Homage to The Great Waveform


While enjoying my daily five-mile walk I found myself attending to each foot coming into contact with the ground, and reflecting on the nature of densely-packed space, as Buddhists refer to matter. That ancient Buddhists determined that solid-appearing matter is mostly space, albeit densely-packed, is itself rather remarkable; western science has only come to that conclusion rather recently.

Of course, there are degrees of densely-packed space, ranging from highly dense, like black holes, to lightly dense, like earth’s atmosphere; compared to outer space, of course, even earth’s atmosphere is quite dense. People, comprised of living cells mostly made of water, some minerals, proteins and other bits of stuff, are also densely-packed space, and configured in such a way that allows self-consciousness and imagination to emerge. Not all densely-packed space exhibits such emergent characteristics.

Take a piece of iron, for example. If a piece of iron could talk, what would it say? Perhaps, like the character Groot in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, who can say one phrase only, a piece of iron would say “I am Iron.” As a particular form of densely-packed space, a piece of iron is highly stable, and remains a piece of iron for a relatively long time, but not forever; even iron rusts, decays and eventually disintegrates.

Whether densely- or lightly-packed, space itself is composed of waveforms, both stable and unstable. These waveforms appear to us variously. Going back to the example of iron, what we call the atoms of iron are themselves composed of still smaller bits, and at the level of subatomic particles assume the appearance and character of waves. These waves interact, resonate, and interfere with each other in a particular and stable way, such that a piece of iron, in human terms, remains a piece of iron for a very long time.

Thus the relative stability or instability of waveforms provide the framework for all that we, as semi-stable, self-conscious waveform patterns ourselves, can observe. With these powers of observation, we make distinctions and accordingly name the various types of things we see, hear and feel. That notwithstanding, the scientific consensus is that only 5% of the universe is comprised of waveforms we can detect; the other 95% of the universe is invisible to us, mysterious and unknown.

Gravity has only recently been added to our list of observable waveforms. Prior to this past decade, the force of gravity has been solely identified with mass and its distorting effects on spacetime. With the detection of gravity waves, the forces at play in the observable cosmos reinforce our appreciation that all and everything is the manifestation of an original Great Waveform from which all other waveforms, galactic to subatomic and all else in between, have been propagated.

We appear to emerge like waves in the water of the ocean, to which we also appear to return. Yet the waves cannot be separated from the water. In actuality, there is no emerging and returning at all; such thoughts are pure confusion. We cannot return to that from which we never left, except in our imagination. The Great Waveform is a unifying force that removes all distinctions and suffering.

Thus I pay homage to The Great Waveform in all its manifestations. May all beings be well. Om Mani Padme Hum.

Change fascinates us


Our fixation with moving screen images is perhaps the most obvious example of our fascination with change, but whether fast or slow, change unfailingly captures our attention. Change is so constant and pervasive that it is at times overwhelming, but change itself is really the only constant in our lives. We’re it not for our profoundly powerful powers of denial and delusion, inhibition and suppression, the reality’s constantly changing bombardment of our psyches would render us insane.

The universe and time itself are unfolding around and through each of us, each moment the irrevocable transition of a constantly changing present we call “now.” We can join with the moment of “now,” but cannot halt it; nor can we slow it down; our only option is to make choices.  “Now” is a moving target; the choices we make are always either in response to a change we have experienced or in anticipation of change we expect.

The ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, is also called The Book of Changes, and offers 64 hexagrams representing basic types of situations and choices we commonly face. By throwing coins or yarrow stalks and recording patterns, we place ourselves in sync with the moments of time, and the result produces an oracle of contemplation.

Some people consult the I Ching in pursuit of an answer, looking for advice on how to solve a problem or dilemma; a description of a state of mind or condition is described, and a possible way of working with it suggested. The images and metaphors of the I Ching are often obscure, and the relationship between the two trigrams that combine to create each hexagram often point to the duality of mind. Commonly, however, the oracle points to a shift to one or another hexagram for consultation through what are called “moving lines.” In this way, change itself is introduced into the process, forcing us to drop attachments and to understand our role in the universe as observer, not simply participant.

Painted scrolls from China’s classical period always feature magnificent natural scenes of mountains, clouds, forests, and rivers; the people in such paintings are always pictured as very small and almost insignificant. Such treatment indicates a philosophical view about the nature of being: that humanity is simply a tiny part of something much larger, much grander. Accordingly, the descriptive images in the I Ching are often of mountains, rivers, clouds and natural forces such as thunder. It is the antithesis of our western view of the ascendancy and importance of the individual, as amply illustrated in artist Andy Warhol’s garish, larger-than-life portraits of Hollywood celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor.

By linking human experience and choice to metaphors of nature, the I Ching reminds us of our connection to the greater natural world and seeks to unify the experience of being rather than highlight separateness. It wisely points to the patterns of nature, what emerges and changes, to suggest how we might get out of our own way. Our emotional penchant to try to stop time and make “now” last forever distracts us from the truth of change.

Thus, the I Ching is not a magic 8-ball; it does not make infallible predictions or tell the future. Rather, it is a device, a methodology intended to divert us away from preoccupations of self-absorption and deliver us gently into the arms of uncertainty.

Knock-Knock


Sense of “self” is just one among a constellation of mental states, and the experience of “I” varies considerably. “I” is described by some neurologists as a stable form of hallucination, which is to say, a subjective experience of being “in here” that seems to feel separate from things and people “out there.” The hallucination is enhanced by cultural artifacts — language, ideas and concepts — that reinforce belief in an external, objectified world, combined with a powerful inclination to make distinctions and divide the world into dichotomies.

Dichotomies of “I”/”other,” “good”/”bad,” “true”/”false,” and so forth all contribute to how we imagine the nature of external reality. Moreover, such mental concepts are linguistic; language itself forms the matrix out of which we construct conceptions of ourselves. This self-definition is confined within the limits of the language from which it arises.

Neurologically, our brains contain tens of billions of cells, and the connections between them are in the range of 1022, or more connections than there are known stars in the universe. How consciousness develops remains a mystery; consciousness may be built into the fabric of the universe itself, and considering entanglement observed in quantum mechanics, could even be a non-local phenomenon. What we imagine as “I” could be Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance”: the universe examining itself.

We classify the maintenance of “I” as normal, or what we call sanity, and designate other mental states as abnormal, or insane. These other states are commonly manifestations of hyper- and hypo-arousal: ecstasy at the pole of hyper-arousal and equanimity at the opposite pole of hypo-arousal. We actively seek out these “abnormal” states; artistic creation, religious ritual and the use of psychoactive substances all indicate the strong attraction such mental states have for us, from the extremes of religious ecstasy and psychedelics to meditation and the calm of sedatives. The maintenance of “I” can be viewed as a stable position of psychic  “freedom” located midpoint within the broad spectrum of hyper- and hypo-arousal.

The “freedom” of the experience of “I” is so-called due to its seeming isolation from the intrusion of the underlying substrata of brain activity, what we call the unconscious. While experiencing “I” we are generally freer from awareness of the cascading flood of feelings, associations, thoughts and imaginings continuously emanating from our unconscious; this freedom is akin to a form of amnesia, similar to that we experience after awakening from dreams then forgotten. Stimulants, sedatives and peak experiences alter brain chemistry enough to tip us from the stable “freedom-of-I” into the turbulent, streaming tide of the unconscious. It feels exciting, even dangerous, to loosen our attachment to “I,” yet it is precisely the experience through which we often dissolve the hallucination of separation and make contact with the primordial unity that spiritual teachers, great artists, physicists and cosmologists report.

Recent discoveries in neurology indicate that while awake, our brains function in a state of “criticality,” balanced between chaos and order. Criticality is observed in other physical structures, where reaching a “tipping point” produces new structures of order out of chaos, just as a single snowflake triggers the chaos of an avalanche that ultimately results in a newly stable arrangement. Accordingly, the “I” we imagine manifests as a stable position of order amid the actively chaotic avalanche of the unconscious.

So, knock-knock. And, who’s there?

Your real-life 3D movie


You’re the director, the camera operator and play the lead. You’re the scriptwriter, too, and the costume designer, art director, gopher, finance director and critic. Everything about your movie is under your control, except the stuff that isn’t, which actually is quite a lot.

What’s not in your control is other people’s movies, not directly, anyway. Your movie, the plot you imagine and the words you script, might have great influence on others and the content of their movies, however. Thus advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry, and great treasuries are expended in the pursuit of favorable public opinion. Molding public opinion, another specialty of real-life 3D movies, is itself a specialty dealing almost entirely with manipulation of emotions and the generation of “facts.”

But the plot thickens; even though you are the absolute star of your movie, everyone else is also the absolute star of their own movie, in which you may or may not have any role at all, even a silent walk-in.

So, here we are, a planet of 7-billion-plus real-life 3D movies, each with its own scriptwriter enabled to modify each movie’s plot line instantaneously. And real-life 3D movies don’t just come with pictures and soundtracks, but have the added features of sensory capabilities such as touch, smell, taste and emotions. The latter capability, emotion, runs along with the movie, just like a soundtrack. We not only see and hear and speak lines in our movies, but we also feel and are affected by the content of our movies and the effects of the contents of the movies of others.

Considerable effort has been expended to convince billions of people that one particular script is more favorable than another. Some of these scripts rely on the tragic content of many real-life 3D movies with plot lines that generate terrible pain and suffering, all in order to promote the validity and usefulness of a meta-script. A meta-script typically explains why individual real-life 3D movie scripts look and sound the way they do, and offer “facts” to counteract painful scripts. Such meta-scripts often contain references to the afterlife such as heaven and hell. Over time, and to this day, vast armies scour countrysides to enforce meta-scripts at the point of a deadly weapon.

Given that the props and language of our movies have all been provided by others who had movies, one might say each real-life 3D movie is embedded within a nearly infinite number of meta-scripts. Thus, for example, the stainless steel forks we use in our movies were created by others as props in their movies. The whole idea of stainless steel forks is itself something invented in someone’s movie, a movie of the past so old and now unacknowledged that it’s been forgotten.

Perhaps we are Homo Scriptus, psychologically complex, self-conscious beings whose greatest evolutionary success is writing scripts. We call our scripts by many names, but they all begin with “my,” such as “my name, my nationality, my religion, my favorite hamburger,” and so forth. Our internal movie critics quickly compile a list of preferences about all and everything, which alters the trajectory of our running script, and keeps our scriptwriters, as they say, crazy busy.

There’s a lot of competition in the movie business, but don’t worry, you’ve got top billing, baby.

The animate and the inanimate

Aion and Genius in Greek


As living beings we naturally gravitate to other animate things, like plants and pets that become companions in our homes and lives. The feelings we have for inanimate objects can become strong as well; possessions gain value–sentimental, economic, historic–and we protect and ensure their safety. It appears that human beings prize existence itself in all its forms, animate and inanimate, which is not surprising since we ourselves are comprised of and dependent upon varied ingredients, organic and inorganic.

Take iron, for example. The Eiffel Tower is built of iron, an inorganic mineral generally derived from ore but also found in meteorites. We use iron in the manufacture of steel, and iron plays a featured role in human history. Moreover, our bodies require iron, which is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, a component of human blood that transports oxygen to all the living cells in our bodies. And iron is not the only mineral we need; many other minerals are essential to human health. Calcium, magnesium, chromium, and a wide range of other minerals play critical roles in metabolism, energy production, bone growth, and the healthy functioning of the body.

Another of the inanimate elements we absolutely need is oxygen. And of course, water, the very stuff of life itself, is nothing more than hydrogen and oxygen. When you get right down to it, living organisms are essentially comprised of non-living matter. At our deepest, sub-atomic level, we are comprised of the same components as everything else: various “flavors” of quarks, gluons, electrons and the atoms of which they are part. Those atoms, look very much like other atoms, whether from animate, living things or things we consider to be inanimate, not-living. This raises the question, what exactly is life?

How inanimate, non-living matter coalesces into animate, living organisms remains a mystery. Whether it is a function of chemical complexity, unique emergent conditions or the expression of an underlying universal force of consciousness is unknown. The ancient Greeks believed human life was a combination of two components: a life force, which they called “aion,” and the inspiration of a divine entity they called “genius.” One’s genius entered the animated living body, took up residence, provided willful inspiration and upon death would depart. This conception of “genius” somewhat parallels the contemporary notion of “soul”, a divine or sacred entity within each of us.

Somewhere along the way, modern human beings lost touch with sacredness. We began to treat the world of inanimate objects as if it were garbage rather than the foundation of life itself, to mistreat the soul and the body of the world, to degrade, poison and despoil instead of to value, nourish and treasure. We callously designated our living world “natural resources,” as if its purpose was purely mercantile, available simply for material pleasure and profit. Today, we are facing the results of our foolish stupidity as the earth adjusts to our selfishness with non-linear feedback loops rapidly altering climate and ecological balance.

The earth will abide, as it has for billions of years, but as naturalist Sir David Attenborough recently noted, human society may not last terribly long, which is pitiable, for we are capable of great realizations, fine accomplishments, beauty, compassion and creativity. To have squandered our genius and the divine spark of life for the sake of mere money is pathetic.

Dimples in Space-Time

The distortion of space time shown in two dimensions


Now that the election is over, we can attend to other matters of gravity. Literally.

Gravity is so ever-present in our lives we rarely think about it, except perhaps, when we slip and fall. The effects of gravity are well understood, beginnings with Newton’s apple and now extending to our observation of gravity waves propagating across space and time. Despite such observations, however, gravity itself remains largely a mystery.

What is known is that every object in the universe has gravity, at least those objects large enough to actually be observed, such as galaxies, stars, planets and the like. The tiniest of “objects” may not actually be objects at all, merely vibrating fields or “strings” of energy of no solidity whatsoever–harmonic chimes of being. Reconciling the force of gravity–one of the four fundamental forces governing matter–with what happens at the very smallest, quantum level of existence continues to elude us. Physicist Steven Hawking sought to establish a Grand Unified Theory precisely to provide that reconciliation, but it eluded even his remarkable genius.

Setting aside that lofty pursuit, understanding the gravity we know–the force which holds us to the ground and defies attempts to float above it–itself provides rather remarkable imaginings. Many people misunderstand; gravity is not magnetic, though it is convenient to think of it in that fashion. The force of gravity is interpenetrating, non-obstructed and pervades all of space time, acting on every object in the universe at varying degrees based upon mass and distance. Gravity, as Einstein taught, is the space-time distortion caused by the mass of an object: dimples in space-time.

Dimples are easy to visualize; we’ve all known people whose dimples appear when they smile. Dimples can be diagrammed topologically as a type of distortion in a two-dimensional surface. If we imagine space of two dimensions as a flat rubber surface upon which we place a heavy round object, the form of a puckered dimple is easy to visualize. This get’s harder when we imagine space in three dimensions.

A heavy round object placed in three dimensional space also creates a dimple, but that dimple does not look the same as one on a flat cheek. A three dimensional dimple is a point puckered on all sides, which for a round object means all the surrounding space. Just as lighter objects placed on the rubber sheet on which our heavy round ball sits will fall towards that round ball due to the dimple it creates in two dimensional space, so too will objects fall towards the heavy round ball in three dimensional space. This is the gravity we know; the response of objects in the distortion of space-time created by the mass of large objects.

Space-time is so-called because gravity not only distorts space, but also time. This was at the heart of Einstein’s discoveries, and transformed the way we think about time. The greater the mass of an object, the greater the distortion of space-time. Really big dimples, like super-massive black holes, provide the gravitational glue which holds galaxies together. Yet here’s a paradox; the gravity of black holes is so great that the matter comprising a black hole is itself crushed into a infinitely small, massive dense point called a singularity–the ultimate dimple. The nature of matter, time and space within a black hole, at present, is unknown and all but unimaginable.

Three-brained beings

G.I. Gurdjieff


The mystic teacher G.I. Gurdjieff wrote of “three-brained beings” and their difficulties. Though his teachings were given during the early part of the 20th Century, the wisdom tradition in which he was steeped – Sufism and Middle Eastern mystic teachings – long taught the nature of consciousness and developed tools to examine and transform it. Accordingly, the idea of three-brained beings is not hare-brained.

Contemporary neuroscientists like Iain McGilchrist, author of “The Master and His Emissary” (2009), have identified differences in the ways the two hemispheres of the brain work. Speaking broadly, the right hemisphere can be characterized as the Mind of Unity, and the left hemisphere as the Mind of Separation. The Mind of Unity eliminates distinctions and seeks relationship, and the Mind of Separation makes distinctions and seeks autonomy; they  comprise, paradoxically, an inseparable and elemental role in human experience. These two “brains”, the “connecting” right and “describing” left, operate simultaneously, in concert and in opposition, enlarging and also inhibiting each other. The hemispheres are right and left material manifestations of physical being, but not consciousness-of-self. Consciousness-of-self is the third brain, taught Gurdjieff, and its nature is metaphysical.

The third brain is what differentiates us from all other animals, as far as neuroscientists can tell, and according to Gurdjieff (not to mention others) is the source of all our suffering. Within the third brain of consciousness-of-self we construct a labyrinth of time and space and imaginatively place ourselves within it. This activity would be complicated enough if only one conscious being existed, but we three-brained-beings are now nearly 7-billion strong and our three-brained-being self-aware imaginations are overlapping constantly.

The fear of death, Gurdjieff speculated, was the problem. Having evolved enough to gain consciousness-of-self, the conception of non-self was not far behind. The only way of proceeding was for the third brain to convince the other two brains to forget about death. To do that, the third brain invented a cosmology of existence and by personifying death and elaborating the structure of an afterlife, lulled the two brains into an hypnotic trance. Mircea Eliade documents the global variations of third-brain archetypes of death in his book “Patterns of Comparative Religion” (1958). We’re talking a global phenomenon here, folks.

In “All and Everything” (1930), Gurdjieff weaves a mind-numbing 1,600-page tale about how forgetfulness of death has led three-brained-beings to ignorance and the brink of self-annihilation. Our crystallized defense mechanism of denial, which he dubs the “Organ Kundabuffer” (that which blocks the Kundalini energy of life) has been too effective and the pressure of its suppression results in spontaneous eruptions of violence, both psychic and physical. Three-brained-beings slaughter each other in ritualistic acts of human sacrifice. Episodes of greed and fear of loss replace acceptance and understanding of our true situation. Entertainment and distraction keep our eyes off the ball. We suffer greatly and bring great suffering to others, the planet and its living things.

The mystical traditions are about parting the veil, our defenses against awareness of death that obscure the truth. The Greeks called it “Apokalypsis,” the root of our word “Apocalypse,” because seeing the truth of mind and consciousness-of-self is apocalyptic and requires the evolution of three-brained-beings into four-brained-beings. This is what Gurdjieff taught.