Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Reason?

Whatever you say, you see.  So when you say nothing, you see everything.
Matt Kahn

Come January 1st Emory University becomes a smoke free environment.  Smokers won’t even be allowed to stand outside of buildings to have a cigarette.  Last fall when employees were renewing benefits selections, we had to sign a certificate that we didn’t smoke.  Next year smokers will have to pay an extra $50 per month in insurance premium.
Why all the changes?
Because everybody knows that smoking causes cancer!
Or to be more precise, smoking greatly increases the risk of cancer-
everyone also knows a smoker than seems to escape Scott free.
By profession I am a molecular geneticist.  That’s a discipline that is kind of renown for being the ultimate in reductionism, the ultimate advocate for biological cause and effect.
At least that was the stance as recently as 10 years ago.
But, all that reductionism, in a perfect yin-yang flip, led right into the arms of systems theory, an appreciation of the web of life wherein everything affects everything else.

At work I study a protein, encoded by a gene that when knocked out (mutated) causes the bacteria to stop synthesizing four different antibiotics.
However, we still don’t know how this disruption of antibiotic production actually occurs.
That’s because we’ve learned that when that one gene is knockout, several hundred genes change their behavior dramatically.
There is this whole web of interactions, actions and reactions.
I think of this as biology coming finally to the Buddhist emptiness teachings which speak of Creation as only dependencies arising.

Today, I got an email from a friend who commented, re a Woody Woodpecker cartoon I had sent her (go figure):
In compassionate friends [a group for parents who have lost a child] there are two camps – one believes, as I do, that there is some rhyme and reason to events – a plan in which Charlie’s death makes sense. Nothing is random. 
And another group believes the Divine sets things in motion but is not intimately involved in the day to day such that there is an element of randomness in the car accident or the cancer – God with a capital G does not have a hand in it other than that he created the initial creation….
Even though I believe there are no coincidences and things do not happen randomly – I also sometimes entertain the thought that I could be completely wrong on this and it could all be pretty random.  I don’t like that thought.

Theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, says that Einstein talked about two Gods.
There is God, the interventionist, who listens to and answers our prayers.  Einstein didn’t buy this. However, he did believe in a God of order, harmony and elegance. 
But does that mean that nothing is random?

Actually, what does it mean to say, Nothing is random? 
Does that translate into, There is a reason for everything?
And is the appeal of Reason actually the hope that, One day I can understand?
...And if that is the real belief here, does that bring true relief and freedom?

I came across this video the other day in which Matt Kahn asks you to repeat a phrase so that you can feel your response to simply saying the words.
I think that’s a very nice experiment to try.

Friday, December 30, 2011


Bravery is something you can experience on the spur of the moment, faced with danger.  To have Courage, you must think about the dangers in advance, then weight the risks, and then do what you have to do…
Young Arthur to his mentor Merlin in The Saxon Shore

At the back of my copy of Eckhart Tolle’s A new Earth there is a list that I composed shortly after my partner informed me she was leaving.
It is a list of discoveries that appalled me at the time even as they liberated:
1.        If she’s not here, I’ll have to…
2.       Hair cuts
3.       Car maintenance
4.       Telephone, the answering machine
5.       Banking, budgeting, pay the bills
6.       Cook the meals
7.       I cleaned the refrigerator once in 20 years!  My God!  It makes me cry!
8.       ** As I do the responsible duties for myself I feel more competent and alert.  I don’t feel I am aging or as old.
9.       Why do I keep thinking about a new car?
10.   **I discover she didn’t just “hold me up” – she “held me back.”

Life’s disasters invite us into the courage that is actually our birthright, and for me this was and is a spiritual adventure.  Often when life is good and comfortable we’re really not advancing all that much.
Sometimes we are cradled and held up, while simultaneously we don’t even notice that we’re holding back.

A new year is coming. What will it bring? 
On my list there is perhaps Cancer, Joblessness, Awakening… these are the unknowns.
Who knows how they will play out and what I will be asked to face and feel.
And every single person gets to have this new year – if they are lucky enough to be alive.
Merlin and Arthur were explicitly concerned with leadership and war.  That may seem something of a non-sequitur here, but then, the entire story of Bhagavad Gita occurs on a battlefield.  So it isn’t too surprising that the principles of war have a bearing upon what Maharishi called “the battlefield of life.”

Men must want to fight, they must be inspired, willing to follow their leader to the death.  That willingness to die… for another man’s purposes only results from great and inspiring leadership…
The Saxon Shore

And what is the essence of great leadership?  … funnily enough it’s love.
His men would follow him anywhere, and they don’t care that he has a wooden leg.
No they don’t, because it’s not important.  They follow what they love in him.
And that’s about all any of us can do – follow the love we find inside.
For myself, trying to find my way forward from that stark list of inadequacies in the back of A New Earth, I found courage and a willingness to die in my great desire to awaken.
Now, desire may not sound so much like love. 
But my deep desire was a passion and passion is just the frothy waves of the silent ocean of love.
To become that ocean is to awaken.
And to embody that ocean into life requires that “one stand in one’s own shoes.”
That’s how Adya says his teacher described it.
And that was what I told myself whenever I got scared.

And I love that it is doesn’t matter if you have a wooden leg.  (Who doesn’t?)

Merlin and Arthur are describing the leader that lies within us all, our true Self,
which is always and already there.
And if you don’t believe me, then take it from the archetype...
and have a Happy New Year:

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Asemic Shadows 3 by Seeking Tao
Asemic Shadows 3, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.

Yes - the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
        or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?
Weren't you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?
(Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
       going and coming and often staying all night.)
Rainer Maria Rilke, The First Elegy

It was Sunday morning early and I was driving the familiar road to be there at the Farmer’s Market right when they unlocked the doors.
That’s how I beat the crowds.
And as usual when driving I checked out – into my head and all those thoughts and the music floating up from the CD player.
And as usual there came a moment when I came up out of my head for air and a look around at the world.

I didn’t recognize a thing!
And for just a second I panicked because I felt totally lost.

And then, I noticed something surprisingly subtle (for me).
I noticed that I had expected to see the previous intersection.
And I saw that I’d become lost because of that simple albeit unconscious expectation.

It will rob you blind.

How many times on BATGAP has someone telling their story of awakening simply said,
“It’s not at all what I expected.”
How many times has Adya told how he’s never met anyone who wasn’t totally surprised?
It’s never what you expected.
So why not give that up?

Strange to no longer desire one's desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
Rilke, The First Elegy

Friday, December 23, 2011

Said a bit differently

I am really enjoying Michael Barnett’s teaching.  It’s what he calls “resonance based.”
Here he addresses the impotence of words and the importance of the meditative space.
It ties in nicely, from a different angle and different expression, with what I getting at in Dumb Saints.
Barnett’s moving meditations appear very similar to what my Taoist practice looks like.
That’s probably why I find such resonance.

I’m coming to appreciate three kinds of approaches:
awareness based teaching  (Advaita)
emptiness teachings (Buddhism)
resonance teachings  (Taoism, energy movement)

Dumb Saints

Asemic Shadows 2 by Seeking Tao

Asemic Shadows 2, a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
Submissive to everything, open, listening
Try never get drunk outside yr own house
Be in love with yr life
Something that you feel will find its own form
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
Blow as deep as you want to blow
Write what you want bottomless from bottom of mind

Jack Kerouac

Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac’s writing, “That’s not poetry, it’s typing.”
I came across it recently as I sought to flesh out a comment Adyashanti once made:
Saint Teresa called that a dumb saint.

As I recall, Adya meant dumb in the sense of stupid – not seeing deeply enough into one’s awakening.
Dumb, of course, can also mean not speaking.
I’ve a friend, most loved and respected, Harvard educated, and she has insisted for some time now that she’s become quite tired of thinking. She doesn’t want to explain what is unfolding within her consciousness.
She simply wants to live it.

I really like to understand.
Though Adya also says:
There’s nothing to understand.

But, there is! And while … wow… I was going to say “And while Awakening is not dependent upon the mind understanding – awakening is not an experience of mind – suddenly, it hit me:
Understanding can take you deeper.
A new understanding can allow the mind to let go.

These days often I am torn. I want to write down the explanation, a description of what has transpired.
But about five minutes into the effort I feel how writing contracts, solidifies individuality, and brings back separation.
I let the effort go. That’s what feels correct. That’s when I understand the wisdom in my friend’s admonishing.

Then, this morning I came across Kerouac. He reminds me of my Taoist practice where we simply follow the flow of energy.
My friend and I began that over 15 years ago and soon discovered that it led to speaking in tongues.
We laughed at this unexpected “Pentacostal Buddhism” and let the energy blow the knots out.
Perhaps that’s not all that different from what Jack' describing:

No time for poetry but exactly what is
Visionary tics shivering in the chest
In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
Like Proust be an old teahead of time
Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
Accept loss forever
Believe in the holy contour of life

As the mind let goes of preconceptions,
it’s not at all what I had expected.
I have to risk becoming dumb.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?

Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment that literally means "understanding".
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to a flash of sudden awareness…and is considered a "first step" or embarkation toward nirvana…
The traditional way of achieving satori is through the use of koans.

Koans seem a formal way to inquire into the nature of one’s experience.
I find it’s also useful to simply sit and notice.  Maybe” useful” isn’t quite the right word.   
It sounds too much like a strategy.  I have these questions my mind seems to fixate upon.

And so, I was looking at my experience the other day and suddenly was hit by what felt like a stunning realization, a totally new understanding that let some rather inchoate knot dissolve and drop away:
I cannot answer the question as to whether or not I am enlightened.

Now, I was already aware that this is a correct conclusion.
Is it not frequently said, there is no “I’ to be enlightened.
And thus, “I” can never become enlightened.
What amazed me, was that I once again I had arrived at the correct conclusion in a rather backward manner.  So, I was also chuckling at my ridiculousness as I was blown away by the impossibility of ever knowing,  or rather, the depth of Not Knowing.
What I had deeply seen was, “There is no such thing as enlightenment.”
Or perhaps the thought at the very moment of epiphany was:
“Enlightenment does not exist.”

The exact phrasing doesn’t matter.  My point is that for a moment I had had a deep realization.
And this one realization came during a week in which realizations came one after another too fast to be recorded.  I found this rather frustrating.
Wow, a beautiful insight - and it’s lost because I didn’t write it down.
But that “supposed” loss is as it should be.  Loss is actually a letting go.
What is once seen in blazing clarity becomes a dead belief a moment later.
So let it go.  Holding on kills it anyway.  So let it go.

Why try to record exactly what the steps were to the insight?
A eureka moment cannot actually be shared.  Each person must solve the koan for herself.
And the letting go allows a deeper dropping… right into the sound of one hand.

There will be many realizations.  In fact, I hope to awaken from as many different angles as possible.
This is true and so is the exact opposite.   Enjoy, and then
Let them all go…

Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind.
One said to the other, "The flag is moving."
The other replied, "The wind is moving."
Huineng overheard this. He said, "Not the flag, not the wind; mind is moving."

As long as mind is moving I expect there will be realization after realization.
Let’s not mistake realization for Realization, or beyond that Liberation.

Post script
I didn’t finish this post at first sitting.  My Christmas To-Do List and Timetable called, and I was already behind the curve. So having written the above, I trotted off to grab a quick breakfast, throw on some clothes, and about 15 minutes later discovered that I was blow drying my hair and absent mindedly  singing into the bathroom mirror new words to an old holiday refrain:

Let it go,
Let it go,
Let it go.

I started laughing.  God I love the subconscious mind!  It’s both wise and filled with playfulness.
I mean, the old familiar words fit amazingly well to this whole process of awakening:

It doesn’t show signs of stopping
And I’ve got some corn for popping
And since there’s no place to go…
Let it go, let it go, let it go.

And Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

One Step Over the liNE

white stripe  by Seeking Tao
white stripe , a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.
My friend’s cat has been quite ill and my friend has started wondering:
Is she getting better? or
Is she dying?
Where is the line, the demarcation?

Long ago, my father taught me the phrase “asymptotically approaching.”
He was a chemist by training and shared many such wonderfully polysyllabic phrases.
I miss Pop. He crossed that Line over 15 years ago.
And yet, how is that possible?
If there is a finish line, and each step that you take gets you half way there… then even though you keep getting closer, you’re always only half way there.
In short, you can only “asymptotically approach.”

This reminds me of the biggest regret I have from my days of teaching biology.
It happened when I was in graduate school.
I taught an introductory lab course that was filled with non-biology majors, college freshman to juniors. The brightest student in there was a young kid from a local high school who was just sitting in.
One evening he hung around till everyone was gone to ask me a question:
Where was the line between inanimate and animate?

What a wonderful question!
In fact, I had taken it as my own for several years and really studied it. The answer is incredibly illusive.
While anyone can see a rock is inanimate and a parakeet is obviously animate,
there is actually no clear line of demarcation.
Animate: inanimate. What is a virus?
Life: nonliving? Crystals grow, reducing entropy and thus do not decay.
Alive: dead. When do we pull the plug on vegetative states?
If the extremes are so clear cut, why is an actual demarcation point impossible to find?

Curiously, back into 1960’s there was a Letter to the Editor published in the flagship science journal, Nature.The writer wanted to point out that since there could be no demarcation between animate and inanimate, it followed there could also be no clear demarcation for the arising of consciousness.
For if there were, we could simply make that the criterion for life and thus solve that question recognized as unanswerable.

Alive: dead.
Getting better: dying.
Consciousness present: consciousness absent.

Make no mistake – this issue is totally about consciousness.
It’s about the inseparable, unity of Creation, dependently arising, and how It also appears dualistically.

Oh! And why do I regret the boy asking me this question?
Because when he asked I was tired. It came at the end of a long day and I didn’t have the energy and the enthusiasm that young man deserved.  I feel sorrow for that lapse.
But, I’m also betting he just looked elsewhere for his answer.
Scientist, you see, are seekers through and through.