A Million Different Things: Morning, Meditation #15

Meditation #15 is the last in the Section, Morning, in my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. For a complete listing of all the links so far, please go to: Gift of A Million Different Things.

A Million Different Things, Morning, Meditation #15

David Stone, Writer

I’d read enough about quantum physics, the mechanics of the very small, to dizzy myself with speculation. My awakened enthusiasm could disperse a crowd in seconds. Initially, as I suspect it happens with many people, my new insights excited, disoriented and sometimes depressed me. They took away the comfortable context of how I’d lived my life and left me with nothing but dazzling information.

The first book I read on the subject–really, I was led to it–began by explaining that what we had discovered about quantum reality was so difficult for us to adjust to that we had to go on living as though we didn’t know what we knew for another hundred years. Popularizers, such as Brian Greene and Paul Davies, and the charisma of Albert Einstein have helped ease acceptance, but the discoveries of this science have been avoided by most of us. Coupled with the historical proximity of evolutionary theory, the knowledge of how reality functions beneath our perceptions blew the pins out from under every faith we had in how our lives should be conducted.

Succeeding research has only made these discoveries seem more radical. Our established beliefs feel so vital we want them sustained, regardless of their relationship to reality. Our educational systems have trended more toward rote knowledge than wonder as imaginative investigation has taken us into territories we’d rather not visit.

I read somewhere that ancient maps sometimes marked lands not yet visited and, therefore, frightening with this legend: There Be Dragons. We’ve staked out that position as securely as ever, and anyone who goes into the land of fire breathing reptiles will find few companions and even fewer travel guides.

From Paul Davies, I learned the basics of probability waves and about the fabric of space time, about Many Worlds Theory and the idea that things were not nearly what we imagined them to be in the macro world. I wrestled with the dilemma of Schrödinger’s cat. One night, too excited to sleep, I lay in my bed, my wife in blissful slumber beside me, and imagined my position on a grid of quantum matter that stretched across the universe. Each sound in the New York night seemed a bump in the fabric, each object–me, for example–a lump on an otherwise slender plane. In my car on a fast-paced Interstate, I saw the objects around me much like sophisticated and textured Lego block constructions. It could just as easily be something else, and what I looked at was nothing more than the current state of our uninformed play.

Once I got passed the kick I gained from impressing others with my new found insights (“Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and so…”), none of which had the impact I imagined, alienation began to reassert itself. I felt more alone than ever, and the loneliness, from time to time, bordered on, even dipped its toe into, depression. I hit that Woody Allen phase where the meaninglessness of life haunted me with no honest alternative to consider. It all seemed fantastic and, ultimately, pointless. We couldn’t even know, really, who or what we are. Reality receded, down and down, the harder we chased it.

Strolling up Third Avenue one Sunday afternoon, my wife and I walked into one of the street fairs popular in New York from spring until autumn. Car traffic is shut off from curb to curb, and tents shelter tables covered with goods at knockout prices. Nowadays when these fairs are put up, they’re repetitious, the same old fried dough, Pashmina scarves, cheap underwear, falafels, used and remaindered CDs, et cetera, as we’ve seen for roughly ten years. They must serve some purpose in this predictable fashion, since there are more of them in their sameness, it seems, than ever.

Then, however, in the mid-90s, there was more variety. At a single fair, multiple vendors sold antique post cards, many used and preserved, dating from when these played some of the roles Flicker and Facebook do now. Postcards featured views of the places friends and relatives were lucky enough to visit while on vacation or traveling on personal business. The cards were mailed out at a discount, all privacy surrendered, with notes written in longhand on one-half of the reverse and formal information about postage and delivery on the other.

My wife and I fingered through the cards, many of them faded or yellowing, as if wandering through untouched history. We bought and took home a few, nearly all of them relating to our hometowns of Binghamton and Buffalo. Some were so touching we framed them. A small collection ended up on a wall.
Other vendors sold rows of that now vanishing commodity, printed books. The passion books stirred in me still ran strong, and surveying the spines for a few minutes was a pleasure I rarely denied myself. It was possible to tramp through many renditions of reality, hoping to find one with enough zing to encourage me to look further.

That’s how, without looking specifically for it, I discovered The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukov’s startling book that explored the consistencies between quantum physics and actual experiences in Taoism. Wu Li implied a flow of universal stuff and, for me, moved my understanding by helping me see how reality constantly forced us on a ride of invention.

My view of the world became unstuck, the reality behind it more vivid and pliable. The universe was awash in potential. Anything could and, since it could, eventually must happen. I began to see inspiration accelerating the world around me, and by accelerating, I mean its being dodged as much as accepted. Throw your arms open to the thrill, I thought. Go for it, many writers and philosophers advocated. “Life is a daring adventure,” Helen Keller declared. Later, after the initial flush of insight settled, I saw that, while many people repeated these ideas and most agreed on them, few practiced any, at least not for long and rarely in public. The teachings of Lao-tzu were about as readily accepted as were those of Einstein and Schrödinger.

Not much later, a book whose title had been grabbing at me for months finally became irresistible. Knowing little about its contents besides teaser blurbs and book jacket information, I downloaded an audio copy of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. My book reading had expanded dramatically with the discovery of books I could download to my computer, then transfer to an iPod. My reading was done mostly during my otherwise much less useful subway commute, and I found I listened much faster than I was able to read on crowded and noisy trains. An additional advantage was that many books, like those of the then hilarious Al Franken and the intense Tolle, were read by their authors, authentic voices adding commitment to the words.

I remember listening to Tolle’s accented voice recalling the tale of his afternoon of awakening while walking around London. More fully than with any other book, I can tell you where I was (on a red, shuttle bus in New York) and what the city was like around me (overcast and hectic on a Monday morning), a good part of me also sharing the London streets with the author.

If case you’ve never read The Power of Now, it launches with Tolle’s telling of how he learned to discover himself by deliberately living in the moment. Until I read his account, I was unaware of how distracted I’d become among the hectic goings on in time and space. In Tolle’s situation, the experience had been dramatic and disconnecting. His finding a way to coherently share the sense of awakening has been a gift for millions.

Over the next several months, I did two new things consistently. First, I listened to everything by Tolle I could get my hands on, which included recordings of seminars and public engagements that filled a gap left by his limited book production. I also adopted a practice of reeling myself into the present moment. Here! Now! I’d remind myself internally and reattach to the joys of present awareness. I started doing things, like enjoying meals, more slowly and staying awake to the complexities of the world around me. I discovered how much I’d been missing or, rather, not seeing while my attention had ricocheted from object to object and interest to interest over the hazy smear of time. Although this made me happier, I didn’t feel much more power. As I practiced my life, I still felt that I was in the mix of many elements over which I had no control.

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I’d plateaued, I realized, without having reached the top of the hill I’d thought I was near. There can come a time in our experience when we’ve earned or been given many tools but not a full set of anything. We can tinker and get results. We can walk along the river, happiness soaring at the colors, the sights and sounds, but we return again to the same perspective. I hadn’t really changed my life, just updated the furniture. My surroundings had improved immensely, just through awareness, but I still hadn’t enough of anything tangible.

Moods came back, emphasizing unresolved gaps in meaning. Ultimately, what was the point of becoming more happy if all it included was a cheerier nothingness, a directionless romp through an empty universe? With greater contrast now, these moods hit me harder and verged on the states of depression then growing popular in the mass media. Celebrities were coming out with confessions about their trials with this mental disease.

Maybe my horror at the prospect of falling into a condition becoming so trite saved me. I never got beyond mild concern. Every bout of despair came with a reminder that they always passed, returning me to my usual happy-go-lucky demeanor. Although this let me feel safe from the worst ravages, it didn’t satisfy me emotionally. It still left me out on a limb for which no trunk was evident.

The Power of Now had been given to me in the sense that the title kept showing up like a prompt. It was as if I was going to be hectored until I pulled it off a shelf and found out why. The tipping point occurred one Saturday afternoon as my wife and I walked in Greenwich Village, a fairly common practice for us, and one more time, a bookstore display shoved Tolle’s gem in my face. I didn’t have to go inside to see it. Multiple copies filled the window.

No such flags came to me after I finished my journey through Tolle’s world, picking up every tip and insight he offered. I found myself it the end of my map. I’d picked up knowledge and great tools, but I didn’t see how any of it mattered.

At this point of flagging direction, I turned to something I hadn’t in years. I appealed to the indistinct resource I’d relied on when I was young and feeling lost. I sincerely asked God as if convinced there was one or, more accurately, that inner guide for which I had no better title, to help get me out of the existential mud in which I was stuck. I asked to be shown what my life was about.

Finding a purpose for being, here and now, began to seem vital. I had nowhere else to go.