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18 Feb

The Angel and the Uncarved Block

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / February 18, 2010 / 2 Comments

 

Michelangelo's angel

 

As February speeds by, I’m a few weeks into teaching my first full-length class: Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process at Otis College of Art and Design. I’m blessed with a tight group of intelligent, engaged students, so I’m having a great time. And interweaving art and creativity into my poetic interconnections between spirituality and science is revealing itself to be an inspiring exercise.

Researching material for our first session, I found a famous quote by Michelangelo that, somehow, I’d never heard before. Explaining one of his most famous sculptures, the artist said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

My mind fairly quickly derailed. I thought immediately about p’u—the Taoist ideal of the uncarved block.

In Chinese philosophy, our most natural state of being is simple and undefined. Before experiences and judgments introduce distinctions such as good/bad, right/wrong, and even me/you into our thinking, we all enter the world as blank canvases. We have no fixed mental forms and thus infinite potential for becoming. This state of being is highly desirable, as it mimics the tao—the sacred Way of the universe. So in Taoism, p’u is the goal of life.

About.com describes this ideal beautifully as "perception without prejudice".

Physics describes a similar condition, calling it symmetry. An oft-cited example of this is a pencil balanced on its tip. For the briefest of instants, the pencil has no preferred direction for falling. Its possibilities are equal, therefore symmetrical. But as soon as the pencil tips one way or the other its symmetry is broken. Infinite potential yields one actualized outcome. It’s both a triumph and a tragedy.

Physicists believe that right after the Big Bang our earliest universe was highly symmetrical: matter, light, and the fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.) were indistinguishable. Only with time did differentiation enter our universe, as the energy from its explosive birth calmed and cooled and light clarified from dust, matter decoupled from force.

Our universe, too, began as a blank canvas.

Michelangelo made a miracle: he actualized the potential in the marble, breaking its symmetry in an act of loving creation. A Western mystic might say he imitated God. I believe creative artists channel divinity every time they sit to work. I’m teaching this idea in class. In doing so, though, I realize I’m betraying some of my source material. Eastern spiritual traditions believe differentiated creation is illusory and a source of suffering, advocating a return to a state of unrealized potential so pure it precludes rebirth into the world.

And so an interesting question presents itself: Is God the slab of marble or the angel Michelangelo revealed inside? Is divinity the Taoist uncarved block or the forms we recognize as ourselves? Is our ideal condition perfectly symmetrical or the broken symmetry necessary for creation?

Comments welcome.

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29 Jan

Reminder: Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process

In News by poeticinterconnections / January 29, 2010 / 3 Comments

 

Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process

 

A reminder… My first full-length course exploring spirituality/science begins tomorrow! Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process will be presented by the Continuing Education program at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA, and enrollment is still open to the public.

Here’s a course description:

Great ideas inspire enduring art. This course explores the grand themes shared by spiritual philosophy and cutting-edge science, using them as source material for artistic creativity. Examining energy, duality, infinity, chaos, evolution, and actualization, students write reflective journals each week about how these and other spiritual and scientific themes can be applied to their creative process, inspiring resonant artwork in any medium. Special presentations by artist Marcie Kaufman highlight the work of visual artists inspired by both spirituality and science, and a hands-on workshop mid-course guides students in enacting and illustrating some of the grand themes discussed in class.

The course runs 10 weeks, Saturday mornings, starting tomorrow, and will include and expand upon all your favorite poetic interconnections between spirituality and science. And Marcie Kaufman, my co-conspirator for the term, is brilliant and engaging, and her mid-course workshop is sure to be deep, enlightening fun.

Here’s a link to enroll in the class:

http://www.otis.edu/ce,course.php?crs=539&sem=25

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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02 Jan

A Superfluid New Year, Reprise

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / January 2, 2010 / 4 Comments

Last New Year’s Day I wrote a heartfelt blog post exploring a poetic interconnection among Taoism, physics, and the turning of the year. Today I feel inspired to reprise that essay, slightly revised, for those of you who’ve joined me in 2009… This one’s for you!

I love Chinese philosophy—its naturalness, its easy wisdom.

I’m in good company: Taoism may be the most popularized religious mysticism in the world. Books about any variety of topics have the phrase “The Tao of…” in their titles. A quick search at Amazon yields The Tao of Healing, The Tao of Eating, The Tao of Photography, and even The Tao of Network Security Monitoring! And in contemporary America, the Chinese words yin and yang have become cultural fall-back terms for the idea of interdependent opposites. They’re part of the pop lexicon.

A key Taoist concept that’s less widely known is wu wei. This Chinese term is perhaps best translated as “effortless doing”. The paradoxical phrase describes an orientation of self-surrender to the tao—the all-encompassing Way of the natural universe. Essentially, wu wei is pure acceptance of the process of life and the sacred rightness of every moment. It’s about moving in the world by flowing with it.

Religious scholar Huston Smith, in his seminal book The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, summarizes the idea this way:

Action in the mode of wu wei is action in which friction—in interpersonal relationships, in intra-psychic conflict, and in relation to nature—is reduced to a minimum.

In physics, a superfluid is a phase of matter in which viscosity is zero. Viscosity is a term that describes a liquid’s resistance to flow, or disturbance by other substances. A thin liquid like water has low viscosity: it flows quick and easy and other substances move through it without much bother, their speed only slightly effected. A thick liquid like honey has high viscosity: it flows slow and sluggish and other substances struggle to move through it, becoming seriously held up as they try.

Viscosity, then, is a measure of a liquid’s friction.

In a superfluid, there’s basically no friction at all. This means a superfluid flows infinitely smooth, and things move within it resistance-free. So anything in motion inside a superfluid stays in motion, theoretically, forever. With no friction to slow or stop it, a process inside a superfluid unfolds unendingly!

A superfluid strikes me as an interesting analogy for the tao. And the quality of superfluidity is such a cool metaphor for wu wei.

So… Today commences a new calendar year: it’s 2010! This blog post is a benediction: May we all have a superfluid new year, characterized by the utmost wu wei—with friction within and among us reduced to a minimum, our lives flowing infinitely smooth, and our happinesses unending.

Thank you for your readership! Love and blessings to you.

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13 Dec

God Is a Deep Fryer, and Happy Holidays!

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / December 13, 2009 / 4 Comments

This December marks my second holiday season writing Poetic Interconnections: Exploring Spirituality and Science. Looking back over 2009, it’s very clearly been a year of bounty and blossoming for me. Many of you reading this blog post were attendees at my first lectures and workshops. I met others of you during my presentation at the Science and Nonduality Conference in San Rafael, CA. And some of you discovered this blog solely over the internet, querying Google with unlikely combinations of religion/science terms and finding me! All year, I’ve been honored and touched by your thoughtful participation and enthusiastic support. Thank you!

Though I study and celebrate all world religions, my own background is Jewish. So as I sit to write a holiday-themed blog post, I have Chanukah on my mind… Like many Jews, one of my primary associations with the occasion is food. For me, Chanukah isn’t so much a festival of lights as of latkes—the fried potato pancakes customary to the holiday meal. Accordingly, I offer you this quick, silly poetic interconnection between spirituality and science, in honor of Chanukah:

Many of us love latkes, but few of us realize their spiritual implications. The process of frying can be a metaphor for redemption. When we heat oil, its molecules accelerate, raising its vibrational energy. While frying, excess water and impurities from our latkes purge into the oil. The resulting cake is crisp and clean.

Imagine the heated oil as God, and a latke as you. Surrender yourself to frying, immersing yourself in a higher vibrational energy, and feel your tears and vices be absorbed and absolved. You’ll emerge from the pan purified.

 

latke

 

Happy Holidays! Peace and blessings to you.

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23 Nov

Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process

In News by poeticinterconnections / November 23, 2009 / 4 Comments

 

Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process

 

I’m thrilled to share with you that starting in January 2010, I’ll be teaching a course in Los Angeles, CA called Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process. The course will be presented by the Continuing Education program at Otis College of Art and Design, and enrollment is open to the public!

Here’s a description of the course:

Great ideas inspire enduring art. This course explores the grand themes shared by spiritual philosophy and cutting-edge science, using them as source material for artistic creativity. Examining energy, duality, infinity, chaos, evolution, and actualization, students write reflective journals each week about how these and other spiritual and scientific themes can be applied to their creative process, inspiring resonant artwork in any medium. Special presentations by artist Marcie Kaufman highlight the work of visual artists inspired by both spirituality and science, and a hands-on workshop mid-course guides students in enacting and illustrating some of the grand themes discussed in class.

The course runs 10 weeks, Saturday mornings, and will include and expand upon all your favorite poetic interconnections between spirituality and science. And Marcie Kaufman, my co-conspirator for the term, is brilliant and engaging, and her mid-course workshop is sure to be deep, enlightening fun.

Here’s a link to enroll in the class:

http://www.otis.edu/ce,course.php?crs=539&sem=25

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Add a comment »

05 Nov

Death & Sex

In News by poeticinterconnections / November 5, 2009 / 0 Comments

 

Death & Sex

 

Back in July I was asked to contribute a review blurb to an upcoming book called Death & Sex. The request came from Dorion Sagan, one of the book’s authors—an amazing writer and a friend of this blog. I immediately said yes. I was sent an advance copy of the text and spent the next few evenings unable to put it down, rapt.

The book is a hybrid: two essays by different authors bound into a single work. Tyler Volk’s Death examines how our passing feeds the greater cycle of life, our bodies breaking down into food and energy for other animals and plants. Our greatest personal fear is thus recast as an ecological act of self-sacrificial love. It’s a deeply spiritual view of dying.

Dorion Sagan’s Sex suggests that our procreating has cosmic implications. We reproduce to continue life. And viewed from the perspective of thermodynamics, life on Earth actually exists to help spread the concentrated energy of our sun into surrounding space. Nature likes its energies evenly distributed, and we ease an inequity: we take in localized sunlight and disperse it into space as heat.

Simply by living we’re doing God’s work, spreading the good solar news.

Death & Sex is out now, and my review blurb is printed inside. This blog post is to thank Dorion Sagan and Chelsea Green Publishing for the honor and pleasure, and to turn you on to a fine, fascinating read.

If you pick it up, let me know… Comments always welcome.

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26 Oct

Science and Nonduality Conference 2009

In News by poeticinterconnections / October 26, 2009 / 14 Comments


Science and Nonduality Conference 2009


This weekend I drove up to San Rafael, CA to present my research, “Religion, Science, and Education: A Curriculum in Perennial Philosophy” at the first ever Science and Nonduality Conference. I was thrilled to join colleagues and confederates from all over the world in sharing our work, and immersing ourselves in spiritual and scientific philosophy. I had a wonderful experience.

Some fellow attendees were gracious enough to snap a couple photographs… All of them are clickable, if you’d like to see them bigger. First is a close-up of my poster presentation:

Poetic Interconnections: Exploring Spirituality and Science at the 2009 Science and Nonduality Conference


Next is a photo of me just before my presentation began:

Adam Daniel Stulberg at the 2009 Science and Nonduality Conference


And last is a pic of me with Matt Silverstein, a friend and colleague from Antioch University Los Angeles. Matt referred me to the conference, and I can’t thank him enough.

Adam Daniel Stulberg and Matt Silverstein at the 2009 Science and Nonduality Conference


I’d also like to thank Aschleigh Jensen-Eldridge for connecting me with Matt, and for her ongoing friendship and coolness; Abi Behar-Montefiore for her generous assistance; and all the people I met at the conference who’ve become new subscribers to this blog… Welcome!

More essays exploring poetic interconnections between spirituality and science are coming soon…

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15 Oct

Good, Evil, and Evolution

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 15, 2009 / 18 Comments

Sunday I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at an “Artist Beit Midrash” presented by Jewish Artists Initiative in Los Angeles, CA. Traditionally, a Beit Midrash is a study group in which weekly Torah readings are mined for deeper meanings. This group was unique in that it centered on a general theme instead of a chapter of scripture. That theme was the Jewish doctrine of Yetzer HaTov and Yetzer HaRa—the good and evil inclinations in the human soul.

Are human beings fundamentally good or essentially evil? Jewish philosophy proposes we’re both, observing that we seem to possess equal potential for doing right and wrong. In classical Judaism, the Yetzer HaTov is analogous to an angel on our shoulder reminding us to obey God’s law; the Yetzer HaRa is like the devil on our other shoulder urging us to break it. Our work, classically considered, is to side with our angels.

From a more spiritual perspective, our good inclination can be thought of as a tendency toward altruism: prioritizing our community, environment, and sense of God over our immediate self-interest. Our evil inclination can be thought of as a tendency toward greed: pursuing self-gratification even at the expense of the people, ecosystems, and divine energies that surround and support us.

Spiritually speaking, our work is to accept both our good and evil inclinations—and to keep them in equilibrium. Judaism asks that we balance the self-concern necessary to honor our God-given individuality with the social, environmental, and spiritual conscience needed to love and sustain the world.

Nature asks a similar effort of all its creatures.

Evolutionary biology theorizes that those of us best suited to our natural environment survive and reproduce, passing our genes to subsequent generations. If we don’t fit well with our surroundings, we can become better adapted using two approaches: competition and cooperation. Competition requires us to become more powerful than those around us also striving for food, shelter, etc. The predator with the sharpest teeth wins; the prey with the fastest legs also wins. Cooperation requires us to become more sociable with those whom we share a habitat. Here, whoever partners best wins: bee and flower, algae and coral, etc.

 

 

It seems to me that the energy of competition is analogous to Yetzer HaRa and the energy of cooperation to Yetzer HaTov. In nature, either inclination pushed to its extreme can cause a creature to ruin itself, its community, and/or its environment. Only a dynamic balance of self-concern and care of others, rivalry and mutualism, creates an environment in which we can evolve, and keep evolving.

So… Since the 16th century, religion and science have been competing for a vital title: Truth. Many people believe these two ways of interpreting our world can’t ever be harmonized. This blog exists to point out commonality-after-commonality between spirituality and science, begging this question: After centuries of competition, isn’t it time we consider some cooperation?

Your comments welcome.

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13 Sep

Kabbalah and Einstein lecture Sept. 26, 2009

In News by poeticinterconnections / September 13, 2009 / 1 Comment

What do Jewish mysticism and the physics of Albert Einstein have in common?

Kabbalah teaches that sparks of God’s light are hidden deep within us and every other created thing. Einstein’s seminal equation E=mc² says every seemingly solid particle in our universe is actually pure energy. The correspondence is unexpected and intriguing… This lecture by Adam Daniel explores God, soul, and science, inviting students to recognize the infinite creative potential inherent in themselves, and in everything.

Saturday September 26, 2009, 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
The Enlightened Path Center
74-140 El Paseo, Suite 1
Palm Desert, CA 92260
Admission: $20.00

More information is posted at this blog’s Events page.

Hope to see you there!

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25 Aug

Starlight and Sufism

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / August 25, 2009 / 2 Comments

Today’s poetic interconnection between spirituality and science begins with a deceptively simple question: Why is the sky dark at night?

Ask most people this question and their immediate answer will be this: because the sun has gone down. But what about all the other stars in the sky? Rays from our sun are not the only starlight we receive. With countless other stars in space shining at us, seemingly infinite sources of light, why isn’t our sky eternally bright even when the sun is hidden from our side of the planet?

The dilemma is known as Olbers’ Paradox, and it rests upon a centuries-old assumption held by astronomers that our universe is infinite and static. This assumption originated with Judeo-Christian religion, which teaches that at a specific point in history, God created the cosmos exactly as we experience it: endless and unchanging. In such a universe, the light of innumerable fixed stars should saturate empty space, overwhelming all darkness.

While the lyricism of this idea is charming, the reality is less so: a wholly illuminated cosmos would be too bright and hot to sustain life. We could not exist to worship a God that created an endless, unchanging world full of stars.

Fortunately, the assumption that our universe is infinite and static is incorrect. Our most current science now theorizes that our universe was born in a specific and spectacular Big Bang and has been expanding ever since. The constant stretching out of space means that distances between stars are always growing. Aeons after our origins, enough stars are now sufficiently old and far from one another that their total light cannot overwhelm the cosmos.

Becoming overwhelmed by light is, of course, a common metaphor in religious mysticisms. The surrendering of individual ego to the infinity of God is often referred to as a great burning, an annihilation in light. Buddhists call this annihilation nirvana. Sufis, Muslim mystics, call it fana. It is a condition into which monks and dervishes dissolve totally, willingly, and ecstatically.

The idea of dissolution in light also figures prominently in Sufi cosmology, the Islamic mystical explanation of the origin and nature of our universe. But here, the concept is treated in an opposite way: the divine luminescence that is so desirable spiritually is considered dangerous physically. Accordingly, outer space becomes a beneficent veil (hijab) hiding Allah from humankind so that we might live without smoldering in the intensity of His divine light.

Consider this ancient Tradition, quoted in a wonderful book by Toshihiko Izutsu called Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts:

God hides Himself behind seventy thousand veils of… darkness. If He took away these veils, the fulgurating lights of His face would at once destroy the sight of any creature who dared to look at it.

I read this Islamic Tradition and I wonder, whimsically… Are God’s veils in this passage equivalent to the blackness of space? Can the “fulgurating lights of His face” be likened to all the fixed stars that would overwhelm the sky with their brilliance if the universe wasn’t ever-expanding?

Once again, has science only recently discovered a truth about reality that spirituality intuited long before?

Comments, as always, welcome.

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