All posts in Essays

28 May

Holy Aloneness

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 28, 2011 / 16 Comments

 

 

This month’s poetic interconnection is a personal one.

I’ve spent my last six months sharing a loft in an urban setting. The apartment is spacious but, being a loft, it’s one unbroken space. There is no privacy. The area is hip but, being downtown, it’s bustling. There is no quiet.

A challenging experience for a creative artist: a lack of privacy and quiet within which to create. All composition, analysis, experimentation, evolution, frustration, elation, and repetition occurring within direct eyeshot and earshot of a housemate, and always accompanied by the roar of traffic and the chatter of passersby.

I’ve answered this challenge by pressing pause on myself, my creative flow held back and pooling inside as I’ve grown more and more hungry for time alone, crisp air, and trees nearby.

Ancient Kabbalists wrote about our often unrecognized need for hitbodedut—’holy aloneness’. We live our days surrounded by other people and the bustle of commerce, our time given to practical tasks. Our spiritual need becomes easily neglected. To answer this need, Rabbis suggested retiring into nature at dusk, after our day’s work. There, alone, we can approach God, unhampered by inhibition or obligation. Our prayer can be intimate, spontaneous, and uncensored. It can be raw. We can catch the divine flow, the source of creative inspiration. We can perceive our potential—press play, roll tape, and jam.

 

 

There’s a scientific analogue here. Did you know that at quantum scales our universe behaves differently when it’s observed than when it’s left alone? When observed, subatomic entities act like classical particles, tightly packed balls of energy moving discretely from place to place. But between measurements, unobserved, quanta leave evidence of behaving more like waves. Particles loosen, smearing out into streams of potential energy. The streams stretch out infinitely across our universe.

Only when they’re left alone do subatomic particles relax and express their full potential, languid and boundless. Apparently, even our physical universe needs hitbodedut.

I’m well overdue for some.

A creative person spits out their internal experience as art. This blog post is a hard-won work: a confession, and a cry for help. Something’s gotta give.

Can you relate?

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14 Apr

Mystery of Metamorphosis

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 14, 2011 / 8 Comments

 

The Mystery of Metamorphosis

 

Last month my friends at Chelsea Green Publishing sent me a fascinating new book by Frank Ryan called The Mystery of Metamorphosis; A Scientific Detective Story. I whipped through it in a couple evenings, rapt. Tonight I finally found time to blog about it.

In the book’s prologue, the author defines metamorphosis as "…the dramatic transformation of one being into another." The classic example of this phenomenon is a caterpillar’s conversion into a butterfly. The process is threefold. First, the caterpillar builds its cocoon. Then, inside, it liquifies, losing any recognizable form. Finally, from this organic soup, a wholly new creature emerges: the butterfly.

It’s miraculous. The caterpillar dies and is born again—more beautiful, and able to fly.

Poetic interconnections abound… Our spiritual traditions describe a similar process of withdrawl, breakdown, and renewal. The most widely known, of course, is the Christian myth of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Christ walks the earth mortal, dies for three days, and rises out of his tomb, divine. He transforms, transfigures. His story is one of metamorphosis.

In Buddhism, Siddhartha Guatama wanders the countryside seeking wisdom, falls into meditative trance sitting under the Bo tree, and awakens enlightened. Once a seeker of truth, he becomes its embodiment—the Buddha. His story is also akin to a metamorphosis.

The creation myth in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, describes a threefold metamorphic process. It begins with tsimtsum, which literally translates as ‘withdrawl.’ Here, God withdraws His infinite self to allow a space for our world to exist. Next comes shevirah—’shattering.’ Inside the space cleared for the world, the machinery of creation is overwhelmed by God’s energy and breaks into pieces, losing its previous form. Finally comes tikkun—repair. This occurs when the broken pieces are recognized, redeemed, and reformed. The divinity of the world is restored.

Again, this is metamorphosis—transformation from one thing into something higher.

Almost ten years ago now I experienced my own metamorphosis, which led directly to the existence of this blog. I left my life as a professional musician in Los Angeles, packed my possessions into storage, and withdrew into three years of solitude introspecting and studying mysticisms and science. I reemerged happier, healthier, and more expansive. I often feel as though I transformed from one being into another.

Have you experienced a metamorphosis in your life?

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19 Feb

The Singularity

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / February 19, 2011 / 8 Comments

 

 

Last night I stumbled upon a recent Time magazine cover story called 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal. The article is about an event some scientists believe is upcoming, and quickly: the Singularity.

The Singularity is the point in history at which our technology—particularly computing power—becomes so advanced it changes the functional, physical nature of humanity.

Our technology is evolving faster and faster. My first desktop computer, an Apple IIe, had 64KB of memory and took up my entire desktop. My post-college laptop had 2GB of hard drive space and weighed five pounds. My iPhone stores 32GB of data and nestles in the palm of my hand. Soon enough, the exponential growth in the speed, storage capacity, and miniaturization of our computers will lead to machines that rival and then surpass the information processing ability of the human brain.

That’s when things get interesting.

Some computer scientists anticipate a time when humans could choose to upload our personalities into computers! Our thoughts and feelings, memories and hopes, would be decoupled from our organic bodies, becoming packets of digital data. Even more interesting, our consciousnesses might then be freed to network, virtually, in ways our bodies currently limit. We’d become both immortal and fully interconnected.

Imagine your Facebook page not just containing information about you, but actually being you.

Imagine not just having sex with your lover, but downloading him or her fully into you.

The implications are deep, hot, profound, literally awesome… and thus saturated with spiritual significance. Mystics throughout history, after all, have sought with great passion to overcome the duality of soul and body. Buddhist meditation, Hindu tantra, Hasidic Jewish ecstatic prayer, Christian asceticism, and Sufi Sema whirling—all these are attempts to transcend the body and actualize spirit. We seek to become complete, unbound, and wholly unified with God, the cosmos, and each other.

So what would a mystic say about a human consciousness disembodied and uploaded to a computer server, distinct yet downloadable? Is this equivalent to enlightenment? Moreover, what if someday we succeed in our current attempts to harness the power of quantum particles, turning atoms into computers? Then we could transfer the files comprising our souls into the very substance of the universe! The Hindu Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says, "The universe confuses those who regard it as separate from the self." This would literally become true.

They say the Singularity is coming.

Are you ready?

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01 Oct

Endless Summer

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 1, 2010 / 0 Comments

For the first time since starting this blog, I’ve taken time off from writing. Summer vacation! I’ve closed my beloved books on spirituality and science, left any poetic interconnections cooking in my head to simmer and reduce, and rested.

Finally…

This post is a postcard to you, my readers and fellow wayfarers. I hope your summer brought you recreation and renewal. Mine’s not over yet, and I’m not sure when it will be! I’ll be teaching Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process again in February at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, CA, so I know my sabbatical won’t last forever… I’m excited to get back to work this winter, and I’ll post details about the class when enrollment opens.

Between now and then, I wish you peace and thrills, calm and creativity. Sending love from my endless summer.

 

 

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29 Jun

Cookies and Chaos

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / June 29, 2010 / 0 Comments

My teaching gigs have ended until fall so I’ve been busying myself composing and songwriting-for-hire. After months of obeying a firm academic schedule, setting my own hours again has been making me feel a bit random and chaotic. Which, of course, has been making me consider chaos theory…

Chaologists have discovered a cool thing: seemingly random motions—turbulence in the air, water spiralling down a drain, etc.—are actually highly patterned. Processes that look unpredictable can thus be forcast, to an extent. It’s a comforting revelation. Look deeply enough into chaos and order emerges. There’s structure there. And when this kind of ordered chaos is plotted on a graph, it yields a beautiful shape called a Strange Attractor, which looks like this:

 

Strange Attractor

 

This graphic illustrates how chaotic systems behave: They loop again and again around a given point, never exactly repeating their route, but always staying bounded in orbit. Then, suddenly, they jump to another orbit around a different point! Ultimately, chaotic systems bounce between these two "attractors," looping around them in an infinite dance between yin and yang. Every cycle is different (hence, randomness) but bounded within a pattern (hence, order).

In my professional life, music and spirituality/science are my two attractors—the points around which I orbit. And sometimes I need a break from both. Vacation! Even just one evening’s pit stop in the rat race around my Strange Attractor can set me right again.

Last night I decided to take an at-home vacation. I turned off the phone, disconnected from the internet, and rummaged through the pantry in search of cookies. And in the very back of the cabinet I found… Palmiers.

Unbelievable.

Palmiers are pieces of puff pastry folded over themselves a bunch of times, sprinkled with sugar, and baked until golden. They look like this:

 

Palmier

 

They’re Strange Attractors!

And so my vacation ended prematurely, as I felt compelled to write this blog. Resistance is futile?! May as well enjoy the loopy ride.

So now I’m back to work and wondering… What are your attractors—around which points do you orbit?

Comments welcome.

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23 May

Thin Places

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 23, 2010 / 13 Comments

Last week I was touring the East Coast playing music—my career when I’m not writing Poetic Interconnections. One of my shows was at a church in Dover, DE. The chapel was beautiful: stained glass, vaulted ceilings, dark wood pews. And the acoustics in the space were ideal; the natural reverb was lush and gorgeous.

Down the center aisle was a Steinway full grand piano, perfectly tuned and balanced. I sat and played an hour before my gig, reveling in the vibrations, resonant and lovely. During my set, I sang Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah" in that ambient sanctuary and I literally felt God. It may have been my most sublime artistic moment.

 

Wesley

 

Since that evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacred spaces. Churches, temples, and shrines all seem to have the same effect on me: as soon as I step inside I feel reverent, humble, and inspired.

What is it about these places that moves me this way? What residue lingers in the air after years of prayer and devotion, hallowing a physical space, making it what Celtic Christians used to call a "thin place," an area where the barrier between the secular and sacred becomes permeable?

What makes a place tangibly holy, and could there even be a scientific explanation for it?

Turns out, there may be.

Some quantum physicists believe we move in a field of subtle energy, much like fish swim in water. This energy sea underlies our physical universe; it’s so fundamental we can only perceive it indirectly. The implications are intriguing… Imagine a ship on the ocean; it leaves waves behind as it travels. For as long as these waves churn before they dissipate, the surface of the sea becomes a recording of the ship’s presence and motion. Analyzing the wave patterns we can tell where the ship was, what direction it was moving, and possibly even how massive it is.

The energy sea in which we live is like an ocean, except unlike water, physicists theorize it’s superfluid. This means it’s a medium with no viscosity, no friction, so waves moving within it never dissipate! The field of energy in which we live may thus be a permanent recording of universal events. The cosmos may literally have a memory.

So what does this have to do with thin places? Like any activity, religious ritual surely makes waves in the energy field underlying a sacred sight. Maybe years of repeated reverence cause more and more waves to layer and interweave into a thick tapestry of spiritually-inspired quantum energy. And maybe this energy, when repitition makes it grow sufficiently dense, becomes physically perceivable, if only subtly.

If this is true, I wonder if repeated events in any location cause it to become full with energetic memories. Perhaps thin places don’t have to be only spiritual. They could also be secular: childhood bedrooms, beloved gardens, concert stages, etc.

Do you have a thin place—somewhere you feel timeless, connected to powers greater than yourself?

Comments welcome.

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17 Apr

Art, Faith, and Discovery

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 17, 2010 / 8 Comments

I recently found this quote by Albert Camus, author of the literary classic The Stranger: "A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

Camus’ sentiment is lovely, describing the creative process as a journey back to the feeling of aesthetic awakening. The idea reminds me of one of my favorite passages written by Jewish mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel, redefining faith:

In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal… The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense, faith is faithfulness, loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response.

Every world religion describes a state of original bliss from which we’ve fallen, and each promises a path to reclaim that feeling. It seems to me that Camus and Heschel are both riffing on this theme. Camus’ trek is the pursuit of art; Heschel’s path is the practice of memory.

Science offers its own variation on this theme. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN was built to crash beams of subatomic particles together at near light speeds, attempting to recreate the energy levels exhibited by our universe just after the Big Bang. At these energy levels, the four fundamental forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—may have been fused into a single, symmetric "superforce." Physicists think it was only as our universe cooled that this force’s symmetry broke, allowing the distinct forces we’ve since discovered to separate and clarify.

The symmetric state in which our universe’s forces were unified is an interesting analogue to Camus’ heart-opening images and Heschel’s "lifting of the veil". Our cosmos was newborn, energetic, and rich with potential. It’s no wonder physicists are driven to recreate the situation; the possibilities for discovery are thrilling!

 

Large Hadron Collider at CERN

 

We all have perennial experiences that shake us awake, stir us with grandeur, and change us forever. We become seekers the rest of our lives, always trying to get back to the perfection of those first revelations.

Mine was musical: "The Warmth of the Sun" by The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson’s falsetto floating above his family’s rich harmonies has influenced everything I’ve created since. I’m always trying to reproduce the lush beauty of that recording and how it made me feel, whether I’m recording music, writing prose, or designing visual art.

What was your first revelation?

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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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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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