As I write, it is a beautiful calm Christmas morning. As I eat some delicious duck soup and milk… I feel called to pass on a few things from our family get-together yesterday for Christmas Eve. Last night, a friendly relative (let’s call her “Kitty”) from a “red state” asked good questions – which is an important spiritual activity in itself. And so she evoked some candid truth.
First – the tale of the spiritual couch potato.
Decades ago, I was one of the people who set up a new Quaker school focused heavily on three key goals – to nourish and strength the full power of children’s brains, bodies and souls. What would happen to our physical bodies if we treated them the way some people treat their souls?
Imagine a kind of lodge or living room for people dedicated to physical fitness. Physical fitness is the supreme goal they pursue in their lives. Imagine them all sitting on a gigantic couch, drinking beer, in front of a gigantic TV screen. They don’t just watch football – they dedicate their lives to watching football. They feel proud that they are devoted to physical fitness and to football, and that they have tremendous loyalty to their team. But the only exercise they get is screaming for their team and against the other team. Their bodies become hopelessly fat, diabetic, diseased… and prematurely dead, in the end. One day, when a guy walks into the lodge with a normal body shape, sweating and a bit quite after a grueling fifty mile hike, they all look at him – even scream at him – with contempt. Where is his loyalty to the cause of physical fitness, as witnessed on the TV? To his team… And as for exercise, that is heresy, except for the one exercise of screaming… which really isn’t the best path to health.
Not that exercise of the soul is easy or trivial. (Nor is exercise of the brain or body.) It was a major large effort in setting up that school. Beyond the scope of this post.
Kitty pressed hard to everyone in the room at one point: “Do you really believe in the existence of a higher, greater intelligence?” After she and the younger generation stared at each other, I said: “Please forgive… but it’s time to tell a joke. It’s really not true but it feels right for this moment: For my part, I really do believe in a higher intelligence, but I am deeply troubled by the question of whether it runs on Linux or on the Mac operating system. It couldn’t be running Windows, because if it were lots of people would have hacked the universe by now.”
Later, more quietly, I felt she deserved a better answer. “To be honest, Kitty, I was convinced that all that spiritual stuff is totally absolute nonsense, until I was 19. But then … “ I told her the Mao/newspaper story (see http://www.werbos.com/Space_personal_Werbos.htm). “After that, I decided I would be 50-50 about the possibility that life is more than it seems. I was NOT convinced to just reverse my thinking, but I was convinced that I should be open-minded and open eyed… and look very intensely to try to see what’s going on. The effect of that over a few years… was pretty heavy.
“I remember going home to my family then… My mother was an intense Catholic, but my was never part of that when I was young. I told my father that I was changing my views of life… and I wondered whether he would say I was losing it. I was a bit surprised when he said: ‘We were wondering when you would finally start to grow up. What do you think both sides of your family have been doing for centuries? And what do you think my business is based on? For many years, my clients have learned that if they take me out for lunch and have enough beer… I can tell them their future. And…’ I asked him why he never told me all this before. He replied: ‘Because it has to come from inside of you. If it comes from some kind of belief or ideology from outside you, it turns into a useless fantasy, or worse. It blocks you from seeing or appreciating the real thing.’”
But Kitty was still not satisfied. (Good for her!). “But you still haven’t told me. Do you believe in a superior being or not. You told me about Quakers, but what do Quakers BELIEVE?”
I did mention how Quakers in this area can generally be clustered into Christocentric Quakers (who view themselves as a sect of Christianity) versus Quaker Universalists (which is where I would put myself here). I said... for people rooted in experience, experience is complex, and we hesitate to try to reduce it to a few simple words which we expect people could misunderstand one way or another. "But... I can tell a story which gives some feeling for it. I remember years ago when a woman named Mary Lord got up and spoke in Meeting. You should understand – people are not supposed to get up and speak in Meeting unless they feel they have really heard an authentic voice of the spirit, what you might call ‘the Voce of God.’ Mary had spent years exercising the meditation practice of Quakerism, and in working for world peace in a serious diligent way. And as she did so, she began to appreciate the importance of world environmental problems, and the Gaia movement, and the spirit we share in common on this earth. So she spoke in Meeting: ‘I realized the importance of better tuning into our mother, the earth, but it didn’t come naturally to me in my practice, and others I talked to could not help me with that kind of real spiritual attunement. Who could introduce me to our mother? And so I realized – who knows our mother? Our Father of course. So I asked him, and he took care of it, and it worked.”
“That’s a pretty personal way of looking at it,” said the uberMarine sitting next to me on the other side. “Yes… real life IS personal.” More precisely – that which is alive has personality (unless you count the universe itself, which is not “alive” in the way we usually use that word). I view “Gaia” as a kind of popularization or shorthand for the concept of “noosphere,” which I have talked about in a more detailed technical way at times in this blog.
So that’s the basic story, but there are a few postscripts.
One time, when we had a meeting of Quakers and parents to discuss setting up the new school, we had some discussion of things we could do to exercise the soul.
At one point I said: “Posing a really hard math challenge is one way to do it.”
I remember the face expression of the woman (a parent) who looked puzzled and then said: “I guess I can see that. If the math problem is hard enough, you could generate some really intense sincere prayer..” I felt a bit like laughing. That was valid, but it wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking of… something I would now call.. the pure clear light of truth… an exercise of the whole mind, freeing itself from the usual invisible Lilliput ropes of society and thought which ties us down.. a hard exercise, like climbing a mountain, but an invigorating and healthy one too.
I was very happy on Christmas Eve to receive an email from good old Eshua of the House of David, saying he liked my latest venture in pursuit of the clear light of truth… in foundations of quantum theory, a subject he is getting into more himself.
The newest paper is supposed to be posted on arxiv.org today – and my next homework assignment is to explain how to CONNECT the two new papers, the methods for discrete and continuous variables. Bouncy basins of attraction and all that…
A couple of other minor notes…
We showed videos of our road trip last summer
including West Point. “I was surprised that West Point was founded on almost the same three points as our Quaker School! But for development of the soul, they mainly chose football..”
And: I mentioned how a woman asked me this week: “Are you a Believer?” I didn’t say much in response.. but perhaps the real answer is “I am less of a Believer than anyone you have ever met in your life. It is better to see than to believe… and it is better to face up to uncertainty when you do not see or know…” (Though facing up to uncertainty does Not mean acting like a jellyfish or picking negative extremes.)
Yet… a certain kind of “faith” in staying alive and moving?
There are a lot of things in life today which require a whole lot more of what some folks call “faith,” keeping at it… as the old Disney children’s films used to emphasize. In discussing that with Luda this morning… it reminds me of the time I walked from a waterfront town in Italy, called Moltrasio (sp?), towards the Swiss border. The walk started with a stretch of trail I found very hard at the time, labeled with The Twelve Stages of the Cross. If you think of the goal of getting to the end of the trail, you could fall into despair.. . but if you focus on one stage at a time, you can see that despair is not needed or rational. I was worried at the time, because I knew the whole trail was much longer... but somehow, after the top of the twelve stages, the clearer air invigorated me and it was easier to go much faster. With so many big challenges today, there are people who think of the big challenge and get lost and confused… and others stuck in the mud who make no real progress… but seeing what the stages are ahead, and how they fit together, and struggling for one at a time… well, it sounds pretty easy, but for most of the challenges I deal with most people have freaked out, given up, or otherwise lost their way.
But next… one of those, the hybrid quantum optics things…