Awakening to Awakening: The Chronology of Presence
Welcome Woods Walking, where we explore the mysteries of Humanity, Spirit and God. Through this blog, I share my personal journey in spirituality and the immediate, human experience of our personal sentient self within our natural world. It is an experience, a journey, that ultimately connects us through quiet listening to the Greater Glory of Being.
We will follow the path of my recent awakening to the meaning of spiritual experiences that I had earlier in my life. I will describe the intimate process of understanding the personal meaning behind these significant spiritual experiences; one at a very young age, and another while in college.
This is also an exploration of our shared human spiritual capacity in relation to what has traditionally been known as the Supreme Being through simple prayer, contemplation, mystical encounter and near-death/out-of-body experiences. We will look at the common roots of such encounters, regardless of one’s religious or spiritual tradition.
The Word of God is simple, and seeks out as its companion a heart that listens. … Neither the clergy nor ecclesiastical law can substitute for the inner life of the human person. — Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini
Posting under the blog title “Woods Walking,” I will start with the everyday immediate experience of nature and beauty and look behind the curtains of deepening levels of understanding to arrive at accessible, useful and real meaning.
And in the face of today’s expansive cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics, we will explore the intersection of science and spirituality. As human understanding reaches beyond the limits of our known universe, we’ll expand our vision within this emerging, new Copernican moment in history and open ourselves to a newly perceived relationship with the Supreme Being and how humanity’s relationship to God may be seen in a new light.
It is a vision where a radically connected empirical reality encounters similar concepts of fundamental unity as expressed by human traditions for thousands of years in theology, mysticism and metaphysics.
With my personal background as a Roman Catholic, I will refer to the Supreme Being as God. As a Catholic, I embrace other historical spiritual traditions, since, as a human family, we share a common innate spiritual capacity and our literal, traceable roots in nature–in Being.
The “mission” of this blog is not one of conversion. Rather it is one of ecumenism, an ecumenism inspired by deep spiritual encounter and the profound unity found there in the roots of our very being. It is a oneness based on our shared source in nature, in the substance of being, as well as the latent spiritual capacity in all men and women that is so easily overlooked in our daily lives.
In that way, Woods Walking is a call back to our inner selves and our true, natural capacity for quiet spiritual encounter. Spirituality has been overlooked as so many have revolted against the surface trappings of dogma, injustice or the inflexible nature of existing religious institutions. Meanwhile, many institutions have hidden the empowering aspects of spirituality in the deep recesses of monasticism–deliberate or not. This separation from our inner selves creates a shepard/sheep duality that serves the institution and veils the individual from their own true capacity for encounter, an encounter that leads to an authentic individual life within community.
It is important to note that this blog should not become a wedge between one’s own faith traditions and an awakened presence to spirit. Rather, it should enrich any one tradition, much as the earliest spiritual encounters of humanity inspired establishment of religions. Just as important, the diversity of religious expression should not serve to invalidate any one tradition. Diversity of religious expression is reflected in nature itself through the awe-inspiring differentiation among genus and species.
“I love you my brother whoever you are whether you worship in your Church, kneel in your Temple, or pray in your Mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.”
Meanwhile, it is far too easy to allow the “noise” of our five physical senses to drown out our personal, quiet spiritual sense, whether seen as a receptive intuition or even as a communicative capacity for a transcendent encounter. The busy-ness of work, the noise of media and and the absorption of family and social activity offer easy distraction from the quiet of the inner self.
Woods Walking listens for that spiritual breeze through the synapses of our mind and our soul. This blog starts at the personal roots of such experience, that seed of deeper personal awareness.
How might your seed grow?
I have titled each entry “Woods Walking,” as they are inspired, in part, by the immediate observations of nature encountered during my nightly walks, originally with my now-deceased Irish Setter, “Trevor.” In these entries I explore the synthesis of the immediate, sentient and real that is present before us and directly accessible–via empirical, even scientific analysis, with the experiential tradition of spiritual encounter and revelation, i.e., faith and religion. I explore the encountered unity between these often dialectically opposed camps. From time-to-time, I will use philosophical tools of exposition that have evolved over the centuries.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~ Henry David Thoreau
I dedicate this blog to my parents who served as a constant example of faith through their living, intimate awareness of a real spiritual presence. Based on their faith-life example, I was called at an early age — while fidgeting during Sunday mass at about 7 or 8 years old — to follow their path. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned–experienced–in a very personal, intuitive way that there is an intimate, Spiritual Presence that is myself in relationship with Someone that is loving and available when sought out.
I have made myself open to our sixth spiritual sense that, at times, has made itself present to me, sometimes quietly, and sometimes in an overwhelming rush of sensibility–at times in waking moments and at others while asleep. I have also found that spirituality is not necessarily an immediately present sense like those of touch or taste, but rather it is something that develops, much like one’s sexual self — a latent force that gradually develops in proportion to the amount of attention one permits.
Personal spirituality is also a discipline, much like playing music or mastering a new language or playing a sport. Like these other disciplines, one can be graced with a natural disposition for such a sense. I know by my own experience that I am blessed to be among those with such an innate disposition.
Again, welcome, and I look forward to sharing our mutual experiences of spirit, faith and humanity in relation to God and our real, intimate communication. God Bless! Rudy
A footnote on January 8, 2013: Recently I came across references to Fr. Thomas Keating, a leader in the Centering Prayer movement and founder of the ecumenically important Snowmass Inter-Religious Conferences. Below is a link to a video featuring Fr. Keating discussing “Oneness” and addressing a broad range of ways in which we encounter God in our lives and through contemplation. I have found this video very affirming of my own experiences recounted here in “Woods Walking.” Keating’s insights, combined with his personal humor, humility and accessibility, are marvelous. He is inspired. He “is the Other”!
See the comments after Woods Walking-Welcome here: https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/hello-world/
Woods Walking #1: The First Steps Posted August 18, 2009
First, thanks to Elaine Seuss for setting up the original Bellarmine Chapel page, “Shared Reflections.” I found it to be an opportunity to be gift to one another, perhaps on a deeper, more personal level: an electronic ficelle that can encourage a deeper personal exploration that can sometimes be difficult to convey in person.
I have set up Humanity Spirit and God to further explore the deeply personal, intimate experience of our participation in this temporal reality into which we all were born and awaken to everyday. While honoring our rich human history of faith traditions, this blog page and these posts will explore the “organic” experience of living and explore the synthesis of our faith traditions with the astounding empirical learning of the past five hundred years.
As humanity expands its vision of the reality in which we participate and live, from geocentric and heliocentric to flat earth perspectives and the very recent comprehension of the vastness of our universe, these posts will explore the synthesis of this new knowledge with the faith traditions experienced and celebrated since the beginning of recorded history.
The “organic” experience of our being is the immediate environment before us and in these posts I want to “smell the roses” and communicate the depth of meaning that can be gleaned from our physical senses, our reflective knowledge and our innate, transcendent, spiritual sensibility.
So, Woods Walking.
My evening dog walks through Ault Park have become a rather peripatetic exercise. My wife Barb and I have lived near Ault Park for 27 years, and only this year — this Spring — have I begun to take advantage of the wonderful trails through the woods in the park.
Of course, after giving thought to the events of the day, I let the quiet of the woods take over. Then the contemplative philosopher in me percolates to the surface. I am disposed, thanks to my Jesuit teachers, to consider things through the metaphysical lens cut and polished by St. Thomas Aquinas, “The Angelic Doctor.”
One of the key tools for contemplation of “things” is “the analogy of being.” Given that all things share the raw act of existence — to be– how do things before me express themselves, communicate themselves through their being? From the sameness of the shared core “act of existence,” how do things differentiate themselves? From the rocks and soil under foot, to the plants and animals. And of course, the other people taking in the evening — with or without pets.
As I add to this over time, I’ll link or refer to influential writers and thinkers who have been important to me in the course of my journey. The first link for this installment is W. Norris Clarke, S.J. I didn’t personally study under Fr. Clarke, but I studied at Xavier (BA Philosophy, 1978) under contemporaries of his; men educated early in the 20th Century, some of whom barely escaped WWII as they left their studies in France ahead of the rapidly advancing German blitzkrieg. The late Robert Schmidt, S.J. directed my Philosophy Senior Comprehensive Review in preparation for our comprehensive oral and written exams. Like Clarke, Fr. Schmidt was classically trained.
The first link is to an interview with Fr. Clarke by James Arraj, publisher of www.innerexplorations.com. I leave it in my Internet trail as “my” website linked on message boards, etc. Appropriately, it is titled “A Taste of Existence.” To me, this interview is sort of the Cliffs Notes to “the meaning of life.” Well, at least from a Thomistic perspective. It is a wonderful distillation of Fr. Clarke’s faith, thinking and experience of God.
In these notes, we will “taste existence” and roll it around in our mouths, so to speak, like a fine wine noting its hints and nuances. In keeping with the original intent of Shared Reflections, the most important nuances are those of faith, spirituality and the immediate, intimate experience of the transcendent.
I hope you enjoy these reflections. I look forward to your observations, perspectives — and personal experiences.
Walk along: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2fLXjkR9eo
Woods Walking #2: The Metaphysics of a Fork Posted September 9, 2009
One evening, a good friend and I, a friend who had spent some time in Tibet after some tough turns in life, were talking about Zen Buddhism. I mentioned one of my favorite books, “God, Zen and the Intuition of Being” by James Arraj. In it, Arraj explores the similarities between Eastern and Western traditions of mysticism and Catholic metaphysics; specifically the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. The discussion turned toward a specific example of metaphysics and we used a common kitchen fork as our subject of analysis. Let’s revisit that analysis here to drill down through the details of a fork to arrive at the most fundamental aspect of “being.”
I’ll start this installment with a snippet from the introduction to Part One of Arraj’s wonderful book. He quotes the experience of a friend, thus:
Early one morning when I was busy making breakfast the sun came over the horizon and its first rays streamed through a window and struck a red cup sitting on the kitchen table. I had seen that cup hundreds of times before. I had washed it, put it away, drunk from it, and let my fingers get warm around it, but until that morning I had never truly seen it. The sun seemed to illuminate the cup from within. It was no longer a simple kitchen utensil, but sat there in the middle of the table aglow with being. I felt, ‘This isn’t just a cup. It is!’ And the radiance of this “is” took my breath away.”
With “Metaphysics of a Fork,” I want to “look behind the curtain” of intuitive feelings such as this one and the many others that were blogged about on Shared Reflections. (ref: http://sharedreflections.ning.com/)
I’ll start with a similar experience that happened during my sophomore year at Xavier. It was the Spring of 1976 in a Philosophy of Science class taught by Prof. Alvin “Rocky” Marrero. My experience that day was more of an academic epiphany of a theoretical nature, whose foundation was my then-current class load including University Physics, Rocky’s class and Dr. Walter Clark’s class, History and Systems of Mysticism.
In the midst of the lecture that day, I realized that scientists and mystics were likely describing the same “ultimate reality,” yet from their respective, unique perspectives. One of empirical pursuit, one of deep faithful listening. It was a personal “Summa” moment, where something had been stirring in my subconscious; a million-piece puzzle coming together from the corners and edges, working inward toward an evolving, complete picture. It was the red cup on the table screaming out its unique existence, awaiting my comprehension.
I took this eureka moment to Prof. Marrero at the end of class and we looked at each other with a shared “wow.” We both knew that there was not then (nor still) an applicable scientific method that made such a theory testable. So it quietly became part of my philosophical “self appropriation,” as advocated by then Philosophy department head Dr. Bernard Gendreau in his personal philosophical systematic.
Scientists, specifically the high energy physicist, astrophysicist and cosmologist, work tirelessly to study and understand the ultimate “stuff” of reality. The Large Hadron Collider is just such an effort: science looking for the so-called “god particle.” It’s a quest that goes back to ancient thinkers in the earliest recorded history regarding the identification of fundamental elements of existence, e.g., earth, air, fire and water. By 1976, scientists had Einstein’s General Relativity, and more recently solutions such as the Friedmann Equations, now confirmed by recent observation and measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background. The Friedmann Equations estimate the total amount of “stuff” in the entire universe. Wow, how far we’ve come! (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedmann_equation)
The mystic, on the other hand, regardless of cultural or religious tradition, is seeking out and encountering the pure experience of raw perception, of life, or our very being found in a disciplined, ascetic quietude. In a sense, it can be thought of as a person “tuning in their natural, cosmic radio,” sometimes referred to as an extra sense, or lifted mind or the wound of love. (ref: http://www.innerexplorations.com/catew/3.htm)
Both Catholic metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas and today’s cosmology describe a fundamental unity that permeates and connects all things. That which forms the most fundamental core “being,” or primal substance, upon which a diverse reality is built and presents itself to our senses, both physical and transcendent. (ref: http://www.innerexplorations.com/chmystext/christia.htm)
My personal summary comes in the simple word, “participation,” a sense I had developed and a word confirmed in my reading of the W. Norris Clarke, SJ interview, linked to in Woods Walking #1. It is what we experience and expressed on — Shared Reflections. These are intuitive moments, feelings of instantaneous participation and belonging as expressed so well by Raissa Maritain early in the Twentieth Century: “At the sight of something or other, a soul will know in an instant that these things do not exist through themselves and that God is.” Yet, as Fr. Clarke suggests in his interview, “A Taste of Existence,” we can “drill down” into these intuitive feelings and come to appreciate why they are so dear to us.
So, let’s partake in Fr. Clarke’s analysis by looking at the metaphysics of a fork, wherein we will drill down in detail concerning a specific thing. In this case something handy and familiar, much like the red cup. Borrowing from the toolbox of Thomistic metaphysics, we’ll look at a fork on the order of causality – that which makes it “to be.”
The order of causality includes:
Intrinsic Causes: Material & Formal Causes, i.e., the substance and form of a fork; and
Extrinsic Causes: Efficient & Final Causes, i.e., the how and why of a fork.
With your fork in hand, consider in as much detail as you care these causes.
Formal Cause: The formal cause is the design, or concept of the fork. With its long narrow tines it is meant to provide a firm grip on food with a stabbing motion while both cutting and carrying the cut piece to the mouth. Imagine eating meat using a spoon instead of a fork. On the other hand, we eat peas with a fork when a spoon would be better suited to the job of scooping and shoveling. But that’s convention and convenience. Now consider the form of your everyday fork versus fine silverware; one inexpensive, plain and sturdy, the other ornate, cherished and reserved for special occasions. The “form” of our forks runs from drive-through plastic designs to Corelle and Oneida.
Material Cause: What is your fork made of, what is the “stuff” giving the form or design considered above its material? Sterling silver, stainless steel, tin, plastic, wood, or we can go back in the history of cutlery to ivory or bone. Consider the “stuff” of your fork in as much detail as you care even down to the chemistry and molecular structure of the plastic, or the coefficient of expansion of the metal, or its bending modulus. Even the heat conductivity – if you hold a sterling silver fork in a hot bowl of stew, you will readily feel the heat of the food conducted into the handle. It’s a rare property that contributes to the perceived value of silver tableware. Meanwhile, at Fermi Labs, or at the Large Hadron Collider, the particle physicist is searching for the smallest possible building blocks that compose the stuff of your fork. Perhaps they are bosons, fermions or even the aforementioned “god particle.” And these will be amazingly simple. Consider what a child can build with Legos, or a computer programmer can achieve with binary ones and zeroes…
Material and formal causes are essential to the being of your fork. Without material, the fork is merely a concept or drawing. Without form, your fork is chunks of raw metal or plastic pellets, or a block of unhewn wood or a piece of bone.
Efficient Cause: This is the “efficient agent” that acts on the substance to give it form. Who makes the form “to be”? Who gives shape to the ivory, bone, wood, stainless steel, plastic or silver? From a caveman with a sharp-edged stone to today’s silversmith working with metal in a foundry, or injection molding of plastics, these are the people who give shape to the stuff of your fork. Without someone acting on the material, your fork would never come to be as it is in your hand. Even once the fork is made, it has to be distributed to a store or shipped direct to your door. Digging even deeper in the instance of a metal fork, someone had to mine the raw metal oxide. A plastic fork requires crude oil that was drawn from a well, refined and processed to create the plastic pellets used in the molding process. The efficient cause acts on the material to realize the form envisioned.
Final Cause: You can impress – or confound – your friends with this statement: “The Final Cause is the first cause in the order of causes.” The final cause is the why, the intent or the will behind the creation of your fork. It begins with a need or a desire. In the case of your fork, an efficient means to handle food that protects the consumer from the heat of the cooked food, and/or keeps the hands of the preparers off of the meat you are about to enjoy and hold the food firmly in place as it is cut and consumed. The final cause is the “prime mover,” or the first cause in the process of making your fork come to be. From the caveman who wanted to stop burning his hands on the cooked bison to the chief designer at Oneida, there is some one person with a vision or a need that conceives the form based on the founding intent.
The extrinsic causes are external to your fork, nonetheless they are as essential to its coming to be, from the desire to have a fork, the final cause, to the external action taken to make the fork, the efficient cause.
There, we have engaged in the metaphysics of your fork! In this process of analysis, one also begins to sense the contingencies necessary to create your fork, from the miners and refiners, to the designers and marketers, there is a long continuum of causality that literally brought your fork to the table.
As with the red cup at the beginning of this installment, your fork “is.” As Fr. Clarke says, that is the most fundamental aspect of your fork – that it is. The real magic begins, as Clarke further describes in his interview, when we’ve drilled down in detail on any one thing and arrive at its unique fact of existence, and then begin to go out horizontally and apply this realization to all things, even to the entire universe. As Clarke suggests, then our mind is “blown” as we begin to appreciate our own “being” and our participation in a greater whole.
Finally, one of the most awe-inspiring aspects realized in this metaphysical consideration is the role of intelligence as the final cause: the role of a sentient, reflective being who conceives and acts to create something of value. This eventually evolves into a discussion in the specific area of philosophy of God and theology, and the “why” of our creation. What is the intent of the Prime Mover “On the first day,” or prior to the Big Bang? Fr. Clarke offers a perspective on this question: to “communicate” the wonder, glory and joy of Being with His creation.
Perhaps that is why beauty touches us at such a deep, intuitive level: it is Gift from our Creator. And from an ecstatic perspective, it is gift with our Creator.
For further contemplation, I want to provide a couple of compelling links as a followup to Woods Walking #2 and “The Metaphysics of a Fork.” It would seem that two critical contingencies for the making of any “thing” are intelligence and the substance, “stuff” or material cause of that “thing.”
From a human perpsective, intelligence and its personal coming to be is contingent upon a person coming to be — the substance of parents contributing to new life, a new soul and the miracle of a new person.
So I’ve been “drilling down” into the source of our “stuff,” rolling back through anatomy, organic chemistry and physics to cosmology and the Big Bang. Disregarding the science versus religion, and Creation versus evolution controversies for the moment, let’s look at how science views the evolution of “stuff,” i.e., where did the elements of the periodic table come from?
Here is an amazing article from The Wall Street Journal titled “The Making of the First Star,” that looks at the profound, recently published work of Japanese and American cosmologists.
Here is a crucial statement from the article concerning the work of these cosmologists: “Through succeeding generations of stars, these stellar furnaces forged hydrogen, helium and lithium into *all of the other elements of the periodic table*, including the star stuff of which we all are formed.”
So hydrogen, helium and lithium could be considered the “primordial soup” from the Big Bang, that within the environment of “stellar furnaces,” created the stuff of which our sun, solar system and ourselves are made — from which temporal life arose.
To envision this “stellar furnace” process, here’s a link to today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, a.k.a., APOD: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap090915.html
It is an image of the Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888. It is a fascinating picture of a dying star as it yields the contents of its “furnace,” including the blue-green oxygen prominent at the boundaries of the nebula.
Now, if we roll back the cosmological clock to a point 400,000 years before the formation of this theoretical “proto star,” we arrive at the Big Bang. This is where science stops since the Big Bang is the beginning of SpaceTime, to put it in relativistic terms. At this point of consideration, a statement by the Fifth Century BCE philosopher Parmenides comes to mind, “ex nihilo nihil fit,” nothing comes from nothing…
If we were in an imaginative time machine, and we could force the controls back past zero, Who and what is there? The logic of the moment, allowing for theological faith and philosophical projection, suggests a *transformation* of the “Stuff of God” in a Creative Moment that yielded these primordial building blocks of all that is in our known, temporal universe.
Logically, it establishes a “substantial lineage”, i.e., “of stuff.” This implies literally that we are indeed the Children of God, the Creator, formed not only in His image and likeness, but out of a traceable continuum to His very “stuff” of Being. It is consistent, on the order of causality, as we considered in the metaphysics of your fork.
Intelligence and substance are prime contingencies.
All of this yields a prayer for me: “Oh Lord God, truly we are of You, and truly we are for You. Amen.”
Woods Walking #3: A Spiritual Overcast Posted October 8, 2009
Here we are two weeks past the autumnal equinox and my evening walks are now mostly after dark. And tonight we are under heavily laden skies blocking my view of the bright evening stars, as the familiar Fall and Winter asterisms move over us while Mother Earth arcs its way around the sun once again.
But for the last few days, I have also been under a spiritual overcast. Lifted, prayerful mind finds a dark, lonely stratus, as though a loved one is away for a time. I am missing that quiet, innate intentional communication. Is it me Lord? Have I drawn a cocoon around myself? Or is it You leading ahead out of sight so that I must run to catch up – to see and feel again that familiar Presence and Warmth of Your Spirit, whether from the Communion of Saints or Your own Holy Spirit?
Like ancient mariners who relied solely on the stars to find their way, I know that the overcast will yield, even if partially. Soon I will see glimpses of the stars of Orion – Rigel stunningly bright after days of absence, peeking crisply around wispy edges. The mariner will get a fix on that one known star and plot the ship’s progress over uncertain waters.
I have made passage of these same dark waters before. Yet the darkness is a gift of its own. It puts me in mind of Your wondrous Presence when You are there. Inside this period of darkness, this period of lonely heart and restless soul, there is still a glimmer of light knowing that You have been there, and You will be once again.
Just as I know the stars shine above this evening’s dark overcast, I know that You are there as well with the familiar Communion of Saints. Whether waiting, or calling.
Patience and hope will bring once again the unbridled joy of clear skies, the steady deck of calm waters, a glad heart and the Peace of intimate presence with You again.
Woods Walking #4: Fall Colors Posted October 24, 2009
During my walks this week, I have been treated to a riot of color. As you know from my first installment, this is still my first year of regular evening walks on the trails of Ault Park. It’s been a delight to watch the gradual deepening of colors as fall displays its natural changes.
Earlier this week I turned down the last Observatory hill from under an immediate canopy of leaves to see a grand pallet of colors; reds, yellows, oranges and even hints of maroon edging into purple. The park’s weeping cherry trees put on a daily, almost balletic performance, changing from green to reds and orange, before falling from their branches with an orange-yellow hue. The colors are vibrant, bright and beautiful. The trails were carpeted with all these dappled colors, as the leaves spend their last hours before beginning their decay into the arboreal legacy of the forest floor.
Tonight, after a full day of drenching rain, the leaves became like a waxed floor. Suddenly, my dog Trevor took off after a squirrel and I began to skate along the Ridge Trail, being pulled by his leash until I could get a firm footing against a root to halt his nose-down pursuit. “T-dog” will dream of it tonight and the squirrel will sleep soundly after loudly defending his lofty winter perch, staring down at us with its own bark and a few defiant flicks of its tail.
The immediate signs of the annual autumnal cycle of life played out before me and put me in mind of the analogy to our own human cycle. The woods offer up a quick study of this natural cycle, from the fresh, frail seedlings that gird for their first winter to the adolescent saplings that yearn for space and light to the mature giants that shout with color before yielding yet another crop of leaves to the deepening soil.
And there is dying and death. The beauty of the foliage precedes the leaves’ final bow before they fall to the forest floor and seemingly melt into the rich, lush soil that will produce yet another and another spring and summer of leaves. And the giant, fallen trunks that lie on the floor of the woods, from the freshly fallen to the now rotting, disintegrating piles that snake through the woods, yielding to the earth.
The leaves, the trees and all the plants of the woods are a natural product of the “stuff” of Mother Earth, arising from the “substantial lineage” of Creation. As mentioned in Woods Walking #2, the potency of the common substance that we share in being, upon which our very existence depends, is playing out its current display from a long continuum of coming to be. From the raw, primal elements of the Big Bang – hydrogen, helium and lithium – through the pressure of stellar furnaces that yielded all the elements that we know today — this “stuff” now is highly organized in a physical, chemical matrix that yields life in all its joys and sorrows, in all its newness, youth, aging and dying.
And I, amidst this play of life, am of an age to have seen the birth of my own daughter and the death of my own parents. Yet I see here in these woods that the yielding of life is to yet another generation, and generations to come after these. The plants and trees write their legacy in the soil under foot, while we reflect on what we see before us, communicate it and pass our own legacies on to our family, friends and offspring. Ours is a legacy of the Word and of knowledge, of life and love. These are our soil.
And we express our joy and gratitude back to God our Creator and to the Communion of Saints within the Body of Christ, the living legacy of our second birth through death into that Eternal Communion, as we realize – and live – the potential of this “stuff” of Creation from which all life springs. We, as the human offspring of God’s Creation, witness the beauty and glory of our very existence and opportunity to share in it and reflect our wonder and joy over it to our loved ones and back to our Creator.
I stop on the trail for a moment and revel in my own “I am.” I reflect on the long continuum of time that has led to my personal coming to be and this current moment, here on this 23rd day of October in the year 2009 A.D./C.E., at the colorful dusk of another day. I trace my genealogy that yields to the forest floor, to the stuff of being and the “substantial lineage” back to the moment of creation. This reflection yields to an instantaneous Presence within which, in spirit, I lay prostrate in humility and thankfulness for this wondrous, ineffable Gift of Life. Tonight, there is no infused contemplation, just a personal upwelling of joy and gladness; from me to You.
Then Trevor pulls at the leash, I come back to self. Time, and the evening — and we — march on.
Woods Walking #5: The Now Naked Earth Posted November 12, 2009
We got out to walk this evening just after sunset, the earliest walk in more than a week. Under the early dusk light the changes were striking. With the windy conditions of the last few days, virtually all of the leaves were down. The trees have gone from lush and colorful to naked and spare, revealing the jagged, flowing detail of their structure, from stout trunks to an almost feathery spray of twigs reaching up, beseeching the skies as the season gradually yields to winter.
Once into the woods the new nakedness unveiled the topography of the hills as we walked down the Ridge Trail and then left onto the Bur Oak Trail. It would have been a fine evening for a cartographer to confirm plots, mapped elevations and geographic features. Looking across the Valley Trail to the south ridge, the white to light grays of sycamore trees stood out among the blandness of the other trees in the valley. The sycamores seem to thrive in the moist ground by the creek bed where they line the valley floor.
The sycamores reminded me of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again In Indiana.” “The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores for me.”
The leaves were thick under foot on the trail and had already lost their colors, now just a lifeless, crackling gray to brown. And even dry, they were slippery to walk on. On the hills I found myself walking from the knee on flat feet so that I wouldn’t slip trying to thrust forward while rolling off of my toes.
Our feet shuffled through the dry leaves on the trail with that familiar rustling sound that echoed of the playing in piles of leaves as a kid; that carefree time to frolic between school and dinner, long, long ago.
Suddenly, I caught a flash of white moving quickly through the gray-brown brush toward the creek. It was a white tailed deer that heard our approaching rustle then broke to the east toward the train trestle at the far end of the trail.
Trevor and I stopped abruptly to watch and listen. Trevor strained against his leash as we heard the heavy, bounding, earthy, muffled steps of the deer. Then it stopped out of sight and we moved to the end of the trail where we turned right, under the shadow of the trestle toward the creek. As we began our descent, the deer broke to the top of the hill, cleverly using brush and swales to conceal itself as much as possible. We caught a brief, full glimpse of a large, mature, eight-point buck before his hind quarters disappeared with a last flash of white down toward the creek on the north side of the Bur Oak Trail.
To this point of the walk, we were strolling easily downhill in the cool of the evening. For the first time this fall I felt the chill creeping under the buttoned sleeves of my maize chamois shirt. My arms bristled trying to hold warmth and the back of my thumbs actually felt cold as they swung to the pace of my gait.
But then we crossed the low creek under the trestle and began our long climb up to the far southeastern corner of the Forest Loop Trail. In the trudging climb my breath deepened and quickened. Half way up I unzipped my vest, then rolled back my sleeves two folds. I could feel the first sweat under the brim of my hat and around the back of my collar under the plies of t-shirt, shirt and vest. Trevor still eagerly pulled at the leash as I finished the folds of my sleeves.
My thumbs were now warmed with the rushing pulse of exertion.
We stopped a few times on the leveling grade to enjoy the waning light and the dimming, blurring roll of the hills and valleys, noting the random patterns of the old, fallen wood.
As we walked across some old fallen bricks at the southeastern-most point of the Forest Loop, where the trail starts its turn west, I regained the sense of history in these woods. From these bricks of the Ault family vineyard nearly a hundred years before, to the whisper of quiet footsteps from the Miami and Shawnee tribes of centuries past, I listened for the quiet echo that might issue from the legacy of the soil. From the old leaves that knew the step and rustle of these former people; our ancestors in the body of humanity.
I looked up through the now dark, current stand of trees toward the waning pale blue of the horizon and upward to a darkening indigo sky. The bright sphere of Jupiter winked in and out from behind the trees as we made our way off of the trails. We finished the walk under inky skies, that vast stage just beginning to bring up the lights of the brightest stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair.
At the close of this evening, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, giving thanks for the wonder and glory of life.
Woods Walking #6: The Star in the East Posted December 27, 2009
At about 7:30 PM on Christmas night, Trevor needed his walk and I needed to walk off a little Christmas cheer.
It was in the mid-thirties and gusty outside, so I pulled on my ski cap, a fleece and a jacket and ventured out to take in the evening. After a somewhat gloomy day, the evening sky swirled with a constant train of broken stratus clouds in a headlong rush from the southwest to the northeast. On the satellite view before heading out, the stratus appeared like the long wispy arm of a spiral galaxy as they rotated around the strong low pressure system that was centered over the upper mid-west.
Once outside, the cloud tops and edges glowed with the light of a half-moon set in a crystalline sky speckled with stars. We followed the eastern track of the clouds in search of the “The Star in the East.” Gemini’s Pollux became my muse as I looked up when we turned right onto Observatory.
We followed the eastern star down the Valley Trail and ventured about halfway to the trestle, stopping just past the bowed sapling on the creek side of the trail. The quiet of the woods was a welcome respite from the days-long holiday rush and the happy bustle and chatter of family gatherings: all the traditions that mark the celebration of this Blessed Day.
At first, the woods were bathed in a quiet, muted breeze drawing through the trees. But then legions of molecules began their charge in strong gusts; first from the right, then the left, then from behind. It was surprisingly easy to track each gust as they marched along the tree lines. The dark, veiny, feathery trees bowed to the gusts and swayed back into place as the wind passed in a graceful choreography of a corps de ballet. The south hills, the north and the western hills all danced on cue to their charges.
The moonlight threw clear shadows on the ground until it ducked behind passing clouds. Then, diffuse light illumined our path and the swaying woods.
As I took in the scene it was easy on this blessed night to yield to a deeper sense. From the initial aural and visuals to the chill on my nose and cheeks, to the lifted mind that listened — slowing time and drawing in the peace of the moment. The enduring, eternal beatitudes took their places among the stars as I gazed up through the swaying trees and let my prayerful mind reach out and drink in the true sense of Peace that was palpable in the moment.
It was easy to imagine a manger up on the hillside and a scattering of shepherds’ camps, goats and oxen, all attuned to the Gift that now resided there.
The glittering Beauty, the enduring Hope, the Grace of that evening’s “Good News” sank in as it has done for the saints who preceded us for two millennia, and will do so for the saints that follow us, living — and breathing the Word of the Lord.
The intuition of this Christmas evening yielded a kiss of Peace that poured down on me, filling me with an energy that ran from my head to my toes and lightened my spirit, connecting me intimately with all that was around me – the immediate, the timeless and The Good.
“Hark! the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the New Born King.”
Woods Walking #7: The Contemplative Path Posted Januray 20, 1020
(Installment Started December 11, 2009)
Trevor and I went out to walk tonight about an hour after sunset. It was a beautiful clear night and I decided to get out before the forecast low temperatures could hang icicles on my nose. Thankfully the bone-chilling winds of the last few nights had died down, saving me from the biting nip of the cold.
Both of us preferred a brisk pace to ward off the brisk temperatures. The moon had yet to peek over the eastern horizon in the early evening sky, so we didn’t venture onto the dark narrow paths in the woods. There is no better way to find stumps, roots and rocks than to walk a dark trail. Instead, we walked about half way down the wide Valley Trail, crunching along its crushed rock with each noisy step.
When we stopped to turn around, I was struck by the sudden quiet. There was no breeze winnowing through the trees, no creaking of branches. All we could hear in the anechoic woods was an occasional, muffled bark sifting down the valley. The silence penetrated to my core.
We stood still for a long moment taking in the scene. It was dark so the woods were only vague, muted shapes with black veins of trunks, branches and twigs curving their way up into the deep indigo sky. The stars of the early evening shone brightly, decorating the dark limbs with the twinkling lights of the early Christmas season. Trevor’s head snapped from point to point with his ears cocked upward, as though he was hearing something. But all was calm.
In quiet moments like these, the woods seem to have a hypnotic effect. An intuitive, timeless sense of beauty wells up from the many different faces of this living wood. The quiet is calming and assuring, with its sense of peace coursing through my body. After contemplating the creative breath of God blown into the cosmos, coalescing over eons into this specific, life-giving place, the active, working, conscious mind of the day turns to the serene reception of the quiet beauty of the woods and the expanded sense of my own belonging. Here and now.
It is a psychic massage awaiting the wade into the deeper waters of intuition and a fuller immersion in the enduring peace of this natural place. The Sacred Quiet touches me and settles in harmony with my intuitive self, much as a quiet snowfall blankets and smoothes a mottled field.
It was too cold to linger very long on this calming path but, as we headed back to the warmth of home and hearth, it inspired my reflection on these contemplative moments that I’ve described in Woods Walking.
In spite of being from a large, active family, I always seemed able to find quiet moments of solitude, whether at rest, or even, at times, in the midst of repetitive activities when mind becomes observant and reflective within a process. There has always been an inviting inner sense, a siren that stirred my curiosity–to be aware and to probe.
At times there seems to be a gnawing void of unknown, a perceived potential, an open space of unanswered questions that is sensed and yearns for attention and exploration. It is the logical lattice of natural law that unfolds before me. It is analogous to peering across an open body of water and wondering what the far shore might hold.
“The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.”
There are both active and passive moments of depth of sense. Some are centered in thought or spirit — lifted mind, while some can extend to a physical sensation, like adrenaline coursing through the body.
Active contemplation or prayer over something awe-inspiring can lead to moments of deeper and deeper awareness. From letting my mind wander out amongst the stars on a clear night to seeking out grand vistas from hills, dunes, or even from the lofty perch of flight. And, instead of a quiet mind passively awaiting a fuller encounter, a very active pursuit of a logical, philosophical, theological or metaphysical trail can lead to a sudden, quiet realization. Almost like summiting a peak–the strenuous climb ends with that first, awe-inspiring look over a limitless vista.
Sometimes such active, contemplative paths yield a Sweet Affirmation, a sense that can only be described as external to self. One such event was concurrent with contemplation of my personal genealogy, where the specific memories of parents and relations were considered and enjoyed. But I pursued them back past those relations, beyond those I’d known, hidden behind the veil of time, yet necessarily present in a lineal history in my own literal line of contingency–the continuous line of life, living, loving and struggle. It is the ancestral continuum and passage from life to life. My own seeking that knows people were there and are there in the legacy of the Risen Body.
As I moved from specific memories to contemplation of those souls, I was met with a sudden Sweet Affirmation–a wispy chorus of “Yes” perceived at the core of my being. And there were many present in that brief touch across time; faces unseen yet presence felt.
I have used a phrase in Woods Walking #3, “innate, intentional communication” to describe such an encounter. Innate because the sense is so intimate, so personal, so real, so deep; intentional because there is a non-verbal sense of what is intended, through emotion or direction, yet its meaning is intuitive and clear.
Another method of active contemplation that I “happened into” during my years as a student of philosophy at Xavier is what W. Norris Clarke, S.J. refers to as an active “drilling down in detail” on any given thing. An example is the causal consideration given to the metaphysics of a fork, as described in Woods Walking #2.1 This endeavor ultimately leads to that most fundamental, personal encounter with the fact of “being,” the most fundamental observation about our forks that is shared with all other aspects of reality, physical or spiritual–that “it is.” With adequate consideration, this leads to an encounter, a quiet moment of intuitive possession of this core reality, a possession that is beyond words and transcendent.
At some point, one encounters the raw fact of existence versus non-existence, whether personal (had “I” not be conceived) or, more radically, the stark, absolute concept of being versus non-being. Thankfully, moments of “I am” confirm our unified fact of existence!
Of course, our very personal intention, our perception, of our personal existence leads to that moment of Descartian realization, “I think, therefore I am.” “Cogito ergo sum.” As Fr. Clarke’s interview, “A Taste of Existence” suggests, encountering our intimate fact of existence leads to an innate feeling of joy, of belonging and of participation in a greater whole. It defines us personally: that I am, and we are, the human flower of the Breath of God into the cosmos, intended for the Communion of the One Body.
For me, that encountered sense of “belonging” leads to the sublime sense of Peace that I’ve described on quiet evenings. Fr. Clarke described it in “A Taste of Existence” as “blown mind,” that is, an expansion of one’s awareness to embrace our unique personal place within Creation, and that all of this “is Gift for us,” as is the intent of our Creator.
There is an utter humility, a boundless joy and a profound gratefulness found in acknowledgment of the Grace of this Gift.
We know it, we experience it at specific times and specific places, yet that moment, that realization of “I am” is timeless in its sense of encounter of the enduring, unconditional Love and Belonging from and with our Creator.
“To deliver oneself up,
to hand oneself over,
entrust oneself completely to the silence
of a wide landscape of woods and hills,
or sea and desert; to sit still while
… the sun comes up over the land
and fills its silences with light.
…few are willing to belong completely
to such silence, to let it soak into their bones,
to breathe nothing but silence, to feed
on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life
into a living and vigilant silence.”
~ Thomas Merton
from Thoughts in Solitude
Passive moments of contemplation and deep intuition can be described as a sweet surprise, moments when we sense something that is at once larger than and outside of ourselves and may be beyond words, yet there is a sense of truth and familiarity that is all consuming, even overwhelming. From the realization—the raw perception—that we are truly loved, to the sudden glimpse of a grand vista, such “rush” moments touch us to the core with an undeniable intuitive sense that points to our own intimate personal roots in our human family, the nature that surrounds and enables us, and even our roots within Being and its “Prime Mover.”
Passive moments of deep intuition can occur even within repetitive activities. What athletes refer to as “the zone,” can be experienced as a deep, consuming awareness of what one’s body is doing reflexively, from bicycle riding to distance running and even, for me, as the pilot of an airplane–when the connectedness of awareness to mind to body to machine melt into the instantaneous appreciation of the seamless process of control and direction and the consuming, immediate unity of the moment. Such moments are intimately self-aware, reflective, yet distinctly “out of time.” For me, it is as though my awareness suddenly reaches down to the tips of my fingers and toes, embracing the totality of the moment. It is “being in the moment” without external distraction. And this is a passive encounter that happens almost without warning, yet with quite a pleasant glow.
I will close this installment with an appropriate link to APOD, titled “The Known Universe.” http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100120.html It is a wonderful short video that draws on the original, insightful, empirical, illumination of Carl Sagan and can serve as an inspiring source of active spiritual contemplation.
I Corinthians 12: 4-11: http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/12-4.htm
Read more at Woods Walking #9:
Woods Walking #8: Farewell to Winter Posted March 18, 2010
Ah, the Spring Equinox is at hand, we remembered to “spring forward” last weekend and our evening walks along the Ault Park trails are now in the waning light of day.
I will miss the winter asterisms; Orion awakening, reclined on the eastern horizon before once again taking up the relentless pursuit of Taurus across the night sky. Soon I will not be able to nest Pollux in the nook of trunk and branch – that proximal and deep juxtaposition obscured by the fresh emergence of tender spring foliage. I am hopeful for one more moonlit walk in the bare woods with the reflected, silvery lunar light allowing me to easily make my way.
I notice, on those moonlit nights, that the illumination from the Sea of Tranquility pales to that of the direct, revealing sun of the day. Though, that soft light brings wonder: does humanity reflect the Eternal Wisdom of the heavens as well as the moon reflects “Old Sól,” as the moon pours diffuse light on these dark trails?
It is a symbol of the Holy Triune Communication, from the blinding brightness of God our Creator communicated through the nourishing Light of the Holy Spirit for those who aspire to the Risen Body of Christ. Does the Living Spirit shine from our faces nearly as well?
Tonight’s evening illumination and warm temperatures affirm the approach of spring and the imminent Easter Season. The renewal of life and spirit stir from within the dormant slumber of winter and our personal Lenten rites.
Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation Posted August 21, 2010
I normally start these installments with a recounting of the evening’s walk on the Ault Park trails, but this post has seen a longer-than-usual gestation. Suffice it to say that the spring of 2010, when I started this entry, was wonderful: the fresh, tender greens, the resurgence of life, the glorious smell of the many blooms wafting through the woods, and the return of my favorite bird for its beautiful, varied song; the Wood Thrush. (http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=32 Scroll down a bit & click the play button.)
It was also a time to reflect on the Easter Season and the miraculous opportunity that we have, as members of the natural body of humanity, to participate in the Risen Body of Christ. It is in our nature and it is our true potential as persons. And it is in our nature, from the beginning of time, to be gift for and to God, who created this temporal universe, from which life arises, allowing us to share in the Wonder, Beauty and Glory of Being.
I use the term Risen Body of Christ from within my Catholic point of view. But I have to wonder, in order to be more inclusive, not only of other global religions, but also of even other possible life elsewhere in the universe, if the Risen Body of Humanity might not be more appropriate?
When you look into the heavens at night, or read about the expansive vision of astrophysics today, reaching out to the very edges of the observable universe, it is hard to conceive that there isn’t other life “out there.” All of this is certainly a question of Holy Mystery whose answer awaits us in the infinite purview that awaits us all.
While considering this new installment of Woods Walking, something has been nagging at me, specifically the abrupt end of Woods Walking #7, “The Contemplative Path.” I devoted quite a bit to the section on Active Contemplation, but relatively little to that on Passive Contemplation.
There’s good reason for it. First, it requires that I personally share what I can only call my own deeply personal experience of a true Beatific Encounter, which I will share in this installment. And second, I’ve been unsure of how to adequately convey something so–how do I say it, so totally consuming and wondrous; an experience that seemed to reach an absolute state and is exceedingly difficult to put into words.
This is not the first time that I’ve shared my experience. To place it chronologically, my wondrous spiritual encounter took place during the fall of 1976. It was the fall semester of my junior year at Xavier University. But the first time I publicly discussed my experience was during my Senior Comprehensive Review oral exam in Philosophy.
There were three professors on the questioning panel, one of whom was the chairman of the department, Dr. Bernard Gendreau. He was to be the first questioner and in the week leading up to the exams I requested that I use his allotted ten minutes to “make a statement.” Dr. Gendreau agreed and obtained the consent of the other panelists, Dr. Richard Dumont, whom I had for the courses Philosophy of God and Ethics, and Fr. Robert Schmidt, whom I had for Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge) and our year-long Senior Comprehensive Review.
In my “statement” I didn’t attempt to delve into the details of my experience, rather I equated it to the well-documented experience of the 17th Century Philosopher/Scientist René Descartes, and, more importantly, that my encounter served as testament to the truth of the philosophical systematic then presented by the Xavier Philosophy Department. The “official” department systematic was contained within a series of Propositions, from Philosophy of Man through Philosophy of God and metaphysics, based primarily on the evolved philosophical and metaphysical work of St. Thomas Aquinas. The ongoing influence of Thomistic Metaphysics on me is clear in this series of blogs, “Woods Walking.” The synthesis of Aquinas, bringing together the ancient empirical philosophical foundations through Aristotle with the then-current 13th Century theocentric systematic of the Catholic Church set on the 4th and 5th Century cornerstones laid by St. Augustine, provides a foundation of critical thought that has evolved over the millennia.
The logic presented was that, since my earliest days of reflective, analytical awareness, I had dedicated myself, sometimes rigorously, and other times to a lesser degree, to the Catholic faith in which I was raised. And being contemplative in disposition, and to some degree having surrendered myself to the spirit, I felt that the theocentric, objective realism at the foundation of the Jesuit philosophical systematic perfectly matched the spiritual current–and experiences–that had guided me to this place.
In that way, the then-current Xavier systematic matched my own inclination to synthesize the empirical thinking of the day with traditions of faith and religion, reconciling cutting edge science to the disciplines of philosophy and theology, seeking out the common threads to both. It was, and is, a continuation of the famous synthesis of St. Thomas, reconciling empirical thought with a rigorous theocentric philosophy. In short, I proclaimed the Xavier departmental systematic as a path to that which is “true,” based on the continuity of that which is personally, directly experienced to that which is taught in the relevant academic texts.
All of this is consistent with my extrapolated theorem stated in Woods Walking #2, that the cosmologist and the mystic are likely encountering the same unified “reality,” yet from different disciplines.
At the core, these scholastic foundations mirrored and complemented my intuitive, contemplative experience of faith and spiritual encounter as a natural extension of my personal, sentient intentionality and accumulated body of knowledge.
What a grand–if not bold–moment! Fortunately, the subsequent questioning of the panel only rose to my modest bacheloreate level of study.
But, what of the “Three Nights of Affirmation”?
Leading up to the Fall of 1976, I had been fully immersed in the study of Philosophy for a little over a year. I switched from my initial pre-med/pre-dent major, following in the footsteps to dentistry and the practice of endodontia of my grandfather, father and older brother, to instead follow the footsteps of my personal muse and passion, with whom I became fully smitten while taking the introductory philosophy classes Philosophy of Man and Theory of Knowledge.
Philosophy allowed me to pursue the currents of raw perception and sample the historic thinking regarding questions about what it is to be human, what “is” and how we know and participate in something that we each experience intimately every day. Yet every one of us, at some point, puzzles over what it all “means.”
I recall a raw, early sense of wonder in my pre-teen years; a seed planted by my parents during walks on pleasant spring evenings through the garden, or sampling the sweet nectar from the honey suckle blooms picked by my dad as we took walks along our street. One day, while putting my hand on the trunk of a tree, I recall wondering about the nature of that immediate experience: is the tree a separate, unique entity, or some sensory “trick” of phenomenalism, or purely some representation of an “idea.” Did the tree exist in and of itself, or was it some projection from my own being?
In the year leading up to my encounter, I experienced the enjoyment of philosophical pursuit and the wondrous, revealing process of new metaphysical analysis, breaking my own trail through natural law and its logical lattice. All of this led to many sleepless nights with mind racing, pulling back the many curtains of deeper levels of understanding. Later reading of mystic and writer Emile Mersch I came to appreciate the meaning of his term, “mind aflame.”
Meanwhile, I was living and interacting daily in the accepting, nurturing “Catholic” environment of the Xavier campus. At the core was my own disposition toward unconditional love, both spiritually and in my personal interactions. This even extended to simple daily activities, such as offering a courteous, understanding demeanor while driving. That seems like a trivial example, but that’s how pervasive the demeanor of love and acceptance became.
“If you are driving and you arrive at a red light you have an opportunity to practice meditation. Sit there. Smile to that light. Breathe in and smile. Breath out and allow your body to relax. The red light is no longer an enemy preventing you to go but a friend helping you to stop and go back to your breath and allow your body to relax.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
This peaceful, loving disposition led to a surprising, but very pleasant emergence of an empathic capacity as I felt a more tangible spiritual presence, even in awakened, daily interactions. There was a palpable aura of joy that surrounded my interactions with friends, teachers and acquaintances. There was a true sense of spiritual alignment that manifested itself physically as a pleasant warmth from “my mind’s eye,” a sensation emanating from my forehead with a feeling of looking upward.
Within the influence of the Spirit, everything seemed natural and accessible.
As this spiritual awareness increased, my dreams reflected the peace that I was experiencing during the day. There was distinct sense of change in the nature of my dreams; a coming to me rather than from me. There was a sense of spiritual infusion and in some cases personal encounter with individuals whom I did not know, but equally shared my disposition toward “the good.”
Then, there was yet another distinct change in the nature of my dreams to a sense of what I can only call affirmation. There were three distinct levels of affirmation over three nights.
The first two levels regarded the affirmation of love, first the mutual love of my siblings, as though Someone Else breathed this truth upon me and I completely assented to its reality. The second affirmation was concerning the love of my own parents for me. This was exactly the same external sensation, but directed toward the truth of their unconditional love for me and our family, but distinguished by their unique roles as both caregivers and my own literal source of being. In both cases, there was an external infusion or communication met by my own complete “yes.” The discernment was clear and my assent to this presented “truth” was complete, touching me to the core of my being.
The third level was this same previous external Spiritual Presence inviting me to accept Its own Absolute love for me. My previous evenings’ assents disposed me to this new, Total Yes. There were no words, but there was a Beatific Encounter that is True and Timeless. The physical sensation was similar to an adrenal rush of exhilaration, but it was uniquely all-consuming—a totality which words do not adequately convey.
Upon retelling, I now understand the natural progression through the three levels of my encounter as a necessary preparation of my own “temple” for the acceptance of this total and complete surrender to trust, peace and the total infusion of the Holy Spirit—a path from the immediate, accessible, personal truths to a more Eternal Expression. It was a Beatific Infusion of Perfect Love whose manifestation in me was a feeling of sublime and total Peace; an affirmation without reservation.
Various mystical traditions refer to the outcome of such an encounter as “The Wound of Love.”
To date, this is the only time that I’ve experienced such a complete, enveloping encounter. However, its all-encompassing nature left a permanent mark on my awareness and disposition, such that it likely would not require repetition. I have known since what mystical traditions refer to as infused contemplation, some of which I’ve described in other installments of Woods Walking.
I am left with a sense of participation in a greater whole, as described in Woods Walking #2. Just as importantly, there obtains in me a hunger, a disposition toward an integrated world view in which a sense of continuum is vital. That sense of continuum extends to both logical integrity—in a vertical sense–as well as an observation of the literal continuum of time and space. My sense of legacy and eternal “substantial lineage” comes from that continuum of time.
In summary, it is an integration of my temporal, sentient self and my transcendent, spiritual capacity.
In discussing faith and religion with a good friend who works in health care, and who proclaims himself an agnostic, I arrived at a mantra* of sorts intended to instill a sense of wonder, a hunger even, in such a genuine heart. It starts at the subatomic level and moves to the transcendent. He was amused — at least.
One solar system;
“I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” ~ C.G. Jung
Lastly, here’s a short contemplative video with pictures set to Imogen Heap’s song, “The Fire.” http://www.vimeo.com/16497333
* An affirming discussion of this science-based mantra is taken up by Fr. Thomas Keating at 7:30 into this video. Wonderful! http://youtu.be/eh8yW7GG66w
A brief biography of St. Augustine: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02084a.htm
A brief biography of St. Thomas Aquinas: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm
Woods Walking #10: The First Encounter Posted October 28, 2010
This past weekend featured several crystal-clear nights leading up to the full moon on Saturday evening. The best walk was Friday evening on the western end of the Forest Loop Trail. The leaves weren’t all down yet, so there were large splashes of light streaming through the breaks in the canopy. Even in the dark shadowy areas, there was enough diffuse light to allow an easy passage.
I am looking forward to November when the leaves will all be down. Then, the full moon is truly magical as it illumines the dark, bare rolling woods. For another contemplation of a moonlit walk, see Woods Walking #8, “Farewell to Winter.”
So after reading Woods Walking #9, “Three Nights of Affirmation,” the skeptic would ask, how do I know that my Beatific experience was a “spiritual” encounter? How do I know it’s not just some psychological phenomenon, an overactive imagination – or even just a very pleasant dream?
These are all fair questions. And to the hardened skeptic, there’s no adequate response. How does one take a deeply personal, experiential event and “prove” its authenticity? How does one describe their love for another person? How does one communicate the deeply moving feeling of beauty communicated by art, music or nature itself?
Empirically, any of these would pose a seemingly impossible task. I can’t “replay” the spiritual experience on screen or provide an intimate empathic connection to the lived experience. Perhaps in one disposed to his or her own spiritual capacity, a laying on of hands, or what Hinduism refers to as Shaktipat—the conferring of “spiritual energy,” may be enough to bring the skeptic along.
Perhaps one could be attached to electroencephalograph (EEG) equipment and compare the readings during the recounting of the spiritual moments to control recordings.
The book “The Mystical Mind” by Andrew Newberg addresses neural structure and brain activity associated with religious experience. And in “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul,” Mario Beauregard studied the brain activity of Carmelite nuns. He found that specific areas of the brain associated with contemplative prayer were different from those associated with hallucinations or intense emotions.
But still…for those who have experienced deep, spiritual encounters, how do we know? For me, I know that I have followed a long path of consistent experiences that have become a cherished part of who I am.
To provide a glimpse of my own further affirmation of the spiritual, I will refer to another personal experience, in this case my first spiritual encounter. It is one of a very different nature and one that took place at a time of, for me, early true innocence.
An Out-of-Body Experience
My mother suffered from Epilepsy, with the onset of symptoms beginning not long after I was born. She regularly took medication and I don’t recall if it was Phenobarbital or some other medication developed later. Nonetheless, one day when I was three years old, I had observed my mother taking her medication, and being curious and wishing to emulate her activities, I climbed up to the high cabinet where the medicine was kept and consumed some of it.
I don’t know how much I took, but I do remember, very shortly after swallowing the pills, staggering toward the couch in the family room before losing consciousness. After blacking out, I had an out-of-body experience, initially seeing myself from a vantage point off to the left seeing myself on a gurney with people surrounding me, working very intensely.
My next brief memory was coming to just long enough to see someone putting the tube into my mouth that was used to pump my stomach.
The next memory was the classic “bright light” experience, similar to others documented in near-death experiences. Seeing the bright light, I was drawn toward it. It seemed to be a long way off and as I began to move toward it, someone, a spiritual presence, came to me from the direction of the light, and without words, turned me back, communicating that I return.
The image I saw after I was turned around was the classic big blue Earth floating before me. It looked just like a picture taken from about half the distance to the moon, based on pictures I’ve since looked at taken during lunar missions. Keep in mind that this took place about 1959, which is well before any such picture had been taken by the nascent American and Soviet space programs of the time. Yet that beautiful image, that memory is very clear.
As I began to move back toward Earth I lost consciousness again.
My very next awakened recollection was after coming to in the hospital. My dad was in the room with me and I clearly remember asking him if we owned any of the airplanes we’d see during our regular weekend drives by Lunken Airport. I asked that question because I had a brief dream before waking of the old blue and white DC-3s we’d see parked at, what was then, the Procter & Gamble hangar on Wilmer Ave.
What is affirming for me is the consistent experience of the mode of communication in my various spiritual encounters. In Woods Walking #3, I first used the term “innate intentional communication.” That’s as concise a description as I can give: innate given the deeply intimate nature; intentional given that there are no words spoken; and communication because there is a clear intent or meaning that is conveyed.
I tell this story, for the first time publically here, because the experience has helped to take me from a sense of religious faith to a sense of spiritual actuality; of participation in a spiritual reality that extends beyond what we know through our normal five senses. It also confirms the viability and reality of a personal spiritual being–our soul–that continues on after passing from our host, physical bodies.
My personal, organic spiritual self is affirmed in this experience. And to have ongoing experiences that know Sublime Love and spiritual intimacy testifies to the reality of the traditions of revelation that inform the many religious faiths celebrated by humanity for millennia.
In the Welcome to Woods Walking, I mentioned that this spiritual capacity is indeed in our nature as human beings, and I take the risk of sharing these experiences to communicate and confirm a rich capacity, a spiritual potential that lies dormant in so many of us.
Such awareness and actualization on a personal level is at once awe-inspiring and humbling, but also very exciting for the truth–the reality–that lies behind the human experience of the Divine. And on the scale of the Body of Humanity, both living here and now, and for those “Risen” before us–the miraculous spiritual reality that calls us together, has literally unlimited capacity for Good.
So, to the skeptic, I ask that they consider the cultivation of their own truest and fullest self. Our corporal lives are but a flash in the continuum of time and space. To deny one’s own eternal, spiritual capacity is analogous to striking a match and letting it burn out to a wisp of smoke without setting the larger fire ablaze.
The strident humanist, the strict empiricist are but Doubting Thomases who would limit their own horizons, standing on the comforting shores of a relative certitude that they might never leave.
A far greater comfort and a boundless Love awaits.
The Mystical Mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_B._Newberg
Mario Beauregard: http://drmariobeauregard.com/
Woods Walking #11: Eternal Being and Manifestation of Spirit Posted October 31, 2010
This installment is long so I’ll give you a quick preview. It covers Stephen Hawking’s recent take on God’s creative role, some relevant opinions on cosmology, and, finally, my thoughts on the manifestation of spirit from the individual person, as well as the aggregated manifestation from all persons, and then to the manifestation of a greater spirit that resides in the fullness of being. I’ll close by looking at some implications that arise from all the above.
Trevor and I went out to walk tonight just after sunset. There was no doubt about the appearance of the first star of the evening. Actually, it was the planet Jupiter, still very large and bright in opposition, as it arose over the eastern horizon in its transit past the sea of “The Great One,” Aquarius.
In spite of the gathering darkness, we ventured onto the western end of the Forest Loop Trail getting a hill-climb in for the evening, raising pulse and respiration while stepping high to avoid stubbing my toes on stumps, roots and rocks. It was dark enough, without the waning moon, that in the most-dense portions of the woods, it was almost impossible to see the path ahead. So, rather than press my luck against the hard obstacles on the trails, we went up the path to the parking lot trailhead into Ault Park.
Once out of the woods, it was dark enough to make out the brightest stars. Immediately in front of us Sagittarius hung over the southern horizon surrounded by fully five percent of the Messier Catalog including, M4, 6, 7, 8, 20 and 22. As we walked out of the park down the Observatory hill, the Big Dipper clocked the creeping change of seasons, with its handle falling toward the approaching winter horizon.
“The Grand Design”
So, not long after I posted Woods Walking #9, the circumstances and experience of my own Beatific Encounter, publicity broke surrounding the release of Stephen Hawking’s new book, “The Grand Design,” co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. The element of the book that has created the most buzz is Hawking’s proposition that God was not necessary to create the universe; that the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
According to the Reuters story, “Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant.”
Hawking states, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Of course, Hawking’s comments are based on theories so their validation awaits testing with accepted scientific methods. The mechanics of such testing–perhaps on a universal scale–would seem to be daunting! Although, the research currently underway at the Large Hadron Collider, may eventually shed some observable scientific light on such foundational questions.
So for the person of faith, does the new learning of men and women, such as Hawking’s, diminish or eliminate the concept of “omnipotence” assigned to the traditional concept of “Creator”? A strict Creationist view would emphatically say no; that we demonstrate the deadly sin of pride with such statements.
Nonetheless, humanity has altered its perception of the heavens, and even our very Earth, many times over, as our capacity to observe and measure the nature before us has benefited from the evolution of our scientific technologies. To provide some historic perspective, think of the cosmological challenges presented against the 1,500 year-old Ptolemaic geocentric model of the day by Copernicus and Galileo. These great men became outcasts in their own day only to have their Heliocentric model of the cosmos later validated, as their leading edge thinking became accepted as the scientific norm, and eventually embraced by the major religions of the world.
It is clear over time that humanity gradually uncovers, observes and comprehends an extant reality that patiently awaits our study and understanding. After all, humanity itself arises from and is sustained by this very reality. And in this process of human development and discovery–uncovering, really–there are still questions that we simply cannot answer today. And some questions may always remain beyond our temporal and theoretical reach. To wit: how many universes are there?
Cosmology at the Limits
Some astrophysicists propose that theories point to there being more than just the inflating bubble of our own observable universe. So, is there a universal twin, a multiplicity, or are universal “bubbles” as numerous as the billions of galaxies in our own universe? Most notable among “multiverse” theorists is MIT’s Max Tegmark, author of “Ultimate ensemble theory of everything”, and his postulate that “all structures that exist mathematically exist also physically.”
Tegmark need only to spend some time with consumer packed goods (CPG) professionals to know that not every idea on the “drawing board” sees the light of day.
The number and nature of universes is essentially an un-testable question currently, much like the unknown that Columbus faced before he set off to establish new trade routes to the Far East. How much ocean lay ahead of him and his frail, modest fleet?
To further compound the questioning, some cosmologists, such as Martin Bojowald of Pennsylvania State University, posit that there is a universal cycle of inflation and contraction. Instead of there being a singular creative “Big Bang,” there is a cyclical “Big Bounce.”
It is reasonable, in such a cosmic model of universal cycling, that a “Creator” is not necessary as an efficient agent since the cycle is the natural outcome of physical laws. Reconciling to Hawking’s current thinking, perhaps omnipotence is lessened in such a model, but what of omniscience?
Manifestation of Spirit
In my comments after Woods Walking #2, “The Metaphysics of a Fork,” I recalled the words of the Ancient philosopher Parmenides, “ex nihilo nihil fit:” Latin meaning nothing comes from nothing.
The traditional idea of creation is that of making something from nothing, and thus, the idea of an Omnipotent Creator is attractive. It is a convenient answer to the ageless question, “Where and how did all of this start?” After all, humanity is faced with beginnings and endings as a fact of our own existence: from night to day; from birth to death; from freshman to graduation; from star formation to super nova; from the Alpha to the Omega.
Equally important to the discussion of creation is consideration of the matter of degree. It is impossible for something to be spontaneously created from nothing — “nothing” taken as an absolute state, in an absolute sense–from nothing to something. However, what can be spontaneous is the creation of an idea, or concept of “something new.” But that new “thing,” that new idea will be the form given to some underlying substance. And that new idea, that new form, will only be realized when it is imposed on its intended substance: the potter throwing clay–the artistic idea comes to life under creative hands.
And further, from Woods Walking #2, the most fundamental causal elements are intelligence, i.e., Final Cause (extrinsic), and substance, i.e., Material Cause (intrinsic). The Final Cause, i.e., intelligence is one of the two extrinsic causes, Efficient Cause being the other. Intelligence is the reflective, aware entity wherein the idea resides and also possesses the will toward creation of something apparently new and drives the creative process. Meanwhile, substance is the essential intrinsic causal element, i.e., the material cause; as calcium is to bone and cellulose is to wood. Formal Cause is the other intrinsic cause.
So, all of this begs the traditional question from the vernacular, what comes first, the chicken or the egg; the substance or the intelligence? Given that human intelligence is contingent upon the substance and proper functioning of the human brain, the apparent answer is that substance “came first.” But this solution implies a “first intelligence,” in the sense of “none before.” Then, however, some new intelligence comes to be upon a pre-existing substance.
Either case seems to violate Parmenides statement, “nothing comes from nothing.”
Seemingly the only logical solution is the idea of “Eternal Being,” i.e., some substance has always existed. How could there ever be nothing, in an absolute sense, because nothing comes from nothing? Even for Stephen Hawking’s idea of “spontaneous creation,” the contingent prior condition was some natural law or laws. Are these laws contingent upon some pre-existent substance, or a pre-existent intelligence? The existence of laws presupposes “some thing” upon which they are based.
The solution seems to be that concurrent with Eternal Being there is the intelligence that manifests itself from this fundamental, eternal being, and on a universal scale. Such a “Grand Intelligence” would be defined as the Supreme Being, if not at least the Supreme Intelligence, the awareness that manifests from the primal act of being.
That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
~ Albert Einstein
Assuming the idea of “eternal being,” and revisiting the competing cosmological concepts of The Big Bang or The Big Bounce, it would seem that the Big Bounce is the most logical solution consistent with eternal being. Given a likely permanent, eternal state of “existence,” whatever the quantum state of the most fundamental substance in being might be, temporal being would likely be cyclical and repeating.
The idea of Grand Intelligence requires some degree of “faith.” In fact, from a rigorous scientific perspective, the concept cannot be supported. And what has traditionally been challenged is the idea of Intelligent Design, the centuries-old, classical concept toward a teleological systematic; one where some prior design yields an ordered existence toward an end.
An idea that reconciles a seemingly random universe that obeys certain physical laws with a well ordered universe that follows a preconceived “plan” is that of a Grand Intelligence that inseparably emanates from the basic “stuff” of “existence,” from all being on a universal scale.
The substance and intelligence together would be Eternal Being, a concurrent, inseparable foundation to all that is on an absolute scale.
Human intelligence is manifest upon a living person and is scientifically recognized, and given the vast energies of the cosmos, is it not possible that there is some awareness that arises from the aggregate energies of the very act of existence? Humanity has only recently recognized the existence of dark matter and dark energy, and neither of these are fully understood. Yet both are suggested within the limits of our own observable universe by virtue of observation and theoretical calculation. Dark energy currently drives universal inflation, as confirmed by red shift measurements observed and calculated by astrophysicists.
How can humanity authoritatively affirm or deny a Grand Intelligence via empirical methods?
All Souls Day & Galilean Implications for Our Age
Faith traditions over the past 5,000-plus years of recorded history point to such an intelligent presence that manifests from being. And as described in Woods Walking #10, there is personal, experiential evidence of a non-corporal state–a spiritual state of being. My recounting is only one of many. Both personal experience and recorded religious traditions point to a Loving Presence that we call God.
Beginning with Woods Walking #2, I’ve talked about “substantial lineage,” the idea that the very stuff we are made from is traceable along a continuum, perhaps back to the “Big Bang,” or maybe the “Big Bounce,” and by extension to the fundamental being that exists outside of our observable universe. The idea of Eternal Being points to the source of this substance upon which we base our corporal existence.
If this “stuff” is from Eternal Being—the sands of time–something that has always been, and from which a Grand Intelligence manifests, we gain a new concept of the eternal.
But these concepts also point to a regenerative universe. This very idea implies an infinite progression of temporal coming to be, that we are 13.X billion years into our current generation. From a religious perspective, this implies an infinite, yet constantly growing Body of Humanity.
Perhaps we are in “the day of temporal existence,” which would be followed by an equally long period of rest. Such cycles are in our very being, in proper proportion.
The echoes of contemplation then are both Eternal and Infinite. It also implies that God so loves the Body of Humanity that the Grand Intelligence would send Its “Only Son,” or perhaps in some instances, Its “Only Daughter” to deliver a Salvific message over many generations, both universal and to many “worlds” within each universal generation. Again, these are questions of Holy Mystery that lay before us, now.
Nonetheless, tonight, on the eve of All Souls Day, I will look deep into the starry night, giving thanks for my own being, and observe the humility that comes from being part of an Eternal, Loving and Expanding Whole.
Glory to God in the Highest for All.
Sagittarius via the Interactive Sky Chart: http://skychart.skytonight.com/observing/skychart/getjava.html
Reuters: “The Grand Design”: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100902/lf_nm_life/us_britain_hawking
Max Tegmark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Tegmark
Martin Bojowald: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Bojowald
Woods Walking #2: https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/woods-walking-2/
Substantial Lineage: Back to the Roots of Being
As the January moon waxed, its beauty in the woods increased. We’d had a blanket of snow on the trails over the course of a week and as the moon revealed itself more and more each night, its reflected light yielded more and more contrasting shadows while hiking on the Ault Park trails.
The fresh snow from early that week was delightful to walk on. With the temperatures in the low twenties, the snow was smooth and silky under foot. It also made for vigorous walking before any trails were broken across its fresh surface, with feet slipping along each step, much like walking in loose, quicksilver sand on a beach. Later evenings gave us warmer temperatures, turning the snow into a slushy, slippery mess. Those were nights to stay on well-trod trails. Then in later days, with temperatures back in the twenties, the slush was frozen into a hard, icy surface. Thankfully, the Vibram lugs on my boots provided excellent, necessary traction.
The moon on the snow really is delightful. With the bare woods, it is easy to make out the rolling terrain ahead and across the valley, all benchmarked by the emerging trunks. One moonlit night there were high, thin clouds that created a diffuse light effect on the snow that, in the deepest woods, made the snow radiant as if the light of day were turned down low by a dimmer switch, offering the same warm glow of soft, reflected light in a holiday dining room.
I shared a location check-in on my cell phone during that walk saying, “Hello Halo. Radiant Moon, Luminous Snow!”
Causality in Nature
During my walks, it’s natural to revisit the age-old question of “why.” Why are we here? Why are we — at all? In Woods Walking #2 we discussed the metaphysics of a common fork. We drilled down into the detail of its being, reviewing a fork on the order of causality, from the final cause – the desire to have a fork – to the formal and efficient causes. The efficient cause being that person or process that imposed the form of the fork on its material substance.
That process of causality is plain enough. Consumers want forks, so companies develop and market all manner of forks for dining. Anything that is “man-made” follows this same path: some need arises, a concept for its solution and implementation is developed and that idea is realized in the efficient process of gathering materials and making the desired object. From the implements on the dining room tabletop to the very homes in which we live, this same process is repeated over and over, creating utility, value and prosperity.
But as I walk through the woods, I wonder: who desired that there be trees and animals – and people?! There is a distinctly different causality at play in nature. The efficient cause of a tree coming to life is the innate process of the species’ lifecycle. Men and women can certainly plant and tend to trees, but their existence is not contingent upon human industry.
A tree is the result of a seed that drops to the ground and germinates and grows in “the good soil.” No person has acted on it; the tree just “is” as a result of a natural occurrence and evolution. Each tree results from the tendency for life to arise from the chemistry of nature, given the right environment.
Nature, arising from the very stuff of being, provides the chemicals for the nucleic acid that yielded the first single-celled organisms. And so, as discussed in my comments after Woods Walking #11, the tree that we admire, under which we stand, is the product of a long line of evolution, and a long line of continuous living – trees growing, seeds produced, dropped and germinated into new growth across countless generations.
Given adequate contemplation, it really is an amazing continuum of life, life that began in some primordial soup in the earliest habitable days of this good Earth some 3.8 Billion years ago.1 And from that first life, a long progression of evolution and living and dying has led to the trees of our own woods, and to the people that walk their paths, delighting in the natural beauty of the foliage.
Woods Walking #12: Natural Cause and Substantial Lineage Posted March 5, 2011
In the comments following Woods Walking #2, I discussed the idea of substantial lineage:2 the traceable continuum of the “stuff” of being. Let’s examine this idea in more detail.
When we push the clock of temporal being back in time, there are several key benchmarks. The first, and most notable, is the Big Bang,3 or alternatively the Big Bounce. In either case, from a singularity of absolute density, there was a burst, a moment of “creation.” Recalling the comments of ancient Philosopher Parmenides, “Nothing comes from nothing,” therefore it is more likely a moment of quantum transition from some primal substance – a meta-substance from Eternal Being, perhaps — to the yielding of a homogenized, inflating soup of super-heated plasma. In other posts I’ve used the phrase, “The breath of God into the cosmos.”
The key at the Big Bang is the de facto singular point generating not only everything that “is” in our known universe, but also that the initial substance is thought to be a homogeneous plasma, from which all future elements evolved as expansion and cooling permitted.
After approximately 400,000 years, this primal plasma had yielded the first atoms and then, due to gravitational forces, the first stars – the proto stars4 of our universe. And from these stars we know, thanks to the work of Geoffrey Burbidge5 and his teamin the mid 1950s, about stellar nucleosynthesis – the making of the elements essential for life within the pressure of the stars in the heavens. Stellar nucleosynthesis creates ever more complex atoms – increasing counts of protons, neutrons and electrons, yielding the elements of the Periodic Table, including heavy metals forged in the largest stars. The gold in our rings and jewelry only comes from the immense pressures of short-lived super-giant stars. Our own sun, a yellow dwarf, will not yield gold.
Hold a piece of your gold jewelry and contemplate its real substantial lineage – from the single source of “creation” and the homogenous substance of the Big Bang through the generation of this very gold in the heart of a star that was from hundreds to thousands of times the mass of our own Sun.
These specific gold atoms have followed quite a fascinating cosmic path to our hands! (As have the very atoms of our bodies!)
The chemicals of the Periodic Table of Elements, which many of us studied in chemistry class, in fact, came about in the billions of stellar furnaces that existed and died (Supernova6) during the 13.7 Billion years since the Big Bang. All of this material beginning with a single, common source.
I’ve sometimes jokingly (only by half) referred to our human death as being the ultimate religious ecumenism. Yet, the moment of temporal coming to be truly is an ecumenical moment, both from a religious and a physical perspective. Humanity is contingent upon this original, primal substance, just as is the “stuff” of the forks we considered in the metaphysical discussion in Woods Walking #2. It is a fundamental connectedness between the inanimate and the animate, aware and reflective beings that we are.
Again, through evolution and natural processes, we are the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos.
We all share the common roots of this moment of “creation” of our temporal reality. And just as the tree, discussed at the beginning of this entry, emerged from a single seed, so did the primal substance of our universe, inflating in space, time and in complexity; flowering into the diverse set of chemical elements that yielded the potential for life. The life of our tree, the life of our pets and our own uniquely human aware and reflective lives all share this common substantial lineage.
So, what “caused” our trees to exist? It is the very fact of being – that the underlying substance of being holds the potential for life in its chemical evolution, composition and interactions.
It is reasonable to ask, then, does God sow the seeds of being with the Big Bang? Is our temporal reality a planned event, or is it like the natural occurrence of a seed falling from a tree that arises from Eternal Being? Is temporal creation a purely natural occurrence, or is there some degree of Divine “husbandry”? This answer perhaps awaits us only in the milieu of the afterlife.
Eternal Being, Multiple Universes and The Expanding Body of Humanity
In Woods Walking #11 we discussed the concept of Eternal Being: the most basic, foundational substance of all being and the likely concurrent manifestation of spirit from the energy that emanates from that primal being. We also considered the possibility that, given the eternal existence of this primal being, creation of temporal universes is likely regenerative, i.e., our own universe is in an initial phase of expansion to be followed by some contracting, recycling event. Scientists and researchers use a term “deep time” to describe the imagined “googol” 7 of years for the life span of one universe.
Given the eternal nature of being, there can conceptually be an eternal number of universal generations, and in fact, there could be many that exist concurrently, much like there are many trees that arise from the one earth. Perhaps many universes (multiverses) arise from Eternal Being, just as many trees arise, live and die within the lush grounds of the woods.
In the fullness of Absolute Being, is the proportion of a single universe similar to that proportion of a single tree to our great, good Earth? How can we know?
Imagine the view of our Earth on a clear day when you can see to the true horizon, with the Earth the analog of Eternal Being. Now, further using the metaphysical tool, analogy of being, imagine that each tree encountered is a unique universe – each grows from a singular seed and continually branches into smaller and smaller segments, yet is rooted in its earth, its equivalent of eternal being. And each tree has its own life span, from growth and expansion to death and decay back into the soil of its earth, only to be followed by others; its own progeny as well as the progeny of other nearby trees.
- “Even the leaves of the tree
become as pages of the sacred book
once the eyes of the heart are open.
The implied scales of time and space for all the above are truly mind bending — truly deep time and the ultimate, unimaginable expanse of space. We can be overwhelmed by the absolute scale of Eternal Being. Yet the very fact that we have even come to comprehend such concepts is miraculous in its own way. The very fact of our abstract conception of such a vision is testament to the fundamental value of our personal, individual being, as well as that of the Body of Humanity that naturally arises from this very process of temporal, universal generation.
We, the body of humanity, have arisen from the stuff of creation to comprehend our roots, and to contemplate our Loving Source of Life!
The theology of the above concepts imply many universes and many worlds that harbor intelligent, reflective life. And many worlds and many universes imply an eternal, yet ever expanding Body of Humanity. What we know on our own Earth through revealed — and lived — Scripture as the Body of Christ could be God made Man, or in other cases, God Made Woman (depending on the dominant social norms of any given world) offering a Salvific message and the Good News within the core commandments to love ourselves and love one another.
We can contemplate not only the loving being of our Creator, but we can also encounter the joyous, eternal heavenly host of the Body of Humanity; to those of us on this good Earth, the Body of Christ.
An entertaining perspective on our substantial makeup – The Atoms Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBjZz0iQrzI
E.T. has phoned home! Microbes in Meteorites: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/05/exclusive-nasa-scientists-claims-evidence-alien-life-meteorite/
A contemplation of our personal soil: http://www.loyolapress.com/assets/Bookcovers/119529_ears-to-hear.swf
1 Hecht, Jeff Glimpses of an Evolving Planet. Sky and Telescope, August 2010
2 Woods Walking #2: https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/woods-walking-2/#comments
3 Big Bang: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang
4 Hotz, Robert Lee, The Making of the First Star, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2008
5 Geoffrey Burbidge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Burbidge
6 A Supernova yielding its diverse elements: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap070215.html
Woods Walking #13: The Instinct for Life Posted April 22, 2011
I will not apologize: there was an erotic undercurrent to this evening’s walk.
There was a heavy thunderstorm late in the afternoon with torrents of rain. By early evening, the park trials were bathed in a soft, clearing twilight gracing the woods with radiant rays through air saturated with moisture.
The temperature was in the low 60s and the humidity was nothing short of tropical. It tinged the view with a misty paleness, bringing to life realist landscapes of Rousseau or Manet. The lush greens and blues faded at a distance by the breath of Zeus, the misty remnant of his afternoon fury.
The woods were resplendent in their lushness, freshly showered, flaunting their natural beauty with perhaps a blushing feint of vanity.
It was the profuse display of emerging life that suggested the Eros of the wood. It was impossible to ignore the instinct for life in this rolling carpet of soft, fresh green bursting out among the stand of trees. The raw intuition for life, the innate force of nature to sustain itself in this lush, riotous profusion was inescapable, intoxicating. The yearning for propagation of species, the indomitable drive to life was palpable in the moist air.
As I climbed the rolling trails a humid perspiration ran down my back that in this fecund wood put me in mind of a conjugal sweat, revealing my own instinct for life among the revelry of abundance that has risen from this good soil.
This evening was given to a particular aspect of “a taste of existence” – the raw, vibrant instinct, the will to life. Tonight I was the passive recipient – perhaps an intuitive listener to the naked pulse of life and the drive to sustain it.
The apparent beauty of the scene and the lush display of life — and of the truth of what is “good” and pleasing to behold in a spare, fundamental way, prompts one to proclaim the joy of the scene. Not only through a communication such as this journal, but also to sense the instinctive desire to sustain life itself and pass the gift forward.
Because it is good and it must be sustained and shared and reflected upon.
As Fr. Norris Clarke posits near the end of his interview, linked in Woods Walking #11, such a drive for life and the communication of its fundamental good – the very joy of existence – points to the most fundamental Will to Be and create new life.
These sweet moments of intuition point to the loving nature of our own “taste of existence” and our personal sampling of these most fundamental instincts.
1 A Taste of Existence: An Interview with W. Norris Clarke, S.J. on the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas
Woods Walking #14: Human Collaboration Posted May 24, 2011
Today’s technology allows us to see and know so much more. But it also allows us to collaborate in amazing new ways via instant, massive communication. This link is to a fascinating TED talk by artist Aaron Koblin. His work features the collaboration of thousands of people combined in amazing online projects made possible by today’s radically connected technology.
This is a short post, specifically asking you to contemplate the potential of humanity to collaborate for “the good.”
Koblin’s work demonstrates the amazing beauty of a somewhat chaotic collaboration. Nonetheless, they are all beautiful!
If we think about collaboration within the Spirit, among all members of the Body of Humanity, what beauty is possible there? How pleasing it is to the Creator.
No wonder God wanted to share the joy of Being with us! The return is truly limitless — from the sound of a trained and talented chorus to the abstract beauty of Koblin’s relatively unstructured collaborations.
What can “be” in the truly radically connected, spiritual communion of the Body of Humanity, the Humanity of all times and all places?
The better question really is, what does happen — now?
Woods Walking #15: The Boundaries of Being Posted April 10, 2012
My dog Trevor and I have been hiking the Ault Park trails consistently for almost four years now. It’s healthy for both body and spirit!
Earlier this week we were walking west on the Forest Loop Trail and it occurred to me that we’ve now walked this trail well over one hundred times, hiking in conditions from beautiful sunset evenings to moonlit snow and a few very dark nights–just because.
It is fascinating that while it is the same trail with the same trees, every passing is different. On consecutive summer nights one might be dripping with heat and humidity while the next may be dry and cool. Still on another, a tree may have fallen in the wind, blocking the trail. And the wildlife changes, too. The birds of summer fly south for the winter with horned owls taking their place only to exchange seasonal turns in the late spring with the wood thrush and barred owls, among many others.
Even year to year the trails present unique faces. The colors of the fall of 2009 seemed to happen within a span of ten days, while the colors of the fall of 2010 covered nearly six weeks as drought-stressed trees and shrubs coped with the challenging conditions in different ways, some hanging onto their foliage as long as possible girding for the long winter ahead.
This reflection reminded me that no matter how familiar we are with something, no matter how much we may see it, there will always be more to learn within the infinite variability of our familiar surroundings.
Yesterday I was reviewing my feeds on Facebook and came across a link posted by The Milky Way Scientist to an episode of the DiscoveryHD Channel’s “Curiosity TV.” This episode featured the renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking discussing his thoughts on whether God created the universe.1
This show follows Hawking’s previous book published in 2010, “The Grand Design,” which I also discussed in Woods Walking #11.2 In his book, written with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking stated that due to the existence of the laws of nature “it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” His reasoning, discussed in the Discovery show, is that within a black hole, and before the Big Bang and the beginning of time, there was no time—there was nothing. There, time and science stop.
Hawking described the three essential elements of our temporal, observable universe as matter, space and energy. The first two certainly are contingent upon the existence of spacetime from a relativistic point of view. However, what do we know of energy? Does it pre-exist the Big Bang? Is “energy” responsible for the ‘enabling’ of the Big Bang, or spacetime?
In the discourse of the show, Hawking describes the balance between positive and negative particles, that they pop in and out of existence, even now–and spontaneously.
It is an energetic dance of Yin and Yang. How appropriate that mystical traditions would know this concept a priori over millennia.
The Temporal Boundaries
In Woods Walking #11 (WW#11), I talk about the necessity of some ‘eternal being.’ How can there ever be ‘nothing,’ from an absolute standpoint? And in the comments following Woods Walking #2 I discuss the prime contingencies of causality: substance and intelligence. This is relative to the causality that we know in our temporal, relativistc spacetime framework.
In WW#11 I draw the conclusion that the necessary intelligence coexists with, that it manifests from, the eternal substance of being. It is that substance which is self-sufficient in being and relies on no other for its existence.
Considering Hawking’s boundary between ‘time and no time,’ and that energy may pre-exist spacetime, and further considering Einstein’s elegant, fundamental equation E=MC2, where any mass accelerated to the speed of light becomes pure energy, we find ourselves at the precipice of a higher order, pre-existent state of being—a quantum state prior to the Big Bang, where energy does not express itself as mass and therefore does not occupy space as we know it.
What this implies is that the Big Bang is the diminution of pure, pre-existent energy in a way that yields mass, which also occupies spacetime. Quite suddenly and explosively! It is a transition from a higher ordered state of being to a lower ordered state where matter is separated from energy.
In biblical terms, this is analogous to the Genesis story of God taking the rib from Adam to create Eve. Only part of pre-existent energy is required to enable our universe.
The spacetime that we know is composed of three physical dimensions plus time. However, quantum mechanics, M-Theory3, specifically, predicts 11 dimensions, inclusive of height, width and depth. Perhaps we find these extra dimensions beyond the boundary of spacetime within the quantum state of a pure, self-sufficient state of energy.
In WW#11, I talked about intelligence manifesting from this primal substance, i.e., ‘Eternal Being.’ However, within a pure energy state, energy and intelligence are likely one in being and never one without the other as matter is not separated from energy in this realm.
Such a “Grand Intelligence” would equate to what humanity has always referred to in scripture as a diety, or God. This ‘oneness’ and simplicity of an absolute energy state meets all the tests and historic descriptions of a diety.
The Boundary Between Human Knowledge and Revelation
“Scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been.” – Albert Einstein
Some weeks back I enjoyed a morning coffee with Al Bischoff, S.J. I’ve known “Father B” since my grade-school days when I served his Holy Week masses celebrated with the good nuns of the Sisters of Notre Dame at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel. Today, Fr. B opens his masses with his empowering “Welcome Saints!”
One of the things we discussed over coffee was the idea of an ever-expanding bubble of human knowledge. From the perspective of philosophy of science, we are measuring, testing and quantifying an intelligible reality. And from humble ‘flat-earth’ beginnings, humanity has evolved to expansive observations and theoretical reach out to and beyond the limits of our observable universe.
Meanwhile, Hawking and others describe the difficulty of verifying M-Theory due to our inability to directly observe that order of reality. Theoretically, there are five distinct approaches, or models, to M-Theory based on five of the projected extra dimensions. Known as model-dependent realism4, these approaches to theoretically describing observed phenomena are distinct and are correct in themselves. Nonetheless, they do overlap with points of similarity and agreement, suggesting a fundamental unity of the parts.
Humanity has arrived at all this in a mere three thousand years after the humble beginnings of flints, snares and spears.
As discussed in Woods Walking #12, there is still so much that we don’t know, and perhaps that we cannot access from our limited quantum state of being. How many universes are there, is the Big Bang a planned, executed event, or merely a natural occurrence, like the falling of a seed on fertile soil?
So there is a bubble of human knowledge that is ever expanding into the realm of all possible knowledge, i.e., the total extent of intelligible being that resides outside of our current bubble of knowledge. And our curious, insatiable human need to know will always expand this envelope.
Nonetheless, even after or within the completeness of theoretical knowledge, there will still be the constant variability at any given moment, whether predicting the instantaneous location of an electron, or observing the current state of the trees on a favorite hiking trail.
As my earlier reference to Yin and Yang suggests, our human intelligence, itself based on a form of energy, must have, does have, access to the Grand Intelligence of Eternal Being. Therein lays the source of revelation. It is that fundamental communion between our sentient, reflective, spiritual capacity and the ultimate source of our being. It is the communication between the reflective, living person and the spiritual order.
Such personal experiences are described in Woods Walking #9 and #10.
As the waters of human knowledge lap at the shores of Eternal Being, our spirit is drawn into the Heavens to be returned to us in the life-giving rain of revelation.
Meanwhile, it can be said that the history of revelation is marked with allegory, stories that help to bridge the chasm between primitive, pre-scientific human knowledge and the radically different pure-energy state of higher being. Nonetheless such allegory, as with any good story, contains enduring, universal truths.
Perhaps eternal truths such as love and the Beatitudes are those extra quantum dimensions. However, the details have been “lost in translation”! Perhaps the concurrent encounter with these dimensions, the beatitudes, account for the wonderous effect of the “mystical moment.” It is like no other.
At the close of this glorious Easter Day, blessed with sun, family and love, I will close this edition of Woods Walking with the short prayer from the comments after WW#2. In the knowledge, revealed and realized, that we are the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos, we say: “Oh Lord God, truly we are of You, and truly we are for You. Amen.”
1 CuriosityHD: http://youtu.be/WQhd05ZVYWg
2 Woods Walking #11: https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/woods-walking-11/
4 Model-Dependent Realism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model-dependent_realism
Woods Walking #16: The Earth, The Self, The Sky Posted June 21, 2013
I have to start this post with sad news. Since my last post, I had to put down my long-time hiking companion, my Irish Setter, Trevor Molloy. “T-Dog” was with us for 14 years, so he had become an integral part of our family.
It is amazing to think about all that transpired in those 14 years; from the death of my parents to career changes to our daughter starting a very successful career as a professional figure skater. Next stop for Mary – Europe!
I didn’t realize how much Trevor drew me out of myself during our hikes until after he was gone. Initially it was harder to get out of my own head and the events and preoccupations of the day on the first walks after he “ran west.” It’s funny how even a pet can draw us out in a beneficial way.
I came across a wonderful article on dogster.com about meditating while walking ones dog.1 Paige Polisner, dog-lover and meditation teacher states, “I teach Buddhist meditation, and it’s all about trying to open our hearts and become less egocentric and more other-centric.” The more “other-centric” aspect helps to clear one’s mind, to become observant of “the other,” whether small “O” or capital “O,” as Thomas Keating, creator of the Snowmass Inter-Religious Conference suggests2.
I eventually became more deliberate about meditation when walking alone, particularly this past winter after the stream restoration project at Ault Park was completed. With the running water and the many cascades stepping down the stream, there is a new, steady, peaceful burble that is a perfect place to wash away the thoughts and distractions of the day; a sound upon which to focus–an external sensory mantra.
I wrote the following meditation after a moonlit walk in January:
It was another delightful evening strolling by the Valley Trail stream under a brilliant, star-struck sky, with a bright moon providing the stage lights for the show that would unfold. The quiet spiritual breezes of last week were now shouting through the limbs; the trees bowing and swaying to the breath of Zeus blowing past, leaving the sound of deep surf crashing across the hills. And I doffed my many hats of the day on those swaying limbs, letting the wind blow them away. Thoughts of the moment, thoughts of the past, thoughts ahead — each chapeau let loose on the wind back to the diffuse breath from whence they came. Centering there, standing along the stream, letting its gentle, constant ripple cleanse my heart of the last chimeras of the day. Ready now for a quiet, warm sleep and a fresh eye on the new day ahead.
Thankfully, the loss of Trevor is followed by the wonderful news that I got an Irish Setter puppy for my birthday. “Rory Fergus” (Christmas was his litter name) is so full of life and fun. It’s delightful to have this new hiking companion. He has restored my sense of unconditional love in a sometimes unforgiving world, and is the picture of unabashed joy in being as he romps, sprints and explores on our walks. He takes particular delight in running up and down the stream, snapping randomly at the water that splashes up ahead of him.
Inspirations of Spring
This spring took its time arriving with late snows and hard freezes to the end of March. Many new buds, including our backyard daffodils, held fast waiting for the warm kiss of Sun to open up and receive its nourishment from across the void of space – that spirited energy from afar. Once Old Man Winter gave way, the buds and blooms opened in all their glory.
The entire community surrounding our beautiful Ault Park anticipates spring and the opening of the weeping cherry tree blooms lining the hills along the park entrance. The late arrival of the season finally rewarded us with a long-lasting, fragrant display of blooms.
But it was a sight after the blooms that prompted the title of this blog post. This leafed-out weeping cherry reminded me of the idea of constant birthing, originally offered by 14th Century theologian and
Our second birth is the destiny and the true birthright of humanity. Our temporal lives are the briefest of sparks when dabbed on the canvas of deep time. We live a caterpillar phase, a metamorphosis before flying on butterfly wings back to Eternal Being, constantly emerging into greater and greater degrees of freedom within our core act of being. It is the density of temporal being birthing us, releasing us into the aether on the wings of grace.
The Allurement: The beauty of the initial blooms is like the wonder of conception; a beautiful, anticipated moment that begets new life. Yet, it is a very brief seasonal flourish that leads to the fruit and greenery of the long, lush summer. As in human conception, the spring blooms are a very intense, alluring moment that brings extraordinary focus to the present.
From a human perspective, and for me personally, when conception was the result, there was an undeniable spiritual echo that distinguished that moment from every other loving encounter. It was a spiritual echo that heralded the eternal presence of a new life, of a new soul–a lightning sprite that flashed into the heavens, sensed by an aware third eye.
For the weeping cherries, the bees of spring that swarm the beautiful blooms are like an angelic, seminal dance that heralds new life and unique new being that can spring from these very blooms.
Yet that joyous moment of fertilization, of conception, of creation, serves as a necessary allurement to the hard work, the duration of life and the painful bookends of human and spiritual birth.
The Emergent Spirit: From Dust to Dust, From Energy to Energy
As it stands there, this mature weeping cherry offers an ideal subject for the metaphor of life and the profound connectedness in being that is found in its emergence, from the dust of Earth to itself to the sky. And it offers analogous testament to the more meaningful, aware human emergence, from our sustaining earth to self to the sky–from earth to self to spirit.
As discussed in Woods Walking #15: The Boundaries of Being, pure energy seems to be the Aeternum Patrem, the well of life, the source of being that enables the transition to temporal being. I use “enables” in the present tense, since this birthing is continually happening, just as seedlings continually spring from the forest floor. And in the current thinking of astrophysics, the possibility of multiple universes—a megaverse—means that even on a grand, fantastic scale birthing of new universes is continually happening.
Dr. Eben Alexander III, in his book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, relates his visit to “The Core” during his near-death experience. In presence with “OM,” Alexander was told that there are uncountable universes. Imagine counting the leaves on a mature weeping cherry, but then think of each as a universe on the scale of deep time and an eternal megaverse–Spacetime without bounds. The unimaginable Glory of Being!
In contemplation on the order of being, one can follow the river of being to its source. On that journey, in that quiet mindful walking back in time, we find many quantum cascades in this river; turbulent waters that retrace the coalescing of our Sun and planets, the stellar nucleosynthesis that birthed our literal chemistry for life. All of this from the homogeneous effluent from the wellspring of the Big Bang, the loins of Being, the seed of the Absolute First Mover into the cosmos.
As described in my comments following Woods Walking #2: The Metaphysics of a Fork, we are flowing—participating—in the current of our literal “substantial lineage,” in the waters of being that tie us directly to the Source of Being, the non-contingent Source of all that is, the Unmoved Mover. We are personally distinct individuals, yet we participate in this totality of Being—this Oneness. We are apparent in this moment, but connected eternally in the now by our timeless mindfulness.
As I’ve said in other Woods Walking posts, we are the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos. When considered and contemplated on the orders of contingency, causality and continuum, starting from our own “I am,” there can be no other conclusion. And in contemplation of these koans of contingency, causality and continuum, we are present to this Source, this Absolute Being—this Love!
In the literal oneness of creation, of temporal being (I prefer to say ‘Being,’ since the act of ‘creation’ really is more of a transition from one pre-existent order of being to another), we find a dynamic evolution of our very elements from the initial explosion of Spacetime, the homogeneous primordial soup that enabled all that we see and all that we are. It is a sudden explosion from the soil of Being. The parable of the mustard seed bursts forth.3
And as mentioned in earlier posts, this moment of transition is the ultimate ecumenism, both physical and spiritual, the moment when the seed of an entire universe passes through the quantum, cleansing eye of the needle.
From this Primal Energy, and based on an increasing scientific understanding of the quantum sub-atomic maelstrom, stars create the elements that eventually combine in our breath of life. Yet later stars–our very own Sun being one–also provide the literal gravity to coalesce our planets as well as the very energy that sustains us in our emergent form. It is a quantum symbiosis in which every next step follows the other, all emergent from one titanic burst of energy. It is the stage play of the river of being, with every part and plot twist intimately connected and woven into a marvelous balance and synchronicity.4
Energy Emergent from the Soil and the Sky: It is long-accepted science that the energy from the Sun literally provides the energy of life. It powers the chemistry of “Mother Earth”–like fire to make steam, or fuel to an engine. Botanical photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates using energy directly from the Sun. It is a process centered in each individual leaf, each one receiving the kiss of the Sun. These carbohydrates are the stored energy that forms the first literal link of our own food chain.
The human-tree analog that blossoms from the image of the fully greened weeping cherry is the level of energy, the level of attainment of the human spirit, the human heart.
Down among the roots is the base ingestion of water and minerals from Mother Earth. In “Proof of Heaven,” Dr. Alexander calls this spiritual level the “earthworm eye view.”
When the stored energy of life ascends from these nether regions, these lower chakras5, we find an emergent, singular, primitive ‘amygdalic’ trunk that stands and fights against the fierce winds of the seasons and bears the upper branches as they reach for the sky and sustaining sunlight.
From these robust, primitive trunks, finer and finer branching emerges until at the edges, the very fingers of the tree, the leaves bud and interact with the Sun. As with the human brain, the higher one goes, the more complex is the structure and the level of awareness. The leaves of the tree are like the cerebral cortex, the fine covering of the cerebrum and cerebellum. And like the leaves accepting the spirited energy of the Sun, the cerebral cortex is the wiring of the brain that is the home of memory, emotions and our unique, self-reflective awareness. It is the sensitive interface, the human “radio” to a broader consciousness and our own foliage and the scent of sweet spiritual energy and the sky beyond the Sun.
Focus of Light, Focus of Energy: What truly distinguishes men and women—humanity—from all other sentient animal life is this self-reflective awareness, a manifestation of energy that is unique to our being.
John’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying that there are many rooms in His Father’s house. (John 14:2) Similarly, in our human awareness, there are many rooms to our consciousness, from moods and dispositions to disciplines and gifts. One can think of our consciousness as the ultimate open-source platform that responds to our deliberate application of this creative capacity. From a skilled laborer to an esteemed academic to an accomplished artist, the specific focus of an individual is like a spotlight in that area of the brain–that twist of branches; a willful focus of energy in this physically confined, but consciously limitless tabula rasa.
Looking at the synapse-like structure of the greening cherry, we find an image that mimics our own cranial structure, reaching to higher levels through branches of increasing complexity, like ganglia leading to distinct, more refined areas of focus and to the very limits of the leaves that interact with the energy of the Sun. Our energy, our awareness ascends the trunk supporting the trifurcated major limbs branching into an expanse reaching up. Our focus of awareness occupies specific branches, specific spaces–those branches: those rooms.
We are gift to one another when we move from reactive, instinctual action of the lower levels to thoughtful, willful and deliberate action, which action follows a reasoned, discriminating idea and motivation. When we move upward and outward from self-preserving, even self-serving action to generous, loving action, our focus of energy gains a brightness that touches many and extends into the full canopy borne by the feathery twigs of this tree of life.
Energy to Energy: In Woods Walking #10: The First Encounter, I mentioned Dr. Mario Beauregard’s work studying the brain patterns of people having spiritual experiences. Specifically, he studied Carmelite nuns during meditation.6 In Beauregard’s work, and in other similar research, brain scans of meditating minds, of mystical minds, show images that are fully “lit up.” The picture from Beauregard’s study images is distinct from those more focused REM sleep brain activity and the associated memory centers of the brain, or even other areas associated with hallucination.
Meditating minds are minds that are fully engaged, where the focus of awareness—the spotlight of specific thought—is released in favor of full, broad presence; the flood of full capacity, true potential and the gifts and grace of the human mind and consciousness. It is consciousness, energy, flowing out in abundance through every branch and fully illuminating the entire cranial canopy, consenting to and dancing with the energy of the sky.
In the metaphor of the tree, we find a canopy of awareness that is fully open to the sky, that enjoys direct light on every leaf, and in full consent to the light; assenting to the alluring warmth and nourishment.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
~ Hermann Hesse ~
It is a presence and awareness where our emerging human energy meets the energy of the Spirit in the echo of Being. When consciousness meets Spirit, it is a moment where the bloom greats the Gardener and every petal of the bloom rejoices in the glow of joy shared between them. This presence and mindfulness is the photosynthesis of prayer and contemplation, the direct nourishment of self from the sky, the Spirit.
The Oneness of Encounter
Unlike the earth-bound human gardener and the bloom, which are distinct species that emerge from this one Earth, the human spirit meets an Absolute Energy that we sense as the Alluring Destination of our personal journey. As described in Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation, this encounter of energy to Energy is complete and enveloping, like a drop of water returning to the sea, as though the drop had a choice to consent to its return.
It is a radical peace and presence, that, as Fr. Thomas Keating describes in his 2008 presentation Oneness and the Heart of the World, “does not deny the distinction, but does deny the separation” between the human person and God.
The kiss of warm Sun on a beautiful day, an awe-inspiring gaze at a star-struck sky, or a breath-taking view of a verdant, misty glade—or even that first breath, that first sense of spirit in a quiet contemplative moment—these are the first alluring invitations to that which completes us.
Our response is to pursue this call, to open the focus of light within our awareness, to move our energy from the base, reactive roots of survival to the full light of day, to the Spirit that calls and nourishes our fine cortical canopy of awareness. It is an allurement that unites each thought, each leaf and its own energy to the complete energy of our full consciousness; that third eye that gazes into the heavens, beyond the Sun into the brilliant, eternal depth of Being.
There, the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos returns to its Source and Gardener and greets the other members of the Body of Humanity that reside in that timeless, peaceful celebration.
2 Fr. Thomas Keating, “Summary of Beliefs”: http://youtu.be/p-Q9ql0Pqo0
3 The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Matthew 13:31-32
4 Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The Most Astounding Fact”: http://youtu.be/9D05ej8u-gU
5 Hindu origins of chakra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra
6 Mario Beauregard: http://drmariobeauregard.com/
Woods Walking #17: Navigator of Being Posted April 5, 2014
What a winter. It just won’t let go! Here are some impressions from a recent walk:
“What a sky! Winter and spring, Yin and Yang. Cold breezes recall winter’s sting. Days of rain, a stream that drains the stormy waters and cleanses the heart. Waiting for Flora’s season to break open her art. Ready for a languid stare at petals so fair, while birds and bees listen to the trees. The wet leaves glisten for a heart that will listen. I walk with eyes lifted to a nature so gifted.”
From these Woods Walking posts, you know that I love my hikes. It’s a passion that was planted by my parents, as described in “Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation,”¹
“I recall a raw, early sense of wonder in my pre-teen years; a seed planted by my parents during walks on pleasant spring evenings through the garden, or sampling the sweet nectar from the honey suckle blooms picked by my dad as we took walks along our street.”
I caused a little stir a few times after these early walks with my folks. I went off alone at a very early age a number of times to walk, wander and wonder. The first time my mother called the police, but after that, she knew where to look – in the temple of the Dryads.
In the video series “Meditative Moments,” featuring Brother David Steindl-Rast², Brother David says that even as a child he felt an attraction to quiet contemplation in nature. It offers an inviting, spacious presence that, met with quiet mind, speaks its own language.
The important point is to be present with what Meister Eckhart called ‘beginner’s mind’: dropping all preconceptions and the cares of the day, letting the warm Sun, soft breezes and the song of birds touch your heart.
Sense of Place
From these early walks to now, I know that we have an innate navigator that gives us a sense of place. My wife will tell you that I may not remember the name of a restaurant, but I always remember exactly where we sat, regardless the number of years since our first repast. It’s that shared instinct inherited from our evolutionary lineage, an essential tool that tells whales how to find their summer feeding grounds, or directs birds as they fly south for the winter. Or the sense that even guides a lost cat or dog that miraculously finds its way home.
Our innate sense keeps us oriented in our journeys, whether on an evening hike, or a protracted journey of relationship, learning – or simply being.
I’ve had the great fortune to become a private pilot and ‘learn the ropes’ of sailing. An essential rule to flying is “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.”
Today’s advanced navigation aids tend to rob us of our innate sense of place. I make it a habit while flying to follow both the GPS map and the paper charts in the event that the GPS or ship’s power were lost, I could take over without that disorienting feeling of being lost. Of course, if one is flying ‘in the soup,’ you maintain a spatial awareness of place that is confirmed by many cross checks, but that reside in the guiding mind of the pilot in the present moment, mile by mile.
I remember my first hikes on the Ault Park trails after just a quick review of the trail maps. My trained sense of north, south, east and west, plus visual cues of light, place and direction helped me find my way on the many connecting trails with ease. Of course, there’s a sense of satisfaction in the confirmation of arrival as expected.
Navigator of Being
So, how does one navigate the endless skies of meditation without that hopeless sense of disorientation? It’s funny, before I even knew I was on a journey in spirit, I began to pull back the veils of the heart, to follow touchstones along a path. For me, it was much as Maata Lynn Barron describes her journey in metaphysics that lead to her eventual experience of rapture.³ It started for me as I was a student of philosophy at Xavier University (Cincinnati). More from “Woods Walking #9”:
“In the year leading up to my encounter, I experienced the enjoyment of philosophical pursuit and the wondrous, revealing process of new metaphysical analysis, breaking my own trail through natural law and its logical lattice. All of this led to many sleepless nights with mind racing, pulling back the many curtains of deeper levels of understanding. Later reading of mystic and writer Emile Mersch I came to appreciate the meaning of his term, “mind aflame.” “
But now, from a more experienced practical, accessible sense, this same unveiling can happen in a more exoteric journey – from where we are now using our immediate senses and trusting our intuition and following — appreciating — the path that enabled our very being. Since “Woods Walking #2: The Metaphysics of a Fork,”4 I’ve referred to this path as ‘substantial lineage.’ It is literally walking back along the historic, evolutionary path of the stuff that we are – that matter that is our hands, our bodies, our aware self. In my blog “Today’s Koan: Substantial Lineage”5 I use a quote from Carl Sagan to provide the first step on this path:
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.”
Sagan describes the path, the river of being that started with the Big Bang – as far as we know – and led to the accretion of our Sun and planets, descended from stars before us — and whatever preceded the Big Bang.
As I mentioned above, when I took the first steps along this path, I didn’t know where I was going. As classically described by all spiritual seekers, there were many dark nights following a desire, an appetite, an allure that is unknown, but is instinctively compelling – like a male dog compulsively following the scent of a bitch in heat. Something deep within us knows this allure – the Source of our being calling us back, completing a circle to, as the Sufis say, die before you die.
“The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.”
Joseph Campbell, “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living”
Nothing that is Everything
But where are we ‘going’? The paradox is that we seek ‘nothing that is everything.’ In the “Meditative Moments” video, Brother David mentions the starry sky as a source of wonder, a compelling place whose spaciousness – and nothingness – are alluring. We reach for that sky just as a sapling is compelled to reach for the Sun through the thicket of other trees around it.
In the wooded trails on a dark night, I know where I am in that moment because I have been there many times before. And I hear the breeze in the trees around me, but I also know that the entire forest makes that same call to the breath of wind. So by listening close, I also listen afar – to every tree in the woods. Their shared response is an arboreal ‘prisca theologia’ that is the same sound of every tree bending to these same winds.
So it is with our spiritual presence. I am here, but in stretching out in awareness — and in Spiritual Presence — suddenly I am everywhere. As the poet Rumi said, “We are the ocean contained in a drop.” The substance that we are returns in awareness, in conscious presence, to That from which we came. And in consent to those vast, calling waters, we are Everything again.
Yet this consent requires a personal emptying, a release that is the ‘nothing’ that takes us to everything. It is the release, the open hands of Presence found in the quiet of meditation or centering prayer.
The peak is what Maata Lynn Barron describes as ‘primordial wisdom,’ the flow of consciousness that is before the beginning – that always has been, and always will be.
After navigating in this sense of Being, that is a quiet resting place for us after a dark, confusing journey.
We start with “I am,” just me, just you, then go out from where we are, step by step, and thought by thought. I describe it in “Today’s Koan: River of Being”6 this way:
“From that centered self, then, we can do what Fr. Norris Clarke, SJ describes as going out horizontally, embracing all that is around us from this new, intimate presence to self. It is where we begin to feel a sense of belonging that goes beyond just friends, family and community. It is your presence to Being; to that which is. Paradoxically, it is a loss of self as one is absorbed by that which is around us. Metaphorically, it is a river of being. It is real and palpable and ever changing, just like a river, flowing in its quiet grandeur.”
1 “Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation”: http://wp.me/p11gpL-15
2 “Meditative Moments with Brother David Steindl-Rast”: http://youtu.be/MPIFJ0_GQOc
3 “Interview with Maata Lynn Baron,” Golden Sufi Center: http://youtu.be/MJUmMuKbop0
4 “Woods Walking #2: The Metaphysics of a Fork”: http://wp.me/p11gpL-r
5 “Today’s Koan: Substantial Lineage”: http://wp.me/p4cmRf-1H
6 “Today’s Koan: River of Being”: http://wp.me/p4cmRf-2E
Woods Walking #18: Literalness Posted June 8, 2020
Let’s begin this rumination with philosopher Martin Buber’s idea from his 1923 essay “Ich und Du” (I and Thou), “I’m OK, You’re OK.” The core of this idea is the mutuality of the human experience, regardless of gender, creed, race or any other variable. It is the capacity to be in dialogue one with another. Fast forward to today, “Ich und Du” is mindfulness for humanity. It is a full embrace across borders, oceans, and even the chasm of diametrically opposed ideas.
That is how we walk on our City Silence/Woods Walking Walking Meditation hikes; person to person present with the wonders of nature and the Being that underlies everything that we are. We walk with shared breath and shared energy. We walk mindful of Source knowing that we shall ultimately return to Source as the leaves of fall return to the grounds of Being.
Myth and Metaphor
So much that we encounter in our daily living is based on myth and metaphor. They are a screen, as Joseph Campbell said, to help us see through the veil between the immediate, tactile sensing before us into the depths of the abiding hum of the universe.
Myth and metaphor help us make sense of the frequent chaos that surrounds us, whether personal or societal. In a sense, myth and metaphor fly the white flag of surrender to the unknown—or, surrender to that which we think we cannot know.
But in today’s expanding personal mindfulness, in our hero’s journey of self-discovery, we are finding an unprecedented clarity as we peek through the veil of myth and metaphor. As science answers the unanswered, as we pay tribute to ancient wisdom traditions and find common ground between these historic bookends, we come to know ourselves as being from one source, whether the Big Bang or in presence with the Absolute, a real, intimate relationship.
In my Today’s Koan blog post, “From Myth to Analogy” I said that today, myth and metaphor are melting on the altar of personal awakening.1 Knowing that my substance is from the stars, I know, as stated in the great sayings of the Upanishads, that this Atman is Brahman in a new, literal sense. My being manifests from the Absolute grounds of Being.
I have always lived in a sense of literalness based on an objective point of view that surrounded me in relationship to family and friends. Yet, I have spent a lifetime reconciling the empirical with the esoteric, the tested with the sensed, the a posteriori with the a priori.
I had the good fortune to have grown up surrounded by very objective pursuits. My father taught me how to sail and fly, both activities quite literal in their cause and effect. If I sail too close to the wind, the sails luff and the boat stops. If I fly too slow, the wing stalls (loses lift) and the plane drops until airspeed and normal control are regained. On the other end, if I sail in too much wind, the boat will broach and stop making way. If I fly an airplane past its VNE (velocity never exceed) the airframe can experience catastrophic structural failure.
At the helm
As we used to say in sailing, that’s a “wipeout.” I have sailed 26 races to Mackinac Island between both the lakes’ Michigan and Huron “Mac” races, so I’ve been aboard during many wipeouts. In my flying experience, I’ve been part of two emergency landings, both, thankfully, on airports with no injuries to self or airframe.
My desire for literalness follows linear logic as well. In my former sailboat racing days, I became a talented bowman, the one who sets and douses the head sails—genoa jibs and spinnakers. An essential task on the bow was keeping the sheets (the ropes or lines that control the sails) and the halyards (the lines that hoist the sails) organized, untangled and clear. Twisted halyards are bad news, since someone usually has to go up the mast to clear them while other boats go sailing by.
In flying, the linear logic was applied as my older brother and I built two full scale airplanes together. I installed the electrical systems. I had to make all of the linear connections so that when we flipped the switches, everything turned on and worked reliably and repeatedly, whether on a CAVU day or on dark stormy nights.
Rudy in Long-EZ
So in my life-long quest for integral thinking, integral knowing, I had to have literalness that made the right connections, that was linear, that had continuity—that worked! I was weaving my own Net of Indra.
Literalness implies truth. Is there truth? If so, what is true?
My objective point of view says yes, there is truth. There is truth in a well-trimmed sailboat and an airplane that is flown safely within its “envelope,” i.e., permissible airspeeds and tested attitudes on all three axes. All of us are thankful for well-trained airline crews. Truth!
I have a BA in Philosophy (1978) from Xavier University, and by the fates of birth and timing, I studied under a prominent Jesuit metaphysician, the late Robert W. Schmidt, S.J., with whom the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas2 still held primacy as a philosophical systematic. Fr. Schmidt summed up his own philosophical point of view with the acronym IRAR – Immediate Reflective Analytical Realism.
I can still see the moment when he wrote that acronym on the chalkboard. Given my objective avocations, we were a match.
But truth, really? Yes, try this as a starting point: “I am.”
This was a philosophical seed for me planted by my reading of René Descartes in his statement, “Je pense, donc je suis,” or, in the better known Latin, “Cogito ergo sum”: I think therefore I am. That “I am” is what we all awaken to every morning. It is the literal active basis of the manifest conscious perception that allows me to write, and you to read, this blog post right now.
From my fingers to your eyes, we are in a literal, active communication, whether we’ve ever met or not. A key statement from Thomisitc metaphysics is that being—the act to be—is self-communicative; one distinct thing acts on, or communicates with another distinct thing. That communication can be two people talking, or the branches of a tree swaying to a strong wind. But, what both interactions have in common is the dynamism of their shared, fundamental act “to be.” In Thomisitc metaphysics, the act of existence is the most fundamental aspect of the systematic.
In the famous synthesis of Aquinas, the merging of the empiricism of Aristotle with the theological esoterica of Augustine, we step beyond the esse, or the essence of a thing as its most fundamental meaning, to its act of being—that it is at all, so that it can be as it is.
Every morning, when we awake to this “I am,” we are faced with the radical freedom to act, to be in communication with everyone we meet and the environment with which we interact. The quality of our interactions, our “communication,” forms the basis of ethics, ethics itself being a distinct philosophical discipline under the crown of metaphysics.
All of the preceding begs the question, is there literalness in spirituality and mindfulness? My direct experience says yes. Biographically, that direct experience spans my near death experience (NDE) at the age of three3 to what I’ll refer to as a Kundalini Direct Rising while studying metaphysics in college4 to my more recent instances of spiritual infusion and actualization on my Woods Walking meditation hikes.
How does one go from the empiricism of the relative activities of flying and sailing to the esoterica of spirituality? I refer to this journey as walking the isthmus of isness—from the relative tactile known, to presence with the sound AUM, or what Joseph Campbell called “the hum of the universe.” The hum of the universe is actually found in science on the relative scale as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It’s the hiss on your old analog radio as you tune between stations. CMB is the remnant background radiation from the Big Bang discovered in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson.
A signpost on this journey through the thin places is Carl Jung’s statement, “…the soul is everywhere that scholarly knowledge is not.” A key to the journey is being mindful to the nuanced instances of spiritual experience, listening for, and to, Jung’s everywhere. The soul is everywhere.
A simple example that virtually anyone can relate to is what I call telephone telepathy; you answer a phone call from a friend or relative and say, “I was just thinking about you.” And indeed you were. In the science of quantum mechanics, such a siren of an impending call, or literally sensing the intention of the other to call you, is entanglement. In esoterica, this is the gift of psychic capability or being an empath.
Here, scholarly knowledge of quantum mechanics hints at what’s happening in this subtle communication between an entangled pair of friends. Of course, quantum mechanics refers to entangled pairs of particles instantly interacting even across vast cosmic distances. By analogy, this process applies to two apparently interacting people.
It’s easy to scoff at such an inference, but tell me this hasn’t happened to you even with some frequency. Nonetheless, what are we but a vast, organized assemblage of just such fundamental paired particles? If a pair of simple particles is proven to interact, what can a vast, organized, aware pair of organisms do? There is a literalness, a truth, in this experience, regardless its scientific validation.
Science helps us take the leap of faith further. Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 states that matter accelerated to the speed of light becomes energy. Also, the theorized Higgs boson was verified by work at the Large Hadron Collider in 2012 at CERN in Switzerland. The Higgs boson is essentially densities of energy that express as matter from an infinite field of energy, the Higgs Field.
These are important scientific facts that have been explored and expanded upon over the last thirty years by physicists such as Dr. John Hagelin. Hagelin’s work takes the matter-to-energy research across a threshold that says that the Unified Field, that which underlies our sensed relative temporal universe, is Consciousness. The Unified Field, the primal Energy of Being, is Campbell’s “hum of the universe.” It is the sound AUM. The CMB is the sound of the hand-clap of Creation that literally plays on your radio.
We have seen through the veil of myth and metaphor.
Hagelin’s work is not currently accepted by main stream science since it is not yet “verifiable” in a laboratory setting. Nonetheless, intuition, or a priori knowledge, will always lead us on this journey through the discovery of what literally underlies that which we are, that in which we participate with every breath, every drink and every Presence.
The good news is that “accepted science” may be on the verge of stepping through the veiled door to the groundedness described by mystics in the idea of “Oneness.”
Here is a quote from an article in “Nautilus” on March 12, 2020—just two days before this was written—by main stream physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Tim Palmer: “We think it’s about time to revisit a long-forgotten solution [to the measurement problem], Superdeterminism, the idea that no two places in the universe are truly independent of each other.”5
Oh my, this is oneness, this is literalness. Or, mindfulness writ large in an active presence, one with another—or everything!
I’ll close this rumination with another famous synthesis, a quote that hints at the deep relationship between quantum mechanics and the Hindu Vedas by physicist Erwin Schrödinger: “The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one.”
Schrödinger knew that this Atman is Brahman.
In the silence of our meditation we know literal Presence, everywhere. This spiritual Presence is as intimate as a kiss and as sure as the crown of the tree communicating with the infinite sky.
From this a mantra:
I am from Source.
I am Present to Source.
Since I am OK and you are OK, let’s walk!
Crown Chakras of the trees
1 Siegel, Today’s Koan: From Myth to Metaphor: https://wp.me/p4cmRf-7x
2 Norris & Arraj: A Taste of Existence: https://www.innerexplorations.com/catchmeta/a.htm
3 Siegel, Woods Walking #10: The First Encounter: https://wp.me/p11gpL-1l
4 Siegel, Woods Walking #9: Three Night of Affirmation” https://wp.me/p11gpL-15
5 Hossenfelder & Palmer, How to Make Sense of Quantum Physics:
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