Jun 252018
 

Even at the quantum level, as separate and distinct, a single particle has little value. It is only when they are in relationship to other quantum entities that they form the universe.

So too for humanity. Absent our intimate relationship to all things, we are nothing.

As I write, since I feel my fingers on the keyboard, I imagine the computer and me as separate and distinct. However, if I were to pick up a writing instrument to pen these same words, the experience and result would be different. The computer and I co-create. The world is altered by my relationship to even the most inanimate of objects.

As I trek through the woods, a tree ahead appears distinct from me. I know where my body “ends” and the leaves, branches and trunk “begin.” But do I? There is a symbiotic relationship between us. The oxygen I inhale in this moment was likely “exhaled” by that living organism moments ago. The carbon dioxide I release into the atmosphere is vital to the tree’s future. Each season, a tree will take thousands of gallons of water from the soil and release it into the air as water vapor. Those molecules return to Earth as rain, and to me through the foods I eat and the water I drink. The tree and I are in deep relationship; I am biologically part of that tree, and it a part of me.

Even thoughts originating in my cerebral cortex, which my ego insists make me distinct from others, are proof of relationship not separation. Virtually every neural pathway in my brain has been formed through experience with, and mental formulations that originate in, the world outside of me. Every sound I hear, article I touch, morsel I taste and object I see, alters my relationship with the world and changes the entity I thought myself to be.

My emotional being, as well, is intimately related to, and formed by, the world around me. Every story of pain and heartache I encounter in the lives of friends, or from a call to the suicide hotline, alters my emotional sense of the world.

There is little we own…little for which we can take credit. Every word, every thought, every feeling, emerges from ideas and experiences gifted to us by others. Nor is our ability to hold, synthesize and retell them ours to own. They, too, are gifts we have learned from others.

If I search deeply for the “I” I believe is me, I soon discover there isn’t one. The harder I look, the more intense my gaze, the more I discover that everything I think of as me, was formed through an infinity of relationships. I am nothing more than a confluence of influences—simply the intersection of the fields through which this collection of human cells has traveled. I am, simply put, the result of trillions of quantum particles in relationship.

Western culture moves in harmony with the sacredness and importance of the individual. We go to any lengths, and put many in jeopardy, to save one. But the moment I drift from the sacredness of life to the importance of my own, I excise myself from humanity. I allow myself to become isolated, distinct and apart. My thoughts and ideas are wrenched from their rightful place within the ecosystem where they were formed, and where they can be challenged, debated, refined and potentially discarded. Ego takes over and I elevate my ideas to a place of superiority and rightness.

The Sufi mystic and poet Hafitz once said “I am a hole in the flute through which God’s breath flows.” At best, the confluence of thoughts, ideas, and experiences I refer to as myself is no more than a capacity through which the Universe itself is trying to be seen. If I can remain true to simply being the hole, and refrain from imagining myself to be the breath, or the player of the flute, only then is there hope.

Feb 092013
 

 

Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said it whimsically: few people on their deathbed wish they had spent more time at the office. But recent encounters leave me reflecting, considerably less whimsically, on what I might wish the moments just before I am called from this life.
For ten years, I have facilitated a Socrates Café. Beginning with “Did anyone bring a question?”, we spend the ensuing moments exchanging thoughts and exploring the nuance of language related to whatever happens to nip at us as we gather.*
In the middle of a recent Café, a nurse began to speak softly. She told how she has been with hundreds the moment they passed from this life to the next. “The expression I see most often as a life ends is regret. It is as if they are asking ‘Is this all my life amounts to?’ My goal is to not die with a look of regret on my face.” The rest of us could do nothing more than quietly take in the reality of her experience. Is it true at the moment of passing most people regret, rather than appreciate, their lives? Is it natural to focus on the empty moments rather than those that fulfill us and those around us? I left the Café disturbed.
Two weeks later, we continued to explore the question of regret at the end of life. Perhaps, I suggested, it is not wrong to leave this life with regret. Others recalled how humans have a natural desire to achieve and create…to leave this place better as a result of our journey. Does the endless longing to create insure there will be things undone no matter when our life ends, and that regret over the undone will animate our neurons as they fire for the last time?
In the Sioux tradition there is a battle cry, “I am ready for whatever comes.” It is often translated poorly and credited to Crazy Horse as “Today is a good day to die.” The group reflected on what it might mean for today to be a good day to die. The nurse who started us down this extraordinary path suggested it might be powerful for each of us to seek the answer privately. “If you can answer ‘yes,’ it might be valuable to reflect on the aspects of life that give you emotional permission to say that if life ended today, it would feel complete, satisfying and fulfilled.”
     In between the two Cafés, I was with a group challenged by the following quirky question: “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” The suggestions were fun and imaginative. Teleportation, the ability to fly or read others’ minds were among the most popular. But it was those that dealt with time that gave me pause: “I’d like to be able to do two things at once…slow down time…turn back time…get by on one or two hours of sleep.” I began to wonder what lay at the heart of such desires. Is a wish for more time an indicator I am dissatisfied with what I have done with the time already spent? Does such a wish silently scream that what I have done—or even worse, who I am—is not enough? Is my endless list of to-dos really that important? And how many of the items on that list are there to assuage my fragile ego rather than meet the world’s great needs? Is it possible to lay head against pillow each night with a deep sense that what was done that day was enough?
So what do I wish as this life reaches its conclusion? The same things I wish each night as I lay head against pillow: that I am wise enough to have salved wounds I might have opened, to have told those around me how much they have meant on my journey and to know that in some small ways the balance of good and bad in my life tips more towards the good. If I have met the world’s great need in some small way, perhaps, in those final moments, I will feel my life will have been enough.
* We meet the 1st and 3rd Wednesday evenings at the Barnes & Noble in Geneva Commons beginning at 6:30 p.m. should you wish to join us. All are welcome.
Apr 072012
 

 

As I reflect on the human journey, today is the eve of the most holy of holy days on the Christian calendar. I am informed, and confused, by words attributed to Jesus as he neared death: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” In this moment, I wonder if even Jesus, who tradition tells us could see beyond the reality of this world—what I call the finite—into the Infinite, had moments of doubt about the Infinite? In his excruciating moment of pain, it would not be surprising if, even Jesus’ understanding of the Infinite was obfuscated by his experience of the finite?
Even though I hope never to experience the finite in that same horrific way, I wonder if the Infinite is hidden from me also by my experience of the finite. For more than 60 years I have read hundreds of books that attempt to describe this world—from Quantum Physics, Evolutionary Biology and Moral Psychology to Buddhism, Confucianism and New Age Spirituality. Each with its explanation of what this world really is, and why we are here. What if every explanation we attempt actually prevents us from seeing what is beyond them?
I have come to believe the Universe is ineffable—beyond words. It is beyond anything we can understand from the perspective of the finite. And yet, we continue to manufacture concepts, images and paradigms to help us understand that which is ineffable. What if, instead of helping us understand, the paradigms obfuscate, distort and confuse?
What if we are actually in the Infinite—what many refer to as Heaven—right now, but are unable to see it, or experience it, because we remain so confused by what our minds think they are supposed to see? What if nothing I see is what I think it is? What if life has been gifted to me, not to comprehend the finite, but as a brief opportunity for me to see that what lies beyond is not beyond at all, but right in front of me, concealed by my thinking? But then, that too would be a paradigm, perhaps also keeping me from witnessing what is beyond. It is as if the paradigms that make up my world keep me locked in this place…keep me from the Infinite. It is as if, every time I try to see beyond, another view from the finite reflects me back to this world and this place.
Hundreds of teachers ask me to see that life is in being, not doing. They encourage me to see this moment—as I allow life to be lived through me and, to the extent I can, give up my ego—as filled with grace. It is in not knowing that I even glimpse what might be beyond the finite. The Buddha would have called this Beginner’s Mind. True knowledge is not found by thinking, I am instructed. But how do I approach their thinking, if it is about the non-belief in thoughts?  Is it permissible to use thoughts to get beyond thought? All truly is paradox. Yet somehow I feel that beyond the paradox…beyond the thinking…beyond the paradigms is the Infinite.
If the wisdom of the ages is to let go of all, to stop trying and simply be, then the ultimate paradox, the meta-paradigm if you will, is that it has taken so many words, concepts and paradigms for me to see that the Infinite is only available when I let go of all that led me to this moment.
Feb 132010
 
Once again, my ego is doing battle with the world and the skirmishes leave me confused and sad. I am, unfortunately, not yet enlightened, so my ego still cries out to discover its place…its value. As I move through life, my ego remains fascinated by the way others witness me in the world. As it sees me reflected in others, it often seems as if the mirror is cracked and the reflection distorted and incomplete.
A Chamber member caught me one morning not long ago and said, “You’re too deep…too philosophical. Just tell people what to do!” I stood in the door of his shop with emotions dueling for control of the future into which I was about to wander. I don’t take criticism well. From somewhere in my past, even helpful suggestions feel like a critique of who I am. A little voice shows up that seems to scream, “I told you you were doing your life incorrectly!”
Am I doing my life incorrectly? There is an inner voice that wonders if it is possible to do life wrong. All we can do is be in the world…and notice. Even if what I do hurts another, life offers ways to turn the wound into a moment of reconciliation, redemption and healing.
As I reflected on the suggestion I am too philosophical, I wondered if the things I say…the things I commit to writing…are too abstract for others to turn into action. Is it possible I am in the world invisible to many because what I have to say has no impact? Do the ideological boulders I heave into the pond slip through the surface without so much as a ripple?
How is it I decide who I am in the world? How much should I listen to others? When do their exhortations have value, and when are they simply demanding I become who they want me to be…not who I am?
When I can fight off the voice of insecurity—listen instead to that voice that loves me—I can hear what is true. If I listen carefully to my heart, I can avoid being swayed by the insecurities of others that want me to be something other because who I am scares, intimidates them, or simply confuses them.
When we listen with love for self, the community names our gifts. Too often we take our gifts for granted since they seem easy, obvious and readily available to everyone. It is only by seeing who we are reflected in others that we come to know who we truly are in this world. There is a time to listen to those who love us and care about us when they say “This I see in you.” Then we simply need to accept it with love and humility.
So as I reflect on the “critique” I received that morning a few weeks ago, I choose to listen to the voice that honors my ability to see the depth of the world. I choose to be grateful for those moments when I can ask others to see in a very different way and ask “Is it possible the world really is that way?” They may not know how to turn that new thinking into concrete action in the very next moment, but when people begin to think differently, it is simply impossible to continue to act from the old paradigm.
I am thankful for the moments I have been granted to think about who I am in the world, and yes…to sooth my fragile ego. I am in a search, in my own simple way, for the meaning of life…or at least the meaning of my life. If I give up the deep search for meaning, it feels, as Dee Hock once said, like something in me will die.