An uplifting news item, poem, thought or quotation each day.
Archive of past entries

20 March 2005


"Peace that passeth understanding," was the way T S Eliot put it, before Westerners were familiar with the word. "Shanti denotes the capacity to bear success and failure, joy and misery with perfect equanimity." says Bhagavan Baba, but "equanimity" is too insubstantial a word. For one is only truly at peace when there is no desire for anything to be different from the way it is right now. Imagine a perfect physical ease and comfort. Then consider that this condition can persist even in the presence of physical pain, can indeed transcend pain. Next, translate this physical ease to the realm of the psyche. One can have the same kind of ease and comfort with the way the world is, and, perhaps more remarkably, with one’s own relation to the world, and to individual others.

The final paradox of shanthi is that though it embodies a thorough acceptance of all that is – and beyond acceptance, a living perception of the world’s perfection – though there is no impulse to change anything, nor even a sense that things could be better than they are now; though one may inhabit a frame in which "better" has no meaning... still, the state of shanthi is no stasis or inertia. Paradoxically, we are most effective in transforming and improving our world when our actions are rooted in a deep inner peace.


19 March 2005

New Scientist this week has a cover story on ‘13 Things that Don’t Make Sense’. These are a collection of anomalies, experimental observations that cross the predictions of theory in areas we though we had down pat. It’s a reminder that as vast and sprawling and intimidating as scientific knowledge has become, there are still basic questions unresolved, and indications that there are profound and delightful surprises in store for the coming years.

My favorite among the 13 have to do with the missing mass in the Universe, which seems to have gravitational pull but nothing else. The current version of the Big Bang theory works fine as long 95% of the Universe is made of some unknown substance that is not electrons, neutrons and protons like all the matter we know. Whatever it is, it’s all around us, waiting to be discovered, but so far the only way we see any trace of it is via its gravitational pull, and that doesn’t tell us much.

"We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance."

-John Archibald Wheeler

18 March 2005

"Let the wave of memory, the storm of desire, the fire of emotion pass through without affecting your equanimity."
-Bhagavan Baba

What can this mean?  Anger, desire, fear, erotic feelings – these passions seem to be incompatible with equanimity.  What's more, we feel that even if we could somehow "transcend" our passions and achieve equanimity, why then would we go on living?  Our passions are the substance of our response to the world, and we relinquish them at peril of ceasing to be.

The resolution of this paradox derives from the perspective of the witness.  I can be deeply engaged in life, and experience a full spectrum of passionate responses to my own circumstances and the larger state of the world.  But I do not identify myself with the protagonist of my life.  I choose a different vantage, adopting the stance of the observer.  I regard with interest and compassion all that I see, and especially myself: my triumphs and travails, my folly, my grandeur.  I inhabit a vantage of love. 

17 March 2005

"We all know how pearls are made. When a grain of grit accidentally slips into an oyster’s shell, the oyster encysts it, secreting more and more of a thick, smooth mucus that hardens in microscopic layer after layer over the foreign irritation until it becomes a perfectly smooth round, hard shiny thing of beauty...If the oyster had hands, there would be no pearl. Because the oyster is forced to live with the irritation for an extended period of time, the pearl comes to be....

"Life throws at us innumerable irritations that can be mobilized for pearl making, including all the irritating people who come our way. Occasionally we are stuck with a petty tyrant who makes our life hell. Sometimes these situations, while miserable at the time, cause us to sharpen, focus, and mobilize our inner resources in the most surprising ways. We become, then, no longer victims of circumstance, but able to use circumstance as the vehicle of creativity."

Stephen Nachmanovich, Free Play

"Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men.
Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks."

-Phillips Brooks

16 March 2005

"Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye."

-Herman Melville

15 March 2005

At dawn departing city walls beneath two hanging clouds
A thousand Yangtze River miles and back before night falls
Along both banks the cries of monkeys sound without relief
My little boat has crossed the valley through ten thousand peaks

- Li Bai (or Li Po) Tang dynasty, 701-762 AD

Legend has it that LiBai drowned while trying to scoop the moon out of the river.

14 March 2005

"At its core, the process of thinking depends on our ability to tell a good lie and stick with it. Metaphors R Us. To think is to force one thing to 'stand for' something that it is not, to substitute simple, tame, knowable, artificial concepts for some piece of the complex, wild, ultimately unknowable natural world. Much of the hard work of thinking has already been done for us by those anonymous ancestors who originated and shaped the earth’s human languages. Language is surely one of our most useful tools of thought, giving conceptual prominence to certain things and processes, while relegating the unnamed and unnamable to conceptual oblivion.

"Besides naming, other kinds of lying include reasoning by analogy or metaphor and the creation of legal, mathematical, personal or social fictions such as money, limited liability corporations, the square root of minus one, enlightenment, and private property. Each word is a cultural enterprise, a public attempt to dissect the wordless world in one particular way. The usefulness of these verbal concepts should not blind us to the fact that a sudden insight, a change in fashion, or a new perspective may inspire other equally valid ways of parsing the world riddle."

- Nick Herbert, Elemental Mind