Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Off We Go, Part II: Meditation and Conscious Awareness

Off We Go, Part II: Meditation and Conscious Awareness

Note: Off We Go, Part II, Meditation and Conscious Awareness is chapter three of my new book Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness. It is being serialized online for free. A complete index for all of the chapters: Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness

Off We Go, Part II

Have you got the big picture? Can you hold it for the next couple of hours?

No, of course, you can’t. You’re busy. You have delicious Pinkberry frozen yogurt to lick from your cone before it decorates that webbed area between your thumb and index finger. You have to savor the taste of those coconuts stripped from a far away tree, just for you.

It’s worthwhile, now and then, as you relish existence here on Earth, to get used to giving yourself simple reminders–like, here I am in the middle of this incredible soup and, for just a few seconds, I’m going to try to absorb everything. Now, back to that Pinkberry.

Be generous with yourself and luxuriate in at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted meditation each day. It’s like oiling the connections between your consolidated self (the one your parents named) and everything else, keeping your exchange with the larger soft machine fluid. Marianne Williamson once quipped to an audience–in which I was so far back I had to take her face for granted–that she no sooner skip her daily meditation than skip a shower. Marianne, if her book jackets are even close to accurate, is classically beautiful and elegantly groomed. She hasn’t missed many showers, and neither should you.

Four Meditations
Four Meditations
Massie, Ian Scott
31.5 in. x 23.75 in.

What concerns us is that unavoidable moment that just got by you as you made way for this one and this one and this one, ad infinitum. You did know that you are flowing reality by your own intention, didn’t you? And that there aren’t really any moments?

Moments are for study. They aren’t real and have no other worthwhile use.

Other forces–people, trees, rocks and sand–are flowing it everywhere around you. You knew that, too, didn’t you? If you did, you probably didn’t think too much about it. Distracted by many things, you assigned your attention to more practical reality. Can we change that mix of perceptions to make space for more of the rich flows that affect you without your conscious participation? A loaded question, but imagine how much more fun you might have in the deep end of the pool, floating, with no chance of feeling the bottom with your anxious toes. Then…

You continue walking in Central Park, enjoying a promenade busy with people and accented by nature. The wind is smooth across your face and full of scents. The leaves make sounds like laughter as they share the breeze. Your toenails are still growing. You can be confident, while blissfully unaware, because they keep at it even after most of the energy exits your entropy-defying body in death. If you’re genetically luckier than me, you may also have lots of hair growing effortlessly too. Dozens of varieties of bacteria thrive on your hands alone. You have… Wait! What was that about “dozens of varieties of bacteria…?”

Autumn Trail
Autumn Trail
Chun, Tan
28 in. x 34 in.
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Let’s talk some biology.

Our lives are fundamentally and necessarily symbiotic. The most commonly known examples are cultures of bacteria playing vital and healthful roles in our intestines, helping us digest, converting food to energy and waste, expending both. Bacteria also help maintain our immune systems, and there is speculation about other not well understood contributions. This makes sense and motivates researchers because the sheer volume of germs we host–over a hundred different kinds on each of our hands, for instance–suggests they must do something beneficial, even essential.

Accepted estimates are that, of the total cells that actively make up any human organism, somewhere around fifty-trillion, more than ninety percent are not human. So, we–as creatures strolling happily through an autumn afternoon in Central Park, leaves floating by us, you and me–are mechanical-electrical entities, soft machines, in which the DNA of less than ten percent of the primary working parts contain our individual identities. As for the rest of them, mostly bacteria, fungi, viruses, what we call germs and the like, we don’t know much about their roles or how the vast community of you coordinates the business of keeping a human operation running. We do know, in spite of advertising to the contrary, that our symbiotic partners are mostly harmless, rarely igniting the immune responses we know as sickness.

The reason, by the way, that you don’t see the dominance of nonhuman cells is that the human cells involved are much larger. Though lesser in count, they are greater in real estate. Don’t make too much of this. As science continues discovering nature, we may find that the smaller size of germs may indicate advantageous efficiency. Maybe they get things done without needing so much space. We do know it’s all intermingled. There are clusters of like minded cells, and there seem to be switches that activate and deactivate functions as some intelligence directs.

Evolution is natures way of helping us thrive without wasting energy. We have to wonder what historical interactions across millennia created creatures so diversely symbiotic that hundreds of types of cells mix and mingle successfully in every second. We manage the complexity of ten-thousand Times Squares at midday in every second, and we’re efficient as all hell about it.
It’s possible that the majority of tinier cells, like members of a family plagued by slackers, does nothing but feed, cleanse themselves and reproduce. Maybe they do the cellular equivalent of watching television and snacking while others maintain the house. Odder existences are seen in nature.

Zebra Crab (Zebrida Adamsii) in Symbiosis with an Astropyga Radiata Sea Urchin
Zebra Crab (Zebrida Adamsii) in Symbiosis with an Astropyga Radiata Sea Urchin
16 in. x 12 in.
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Biologists suggest that some bacteria actively counteract the potentially destructive actions of unrelated bacteria. If so, this would be something evolution designed for our benefit as well as that of the bacteria, allowing them to thrive too, doing their thing in a style outside our control, keeping the host healthy. In the future, studying DNA or some other mechanism yet to be exposed, scientists may tell the story of us and the germs with which we share space and how we came down history’s trails together. For now, knowing what we know and waiting for more discoveries, we can only marvel at the whole, energetic, incredibly complex set of devices comprising each of us, seasoned by how much we really don’t know.

So, at the physical intersection where micro meets macro, we discover a metropolis of cells with various, related and unrelated sequences of DNA, all juggling work schedules in approximate harmony–and, if not harmony, at least coordination–creating an aggregation of stuff ultimately known as me and you. I bring this up for a reason. This making up of clustered organisms must be an outgrowth of what happens in the materials and energies beneath our awareness, the quantum and potential materials we believe make up everything at the most basic level. If history is our best teacher, we might as well take for granted now that something else, something startling is going on deeper even than that scarcely fathomable soup about which advanced science now speculates.

As a simple matter, we know we interact with germs, with material in the wind, with objects we touch as well as those we smell and see. The complexity of what goes on defies claims about time and present moments. All things flow. All mix, and they do so at their own intelligent pace. We can thank evolution for the gimmick called time because it’s given us the ability to observe nature by making it seem to stand still when we want a better look.

It’s not likely that any intelligence anywhere else within our environment operates according to an awareness of time as we do. Clock time is irrelevant to the rhythms of a cat, for example. A cat doesn’t worry about what the boss will say if she is late for work or when a favorite TV show will be on, and chances are, a cat will not feel disoriented when her wristwatch gets misplaced. Your cat may figure something out about time by watching you and seeing how it influences our behavior, but don’t wait for the next tabby with a Timex. Time has served us well, but since it also misleads us about how reality works, we’d be well off to become less aware of it and more tuned in to how nature really occurs, everything spontaneous, everything at once. Meditation can help.

Your afternoon walk through Central Park demands a complexity of working parts and management beyond anything our minds can reliably visualize. We may get a sense of it, even a decent grasp on some of the mechanics, but as when we try to “see” the universe, our brains are humbled by the size of things evolution has not given it the capacity to hold. Here, we have a choice between wonder and dismissal to close the gap.
With the creation of tools, like supercomputers, and digital analyzers, we may never have to stuff a completed cosmos into our craniums. Our already outsized heads may not have to outgrow our necks’ power to support them or our mothers’ ability to give birth to them. We may learn to outsource speculation and analysis and need only to be satisfied with the reports. This, too, probably mimics a reality some have rough ideas about.

Forest Creek
Forest Creek
36 in. x 24 in.
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Give yourself a hearty, “Bravo!”

Even a sidelong glance at the successful machine you are and your potential for more ought to make anyone proud to be in this family. Other families went into other lines of business, populating broad plains with grasses and hills with trees, for example, and can claim magnificent achievements. Interwoven in our family histories are the results of our forming communal bonds with many of them, with fruits for energy and nutrition, with wolves for forming families, fungi for mixing with grasses to give us bread. The story is immense and further compliments our achievements.

Even as we expanded, we prospered alongside and in collaboration with other families as well as quite different branches of our own. We’re like a championship sports franchise that won with help from other team, the bleachers and the clouds. Contributions came from many sources. Now, remind yourself that all of those other families, those grasses, mosses, trees, fish, insects and rodents, all of them won too. Make room at the banquet table for more guests. Some may be unruly.

David Stone

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