29 April 2007

Love is not something to be won or acquired from another, nor is it something you can earn with accomplishments and good deeds.  Love is simply the dissolution of your ego, and the realization in this moment of your identity with another being, eventually with all beings.

– Josh Mitteldorf

28 April 2007

The world has room for just one cello superstar at a time.  After Pablo Casals and before Yoyo Ma, there was Mstislav Rostropovich.  While in the USSR, and afterward in exile, he worked to protect human rights and political freedoms in his homeland.  He played in Berlin the day the wall came down.  Later in life, he became a masterfully sensitive conductor.

Listen to Rostropovich play the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite #5

27 April 2007

Objects we ardently pursue bring little happiness when gained; most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources.

Herbert Spencer, born this day in 1820, was a sociologist, philosopher, and contemporary proponent of Darwin’s theory.  His work was twisted out of recognition to create the cruel ideas behind ‘social Darwinism’, when in fact much of his writing concerned itself with the necessity of protecting the weak from exploitation by the strong.

26 April 2007

We who worship at the temple of Science put our faith in an objective reality, about which you and I will agree if only we have the discipline to make our observations with care and precision.  

In practice, it never seems to work out that way – people differ about the content of reality.  But that’s because people are less disciplined, less scientific than they ought to be.  And the biggest differences of all divide us from those who don’t worship at the temple of Science; they worship some other god, and that is their problem, and until they come around, we can’t be expected to find common ground with them.

So what do we make of the fact that Science has painted itself into a corner, proved that there is no objective reality?  Quantum mechanics is our inconvenient truth.  We (like Einstein) want to think that QM must be wrong about that, that some more complete theorem than QM will come along, and it will subsume QM, and describe an objective reality, albeit one about which we have limited knowledge.  The theorem of Kochen and Specker (1967) shows us that this hope is in vain.  Any future theory that (in common with QM) is able to explain some fundamental observations, must not describe an observer-independent reality.

Kochen and Specker's theorem puts some pretty severe constraints on anyone hoping to rid quantum theory of its weirdness. Put simply, the theorem shows that it is pointless expecting to get simple true and false answers from quantum theory. Every statement about a quantum system must either depend on a host of assumptions, or refuse to obey the standard rules of logic - and possibly both.

New Scientist article on Chris Isham’s work at Imperial College, London

25 April 2007

“The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”

~ Thomas Merton

24 April 2007

Practitioners of long-term and intense meditation know of the state of samadhi, in which the body is very still, the mind knows no time. There is no wish for anything to be different from the way it is, and some describe an associated experience of oneness.

Sometimes the word samadhi is translated as ‘equanimity’. This begins to get at the problem: why would anyone want to work toward, let alone achieve, a state of such disengagement or apathy? Even suppose that our lives, without any spiritual practice, were dominated by sadness, but punctuated with joy. Would we willingly trade this for a state of insentience?

Perhaps this is only a misunderstanding of the experience of samadhi, and maybe we who have never had the experience should not speculate on its value. Does the very concept of perfect stillness carry with it an appreciation of the world’s perfection?  

All who practice spiritual disciplines are consciously directing the evolution of their own consciousness, and thus they must confront the question: to what end?  Do I seek joy, or release from suffering?  Do I seek heightened awareness, or suppressed awareness?  The ability to dissolve into love, or an indifference to attachments?

One answer is that spiritual practice (like life itself) is a path that helps define its own goals; that we may begin on the path thinking we are seeking one thing, and the experiences on the path will help us realize that what we seek is actually somewhat different. We progress via a focused determination, but we simultaneously remain open to being transformed by our experience, and in particular to changing what we value at the deepest level.

We seek the wisdom to know what we are seeking.

Description and stories of samadhi by Michael Comans

23 April 2007

Sergei Prokofiev, born this day in 1891, was not considered a prodigy in the way that Mozart or Mendelssohn or even George Szell, his contemporary, were prodigies. Still, by the age of 12 he had composed four operas, a symphony, and about 70 small piano pieces.  That year, he became the youngest student ever to attend the Moscow Conservatory.

Through his life, he wished to compose abstract (atonal) music in the style that was gaining an intellectual following in Europe; but the Soviet government kept pushing him in the direction of appeal ing music for the masses. The result was that Prokofiev ended up writing some of the most enduring, deep and well-crafted movie music of all time, and orchestral works of unparalleled popular appeal.

Listen to the fourth movement of his Flute Sonata, performed by James Galway and Martha Argerich.