met anyone quite so loath to learn something amazing about this universe, so my own projected opinion is that the artist probably had a more sophisticated point to make than is being portrayed, but this isn’t really pursued.

Julia’s video carries the subtle logic that the artist’s appreciation of beauty depends upon a certain form of ignorance. Both Julia and Richard describe the artist’s position as purely aesthetic, and Julia’s two examples of understanding the artist’s position both suggest that the artist’s pleasure is derived from eschewing deeper understanding. Neither Richard nor Julia questions whether or not the artist’s position is as shallow as they perceive it to be, as they haven’t made any attempt to imagine otherwise. But they’re careful to say, look, we appreciate the attraction here, too. We understand it, but we go beyond it. Their position is that you can enjoy a fantasy, or you can get in touch with reality. Julia’s effort at understanding the artist ultimately boils down to this: I appreciate that a fantasy can be enjoyable.

If you said this to a friend, he or she would quickly infer you were trying to stage an intervention. Some may perceive this as an act of love and thank you for caring enough to rescue them from what you perceive as a self-destructive position, then politely excuse themselves from the conversation, while others may become profoundly annoyed at discovering how trivial your respect is for their faculties. The point is that it doesn’t allow for the possibility I wish to explore in this series of posts, which is that there is actually a there there. Forms of knowing exist—and faculties on which they ride—that are neither enhanced nor diminished by scientific understanding, and which may freely express in either condition.

These are not self-indulgent aesthetic pleasures, or the obfuscation of genuine understanding, but something else entirely. These are impulses from the authentic nature of our being seeking to become known in us, and through us, in our lives. The difficulties that sometimes arise—such as we see here in the archetypal conversation between the rationalist-scientist and the artist-aesthetic—is that conclusions are being made on only a partial understanding of the reality from which these impulses arise. We solidify them quickly into our conceptual frameworks, where they can only ever be slices of the whole, and then we debate them. And unless we’re exceedingly careful, we find ourselves unconsciously promoting the views we have collected at the expense of the views others may have. We talk past and marginalize one another, and the irony when this happens is this: both sides believe a vantage they enjoy is vulnerable to accepting the validity of the other, and attack the other as a defense, but neither side actually comprehends what they are doing.

There is a better way, and I plan to explore it in the posts ahead…

Coming to Life

comments 31

The other night I got that inkling. A tickle of spaciousness. One minute I was trying to decipher an ambiguity in the building code, and the next I was alone in the room at dusk, standing beside the window, trying to decipher the ambiguity of a meadow. I relaxed, settled—something moved within me.

Unity, like freedom, is the utter magnitude of being.

Later that evening I witnessed the great truth of our moment: the real pandemic is expertise. Do you notice how delectable it is to seek contradiction? How gratifying it can be to tell some other group of people they’re doing it wrong? To watch someone else tell people they’re doing it wrong, and to do so magnificently?

It even struck me as funny for a time, this endless parade of serious people explaining serious things. Zoom out just a bit and the words dissolve into a luscious cacophony, a pudding of emphasis and evidence and reasons, and then you see it: we’re a plague of trouble-shooters. We just can’t help ourselves. We could be plopped into the center of an alien culture and in three seconds flat describe everything wrong with it, and how to make it right.

There’s another way, of course, but it’s a quiet way—a way that partakes of not knowing as a way of coming to know. It’s not a way of being right, but a way of being true. And this is delectable also, but not cheaply so. The mockery we’ve made of reason is the inevitable result of our belief that appearances are reality, and that thereby we may profit from deceit. So we drown in a world of images and talismans. We compete to be seen and heard, and forget that the true nature of our lives is invisible.

In this way of being true, we quite literally come to life. The reality at the heart of our being takes form and finds authentic expression through us, and as us, in the world. We become conduits for the utter magnitude of being, and it’s enough to simply allow this expansiveness to flow through us into the world. It’s enough. This way doesn’t require white boards or Ted Talks. There are no concepts to learn that will help us do better, no intellectual achievements required, no self-improvement programs to complete; it requires only the acknowledgment and holding of what is truly real within us, a movement from the unnatural condition of fragmentation within ourselves to the cohesiveness of genuine being.

The sense that something is wrong, seriously wrong, haunts us, but this is simply how the world feels when we are fractured inside. The world echoes our pain. The mind is like a landscape and the heart is like the water. Disconnection between the two makes deserts out of us. It makes our culture barren, our thoughts dry, our concepts inflexible. We’re forced to find water and we project this onto the world. And then we go to work, wounded and dis-integrated as we are, to fix the world. We put on the badge of trouble-shooter and enter the fray. This sense that something is wrong drives us, compels us to keep going. It blinds us to the simplicity of the only solution we ever needed.

In this way of being true, we come home to ourselves first and somehow… somehow… with reparation of the once-fragmented elements of ourselves, we reconnect with the Whole, and we sense the grace that permeates and sustains this world. This ethereal nourishment flows through us. The waters return and we sense the potentiality of being, the depths to which movements within time are rooted in timelessness. The chronic sensation that something is wrong is eased, the channels in us open, and new life enters us. There’s nothing we need do but allow this to occur.

There’s a great documentary film entitled Fools and Dreamers about the regeneration of a forest in New Zealand, which contains a beautiful discovery I think is applicable to what I’m trying to say here: the quickest way to regrow a forest is to do nothing. That’s not a direct quote—or it might be—but that’s the idea. Nature will be nature. Life will be life. We can find ways to augment and assist and participate in the natural flow of life, but we don’t need to take charge of it. And I think, perhaps, this is a great fallacy of the present age: that we need experts to show us the way. We need top-shelf trouble-shooters to keep us on track. We need to know exactly what we’re doing at all times, and do it.

But we don’t. We simply need the wisdom of our own hearts, and the rest will follow. I think the regeneration will be swift when we finally let it come. It will not be planned or mapped, but it will come to Life.

The Way of the Marys

comments 17
Book Reviews

2020 was not my most prolific year in terms of writing, but there is one piece that shines for me that I would like to share with you. It is the review I wrote for Mari Perron’s latest book, Mirari: The Way of the Marys. This book is about many things, but in particular it is about the power of the divine feminine and the potential within us to receive and birth the New.

When Mari asked if I would write a review, I knew immediately it was something that I wanted to do. I’d read the book once earlier in the year and it was quite helpful to me at the time, and I read it again in a couple of sittings when I helped with some copy editing, but it was not until I sat down to write the review and started taking notes, page by page through the book once again, that I realized how truly rich and powerful it was. Like all great works of prophecy, it recast the mundane for me. It pierced the echo chamber of my now and let in the light of new Life.

I felt inspired while writing this review in a way that I hadn’t in quite some time. It was a relief, really, to feel that churning magnetism take hold in the heart of my being, to sense the palpable tugging of my entire being upon the unknown, pulling into crisper and crisper form the words and phrases that I needed. I discovered things as I wrote, wandered into new arenas of comprehension. This is what inspiration does for me. The entire process reminded me: we are joined to something far greater than ourselves.

I hope you enjoy the review but more importantly hope you would consider the book itself. I think Mari and Mary together have an important message for our time.

On New Life

comments 17
Course Ideas

I have, for most of my life, been curious about the creation of a better world. When I think about what this world could be, it comes with feelings of wonder and happiness that are quite the opposite of the guilt and grief that attend the world as we have known it. I think these feelings are related to the sensation of things working out. Or perhaps more accurately, of things having already worked out. It’s like a distant memory of a place we all must know. There is the sense that, somehow, what is true is good, and what is good is so for all of us, and that in our coming to know this we discover there is even more to it than we thought.

This could easily be dismissed as sentimental, even misguided dreaming. Plenty of people along the way have been willing to disabuse me of these notions by explaining how the world really works. To them I can only say, yes… that’s how it’s worked in the past. The question is not whether or not it was, however, but whether or not it had to be. Has the world been the way it has because it simply couldn’t have been otherwise—because of some inviolable law that requires it function just as it has forever? Or could it have been different?

My answer is yes, it could have been, and still could be, different.

This answer permits me to wonder just what it is that might be changed or transformed, and just what it is my heart still whispers about. Such questions may be answered on many levels, but I think we must get to what is fundamental if we are to truly understand. And in the simplest terms possible, I think the world we’ve known has been rooted in the seemingly inviolable principle of death. Death is the ticking clock, the enforcer of our zero-sum games, the tragedy we cannot escape, the ultimate acknowledgment that things don’t work out in the end.

With death as the final arbiter of what is so, the perception of certain realities is inescapable. For starters, death isolates us, each from each. Death is not a team sport, after all—it is the cessation, the extinguishing, forever, of me. In a world beneath death’s sway, the life we “have” is the one thing that is ours and ours alone to do with as we please. We will never receive another, and there is no going back. I am me and you are you, and we are profoundly separate beings, each packaged separately, our lives compartmentalized by the bounding walls of our individual volition and ultimate demise.

To say that conflict arises from this view is an understatement. And there is no escaping it while death is in command. Our responses to the situation vary greatly. Some try to be good, or virtuous. Some to maximize pleasure or profit in the time allotted. Some to pass on a name, a mark, or a brand. Others to live quietly while leaving not a trace. I’m not sure the world will ever be without conflict, by the way, and certainly not without differences of opinion, perspective, and desire. But there’s a tragic edge to things when death is running the show.

So let us talk of Life! We’re all enamored of life in one way or another, but I think precious few of us yet appreciate its true dimension. The life of which I speak is not the life defined by death’s shadow. It is not some fragile, chance dynamic hacking bubbles of being from the inky sea of molasses that is death’s perpetual presence, only to collapse again into nothing at all. It is not defined by bodies or forms or colors alone, though these are most certainly spun-off from its creative flux. It is not some subset of the world we see. Life, real life, is an indivisible movement, a power unto itself alone, a perpetually unfolding wholeness in which nothing is truly lost, and in which we are fundamentally joined even as the platform of Life itself brokers the possibility of freedom, novelty, and differentiation.

We realize how profoundly death’s grip has held us when we try to parse the statement: there is no death in Life. What does this even mean? To the rational mind still isolated from the whole, still divorced from the heart’s clear knowing, the statement would seem to require a sort of superhero immortality—that we live in our current form forever. Wouldn’t this be life without death? Well, no actually! Such a notion is still in death’s thrall; it is simply death inside-out. Still defined by death alone, this existence would be yet another, macabre form of tragedy: day without night, existence without rest, and stasis without transformation. This is not Life!

There’s a great deal more to unpack here, but for now I simply wanted to convey some sense of the spaces we’ve yet to explore. The question is still before us: how would a world nourished by our awareness of Life itself be different than the world we’ve made in the past? I must admit this is where the dreams begin for me, the flashes of what might be. None of us can predict the experience we will have when we begin something new, but we can imagine it, and what I imagine are conditions obtaining in our society like transparency, simplicity, and authenticity. Death is the great obfuscator, you see—the keeper of secrets and guilt, the progenitor of shame. Through these instruments, death commands our allegiance. These could fall away, leaving us with genuine concern for all life, backed by a willingness to make an honest accounting of things, and the space to do so in which blame and mistrust are replaced by compassion and support.

Most importantly what I see is the restoration of rational values, by which I mean those values that emerge when the thrall of death has been left behind, and the power to destroy is finally seen as ineffectual compared to the power to create. The masculine and feminine—the mind and the heart—will merge and our actions will be guided by the principles of life. It is hard for us to even comprehend how it may be so, but it is possible for us to be freed from the horrible trade-offs that stalk us today. And this is how we will know the world has been transformed: when the means of our fulfillment are profoundly just, and the source of our joy is the day itself.

On Quiet Transformation

comments 28
Course Ideas

Linda’s blog challenge this year is about transformation—inner transformation particularly. It’s an interesting subject, as it can be hard to assess oneself, but clearly I’ve become quieter the past year or so. More inward-facing. Times of true connection with others have been precious and have served as markers upon this sea I’ve been traversing. I imagine when one is at sea for a while, for what seems a very long time, things start to really change. The edges blur. Perspectives expand and dissolve. The sky slips into the eyes. One loses what was once an obvious orientation.

The real these days is like quicksilver. It flashes at the edge of vision. A month passes and then it strikes—hissing through the grass, filling the space between trees. Melting ice taps against stone. How did I not hear this before? As quickly as it’s there, it’s gone, but it’s enough to remind that so much of what seems to be, is not. That so much of what is, is still on the way.

There are spaces that need not, and cannot, be justified. There is realness at the heart of the world no edifice of reason or logic can quite encapsulate. It’s the place were being right is meaningless, because what is there to be right about? When we’ve accepted this resiliency at the root of our knowing, then ambition softens. It’s replaced by the sense of what can only be given and received, not made, and maybe this season of quiet precedes this new life that nudges forth.

The day-to-day this year has been like galloping towards a diminishing horizon. Being swallowed as I go and no way back and this endless rhythm that lulls the contours into fluid hiding. Until it seems that nothing is happening at all. But could this be the most creative place yet? This empty quiet? This waiting in the shadow of what must come?

The bluebirds entertain me daily: early afternoon, just outside the window where I’m working, they appear. One inspects the roof of the birdhouse in which it was born, while the other peers inside. Then they trade places. What are they looking for? The quiet wonder from which they emerged, I think. There’s a magnetism and I can feel it, too, but is it for what has been, or what will be? What is it that we know innately but cannot name?

To hold a thing, and carry a thing inside, and to know this as yourself… what kind of “thing” would that be? It would be an ephemeral one, an enduring impermanence, the transcendent that can be revealed but never captured, for it never ceases. Does one “know” a new land even as one is drawn to discover its fruit trees, meadows, and streams? These are clues but not the whole. And yet the whole is imminent. It is there in every texture, hue of light, flutter of motion. Where would we find it but there?

I think this quiet—though days pass in a blur—is bringing something forth. It is like passing through the screen of some mirage. A plane of light saturates our view. There are times we navigate we don’t fully understand. We can only move in the direction of our trust. What are these times for? To herald the days ahead? To prepare for them? It seems I’ve been occupied with the mundane, but we’ve so many levels and the whole is still there, in the realness of everything that resolves into view, unexpectedly, and transforms me completely. It’s hard to say what each of us carries in the depths of our heart. What spaces we hold for the whole. What shifting and healing is happening deep within while the news washes past overhead, and the days grow short, and the bindings between us fray.

I don’t know quite what this is, only that it is different than before. What is coming now is quiet and gentle. Where it pokes through the soil no one notices. We walk across the top of it, chattering away. It seems like it was always there, but the wind has shifted and the light with it. And what I know is that I have hope. I know there is a storm, but I also know it’s not without purpose. Everything is held somehow and it is this I would remember as the day fades… we are held, even now, by what is coming.

The Power of Being Real

comments 12
Course Ideas

I am pleased to announce that my short story Power was released this week in Issue 25 of the Ginosko Literary Journal.

(For those of you who may be more inclined to listen to the story, I’ve also prepared an audio recording that you can stream or download.)

This is a story about honesty, vulnerability and authenticity–qualities lacking in so much of the content that bombards us today. The images we encounter are cultivated with studied precision to arouse, cajole and manipulate our sensitivities. That makes the intimate conversations we have with one another all the more special. They don’t begin and end with an agenda, and they don’t seek to convince. Instead, they are about revealing who we are to one another. They are acts of mutual discovery.

It is here that genuine riches lie.

I hope you enjoy!

Life Matters

comments 28

A few weeks ago I had to make a somewhat rare journey out of the house to visit a construction site for work. On the ride back I pulled off the highway to fuel-up. Across the street from the gas station, I discovered a microcosm of the absurd times in which we are living: on one corner was a miniature Trump rally, in which an African American man was holding up an “All Lives Matter” sign. He was shouting through traffic at a small “Black Lives Matter” rally that was taking place on the next corner.


Wait for it.

Four or five white people, mostly young women I believe, were holding up “Black Lives Matter” signs and being shouted down by a black man old enough to be their father. They were shouting back of course. Because, yeah… Why not? If you’re not shouting after all, you’re losing. I’ve never seen a clearer demonstration of just how convoluted (and failed) our dialogue as a society has become.

In my post about Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout, I wrote the paragraph below:

“When we look closely at it, as closely as we can, we find that the center of blackness, as of whiteness, and of every other –ness we would discern, is our tragic inability as humans to hold difference and sameness together. This failure is the essential human handicap. We’ve failed to recognize that both are part of being human, and that each is necessary to the other—that we, in all of our colors and shapes and sizes, can only truly possess our humanity when our uniqueness and our commonality are respected as treasures equally worth preserving.”

And nowhere was this failure more obvious to me than in this scene of a black Trump supporter engaged in a shouting match with these white women, across four lanes of traffic, who in theory were advocating for him. Maybe they eventually got on the same corner and had a chat. I don’t know. That would have been interesting. An actual conversation. But our entire society seems to be based on the notion that a conversation is a skirmish over territory, not a chance to be understood and to understand. So long as that continues we’re doomed.

The issue of life mattering is really not that complicated. Life matters. Period. And not just human life. Life. The life of the seas, the life of the skies, the life on the ground, and the life in the ground. And of course, black lives matter—this must be acknowledged. One fallacy is thinking that black lives mattering in a way that is unique to the experience of being black, (in the United States, which is where I am writing from), somehow subtracts from the way that any other life matters. It doesn’t. But nor can the reality of being black in this time and place be subtracted either. We can’t dismiss the uniqueness of the various vantages that live in each of us. We screw this all up when we think only one of these simultaneous truths must “trump” the other.

At the same time, if our appreciation for the uniqueness of experience stops at race, and fails to accommodate the profound diversity of individual experience, then it is utterly misguided. Because to presume that every person who shares a common physical trait is party to the same comprehensive personal experience is shallow and foolish. I am white and my adopted sister is black. (My other adopted sister is Korean by birth.) My “black” sister has suffered for being raised by white parents. She has been ostracized by some individuals in the African American community who didn’t, or don’t, see her as legitimate. Not all black people mind you. She’s been ostracized by white people, too. Again, not all of them. Did I mention that we’re all unique? Consider the black man I witnessed holding up an All Lives Matter sign amidst his chosen community of six or seven people toting Make America Great Again signs. Does he speak for black people everywhere? Clearly the roots of individual experience transcend a common trait.

Then there is the truth, which we seem to be losing sight of, that we are all human after all. We are each one another’s own. We belong to each other. The notion that a person of one race cannot understand a person of another race, should they truly desire to do so, is a caustic sentiment that defiles the sacred truth of our commonality as human beings. I have been working on a novel about a character who has a Native American mother and a Creole father, and one professional editor who I asked to review a few chapters cautioned me that it could be unfit for publication simply on the basis of the fact that I am white, and the protagonist is not. This editor wanted, conscientiously, to warn me about a potential difficulty I’d face. I appreciated the concern, but this difficulty is more of the same. I’ve been encouraged to have some black people read it before I go any further. I guess my question is: which ones?

It reminds me of the way a predominately white America sought to negotiate with the indigenous nations that preceded them on this continent. Who is in charge? this rampaging America asked. Surely a treaty signed with Red Cloud would bind all Lakota, right? Well I’m not a historian, but my understanding is that such a notion probably took many Native Americans by surprise, because their society was much more loosely organized than ours. Individuals, and bands of individuals, enjoyed a considerable autonomy within the greater structure of the nation. They didn’t have a President. (Nor, I would argue, did they need one. At least until it became necessary to become a military industrial complex with a hierarchical command structure capable of mobilizing an entire population against the might and glory of America.)

The bottom line is that uniqueness and commonality exist at every level of existence and genuine healing involves acknowledging this. Two people of the same race ought to be permitted to be unique individuals, just as two people of the same race ought to be able to share the bond of a common experience that people of another race have not had, just as all those people and anyone who wishes to join them ought to be permitted to merge hearts and share in the power, beauty, grief, and sorrow of being human, regardless of race or experience. I’m a firm believer that where the desire is sincere, we can comprehend one another, at least to our mutual satisfaction.

The loss of appreciation for any of the myriad truths that stitch our world together breeds fruitless conflict—shouting matches that are expressions of pain, not efforts at understanding. And the thing is: we’re all carriers of pain… but also of hope and love. We all need and deserve mutual respect and consideration. There are many policies we could discuss, and I think they’re all worth discussing, but without the root desire to empower, acknowledge, honor and appreciate one another—in all our idiosyncrasies and commonalities—these will be of limited value. It’s true that if you’re forced into a fight, you need a weapon. But I’d like us to end the fight. And policy won’t do it, because no policy can accomplish the work of the heart. But if the deeper work is done, the policies that express our concern for one another will arise.

The Feminine Science of Water, Part 5

comments 17
Reflections / Science

To close this series on water and the notion of a feminine science, I want to note that a fundamental element of such a science would be an appreciation that the Unknown is the true subject of study. The beauty and power of Life is not what it displays—the parts and mechanisms we can codify—but what it reveals. What it reveals is the content of the Unknown, and this is as true of water as it is of the human form.

I mentioned last time that Dr. Morré shared with me the discovery that water responded to solar events. How neat and tidy would it be to relate this observation to Johann Grander’s contention that “water is a cosmic substance” that receives information from the cosmos? We could choose to believe that the observation by Dr. Morré is precisely what Johann Grander was talking about, but this would be a mistake in my opinion. This would reduce Johann Grander’s wisdom to a few mechanisms that we might discover, and here is where a predominately male science—as I’ve explained it in this series—falls short.

It’s not that there aren’t beautiful and intriguing mechanisms to discover; it’s that treating them as if they are the whole picture obfuscates what they would otherwise reveal. And the presence of the feminine in science would not allow this. It would not allow the dissection of Wholeness that unmoors us from the very miracle that sustains us—the miracle of Life in the first place. We cannot set that off to the side and hope one day to incorporate it back into the picture. It is profoundly self-destructive to think we have 99% of it figured out without the One thing that matters, and to hope that with more research and better tools we can blot the very heart of our existence off the page.

It is madness to try, in my opinion. It is a literally dead end.

This doesn’t mean we must ignore the mechanisms at work in our world. It only means that we comprehend them as movements within, and integral to, the Whole. And it means that we acknowledge the Whole is real. The failure of an exclusively masculine science has not been the technological achievements we enjoy today, but the powerlessness it has brought us. Power resides in relationship to the Whole, and here I speak of real power, which is not the ability to destroy, or explode, or sanitize, but the power to connect, create and nourish. I’m speaking of the power of Life itself. To banish such a power from the picture, and make it unreal, is to remove ourselves from the very possibility of healing and wholeness that we seek.

Words are ineffectual here, and there is no argument to be made that could in any way stand in for what exists in the world all around us. Some are willing to see it, and some are not, but make no mistake: we are speaking about the marginalization of our own heart. Not our hearts, but our One Heart. To think that we can exclude this from the conversation and engineer a world that sustains life, nourishes life, and frees up time and space for human beings to truly flower, is arrogance. And this is what we must confront if we are to recover the feminine in our science, and in our world at large. We will have to confront our collective arrogance.

My interest in water has shown this to me as well. The idea that water is explainable entirely in terms of chemistry, or even physics, is mistaken. There is more to water than we are at liberty to explain—more even than the very interesting discoveries of the past twenty years suggest, in which water has been shown to be a dissipative system (like all living organisms) with a carbonate metabolism, a battery that stores light, a substance that is at once order-forming and order-destroying, a receiver and transmitter of information, an oscillatory system in tune to the cosmos, and a shape-shifting catalyst on which a great many biochemical reactions ride. Even these do not tell us what water is.

But it isn’t difficult to acknowledge that water is alive. Water is Life expressed, as we are. We can, of course, continue to deny this, but this denial would merely be a vote to remain in our broken state, with all of the attending consequences. It may seem a naïve leap to equate our treatment of water with our treatment of one another, or our treatment of the planetary ecosystems, but I don’t think this is the case. The antagonism for Life itself that has accumulated in the modern worldview is not something we can turn on and off. It taints every level of our society, informs our treatment of women, of the sick and the poor, of other species, of our selves even, and I think we are seeing today that our very survival may be in question.

Does this seem melodramatic? From my vantage, it is not.

That said, I think we will all be surprised by the healing power of Life itself, once we endeavor to work in partnership with it. To do this however, we will need to acknowledge that the Whole exists, which requires an acknowledgment that the Unknown is quite real, and that any mechanisms we may discover are only truly real in their relationship to the Whole. Life is the revelation of this truth, the truth of who we are, no more and no less.

The Feminine Science of Water, Part 4

comments 6
Course Ideas

This post has been the most exciting of the series thus far for me to write, and that is because it is based on a fresh discovery to which I have a personal connection. Roughly a decade ago I attended a scientific conference organized by Dr. Gerald Pollack, then held annually in Vermont, on the subject of water. One of the speakers was Dr. D. James Morré, of Purdue University, a Distinguished Professor who published over 625 scientific papers in his lifetime and was awarded nine patents. Many of his papers—(I’m not sure how many, but all the ones I’ve read from late in his career)—were co-written with his lifelong colleague and wife, Dr. Dorothy Morré.

At the conference I approached Dr. Morré about Grander® Technology, and he was intrigued enough, and gracious enough, to allow me to send him a device to “play around with” in his laboratory. Some months later, out of the blue, he wrote to tell me that “something interesting was going on.” In writing my comment reply to Ka after the previous post, on a whim I looked Dr. Morré up, and discovered that in 2015 he and Dorothy co-authored a paper on “Synchronous Oscillations Intrinsic to Water” that included discussion of the Grander® Technology. Regretfully, I discovered that Dr. Morré passed in 2016, and his wife Dorothy, in 2018, so I was unable to correspond with them about this.

Dr. D. James Morré

Dr. Dorothy Morré

Discovering the paper was exciting for me, as I feel a tangential relationship to this work from our personal, albeit brief, interaction. But more importantly, it necessitates a further clarification on my part about the human beings who are scientists, as opposed to the prevailing mindset of the scientific endeavor, which are not always one and the same, and which I addressed briefly in the previous post. In addition to his accomplished scientific career, Dr. Morré was a blacksmith, an author, a piano and trumpet player, and a member of the St. Boniface Schola (choir) and the Bach Choir in his community. He struck me in our brief encounter as a very intelligent and curious person—all of which is to say that I think he is a very fine example of a scientist anchored in his connection to Life itself, driven by the genuine desire to understand the natural world, and without attachment to a particular dogma that closed his mind to new ideas. He was clearly a polymath, and such individuals often break the mold.

I have no doubt there are numerous scientists like Dr. Morré, and I want to note that in writing this series I am not aiming to lump scientists generally into a pejorative category; I am largely lamenting the broader mindset that permeates our society and acts like a filter on our collective willingness to be curious. This mindset only begrudgingly concedes how little we know, and actively marginalizes so-called “unscientific” or “pseudoscientific” views, which narrows the window of our inquiry at best, and actively censors creative thinking at worst.

As an accomplished researcher, Dr. Morré earned the opportunity to follow his instincts, and my guess is that he had a pretty good internal compass about what he considered to be established scientific fact, and what he considered an open or unfinished question. This is lost at the median level of scientific education, in which we are all more or less force-fed particular ideas from elementary school through at least the undergraduate level of tertiary education. This indoctrinates people to a certain view of the world that is unfortunately incorrect, and that is the situation against which I am railing in this series. Only a few, at the very boundary of their chosen field, know the real questions and inconsistencies in their field, and opportunities for other thought systems to express themselves are largely prevented by the replies of countless individuals who are simply repeating what they were taught. This is the work of ideology in science.

Returning to Dr. Morré, he shared in his talk at the conference I attended that he had a lifelong interest in the body clock and circadian rhythms. In his research, and in the paper I recently found, he notes that water has been previously observed to exhibit a recurring, undamped (meaning it persists indefinitely) oscillation between the population of ortho and para spin configurations of the hydrogen atoms in water. A para configuration is one in which both hydrogen atoms in a water molecule share the same spin, and the ortho configuration is one in which the spins are opposite. Because the two states of water have differing chemical properties, he was able to observe the changing populations of ortho vs para isomers in water by measuring very fine changes in its redox potential, through which this distinction manifests. He conjectured that a classical limit oscillation might be at work, in which conditions might favor the para configuration until a threshold is reached, at which time a “discharge of potential” occurs, and the ortho configuration is favored. But this too, reaches a limit, and the system once again reverses. This continues indefinitely.

This natural oscillation in water is very slow. There is a repeating pattern that has a fundamental period of about eighteen minutes. Living organisms have “life-hacked” this feature of water by doping particular proteins with cations (a form of copper, in this case) to extend the period to twenty-four minutes. Exactly sixty cycles of twenty-four minutes gives twenty-four hours. Different cations produce different oscillatory periods, but copper is the one that produces a time period synchronous to the diurnal rhythms of the earth, and that is the one he found in the proteins he researched.

Where this becomes even more fascinating is that after our encounter, and after his experimentation with the Grander® Technology devices I sent him—or so I surmise based on the dates of the research—he appears to have taken the notion seriously that two water samples not in direct physical contact can influence one another. In the paper he notes that two water samples previously out of phase, when placed adjacent to one another in plastic pipettes, would quickly come into the same phase. What is really amazing, is that he conducted a series of experiments in which he measured this natural oscillation of water at opposite ends of various bodies of water, and found them to be in phase with one another. This included a small pond, two points in a municipal water system five miles apart, and a twenty acre lake. In a remarkable experiment, he found that the Atlantic Ocean, measured in Ocean City, Maryland, was in phase with the Pacific Ocean, as measured concurrently in San Diego, CA. (See chart below.)

Oceanic Phasing Graphic

Graphic from D. James and Dorothy Morré’s Paper Showing the Synchronous Phasing of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

Contiguous bodies of water, even on a planetary scale, appear to exhibit a unity, or wholeness, that is truly remarkable. The largest known organism is the Armillia ostayae, a fungus in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon that covers roughly four square miles. I’d suggest we have the possibility of a new champion: the world’s oceans, linked in coherent resonance from one side of the globe to the other.

Although not discussed in his paper, in his one correspondence with me he noted that when researching this aspect of water at Argonne National Laboratory, he discovered that the natural oscillation within water was sensitive to environmental influences, including solar flares, which would interrupt and restart the cycle. This suggests Johann Grander was correct when he said that water “is a cosmic substance”, and receives information from the cosmos. It is important, I think, to avoid leaping to the conclusion that what Johann Grander described in his work was precisely what Dr. Morré found. I suspect that what was found was simply a small piece of what is so. There is much work to be done to develop a comprehensive bridge between the ideas of Johann Grander and the ideas of modern scienc, but ultimately, it is clear to me that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to appreciating the fundamental dynamics of Life.