Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
These approaches have each produced extensive descriptions of the nature and structure of existence through use of the mind. Contemplative practice does so by turning the mind inward, scientific method largely by exploring outward.
It has been my experience that these approaches are not only complementary, but in fact lead to the same descriptions of reality. Whether we discuss Buddhist metaphysics or Hindu or Jewish mysticisms (the systems of metaphysical thought with which I’m to some extent familiar), the science arrives at the same insights as contemplative practice.
For Buddhism, these insights include the interrelated truths of impermanence, interdependence, emptiness of inherent existence and karmic law (i.e. that all effects arise from prior causes and these effects then become the causes for future effects).
For me, the powerful aspect of my experience has been that the conceptual insights of contemporary science have literally become koans, thereby leading me increasingly to experience the concepts rather than simply know them.
It is this shift from knowledge to experience that I hope to share with you over the course of Winter Ango 2010, culminating in visits to the Museum of Natural History during Urban Sesshin, in March.
While advance preparation for Urban Sesshin is certainly not necessary, I wanted to offer readings, viewings and exercises for those who wish to begin working now. These recommendations represent opportunities that I’ve stumbled upon for painlessly learning what contemporary science says about the nature of reality – how it is organized and how it functions – so that we can hold those facts within our Practice Minds and, hopefully, broaden our experience of the world and our understanding of the nature of the Self.
If any of you have further suggestions from your own experiences, by all means please recommend them as comments to these blog entries below and I’ll add them to the entries themselves.
And if you have interesting questions or insights from swimming in this knowledge by all means add your comments and perhaps a community-wide conversation will emerge, too!
“From the Bottom Up” by me, a short piece for a general audience published in Tricycle, 2006.
These two books are easy to find and order on line and are both quite clearly written - very good for lay people with only basic understandings of science:
“Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos” by Richard Lewin
“Emergence” by Stephen Johnson
"Cell doctrine: Now you see it, now you don't" also by me:
"Modern biology and medicine see the cell as the fundamental building block of living organisms, but this concept breaks down at different perspectives and scales." This is piece is very short, one page.
On "Post-Modern Biology", also by me.
“Planet Earth” from the BBC (Particularly Disc 4, "Ocean Deep" to see the "bait ball" moments - incredible examples of self organization)
"How the Earth Was Made" from the History Channel
“The Ascent of Man” from the BBC (particularly episode 1, origin of life and of our oxygen rich atmosphere with the emergence of the stromatolites - very cool)
The Inner Life of the Cell (animation - amazing)
1. Stand at the seashore and listen to the waves. Consider that these waves were crashing on the beach, making these sounds, when humans first organized into civilizations 10,000 years ago, when humans first began to hunt and gather on the plains of
2. At sunset look toward where the sun has just set, there over the horizon and then consider how the ground upon which you stand is this spherical planet Earth which circles the sun. Think about the sun over there and the Earth over here and picture the solar system in your mind.
Look up: Do you see the moon? Picture the sun over there, the Earth here, circling the sun, the moon there, circling the Earth. During the next few months, if you're facing south look up and find the brightest "star" you can see - it will have a faint orange tinge. That's no star. That's Mars.
Experience standing in the solar system, not as a concept of balls and circles in a picture of your mind's eye, but right here, right now. Don’t conceptualize the solar system, experience the solar system.
To get updated information about what's in the sky each week, go here: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ataglance/
3. Stand at a busy intersection of
And just as all those people have died while the city continues, all the people you see today, on this corner, including yourself, will also die, one by one, completely disappearing by 120 years from now.
Yet the city will remain and those New Yorkers of the future will feel themselves to be as much “the City” as you feel yourself to be now. What is the city? What are you as part of the city? Contemplate the passing of time beyond the scale of your own life.
4. Look at the moon. If you could have stood on the Earth 4 billion years ago after a planetoid hit the Earth, throwing rock and dust into orbit, you would have seen a ring, like those of Saturn. If you could have stood there watching it as millions and millions of years pass, you would have seen them gradually pulling together into a rocky cluster that, bit by bit, would have coalesced into our perfectly spherical moon.
Stand there and think about how the moon as a ring could have been experienced, billions of years ago, as directly and concretely as you experience that sphere today. Consider the dynamic nature of the universe and how coddled and protected we’ve been in our tiny window of a few hundred thousand years of humanoid existence.
More details about formation of the moon here: http://www.psi.edu/projects/moon/moon.html
5. Watch a docudrama (I enjoyed “John Adams”, for example, in this way) and consider how the people of past generations experienced themselves as though they were the leading edge of the long story of history that preceded them, filled with uncertainty about what would come, experiencing the world as unfolding “then and there” as you experience it unfolding right here and now.
We now consider them “history”, the middle of a story that has led to you. Consider how someone 100 years from now, viewing a film of you, will think of you as “the middle” of her or his own stories. What is it like being the middle of someone else’s story, rather than the unfolding, leading edge of your own?