like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
― Albert Einstein
"Attention is energy. What you pay attention to you get more of."
-- Stephen Gaskin
I think we all were. An open, questioning mind is part of our essential equipment. Watch any toddler at play.
Sadly, it seems that most of us are all too quickly conditioned to stifle that curiosity. We are programmed to accept the prevailing beliefs about reality, and "get with the program. "
Somewhat clueless themselves, most parents, and even many schoolteachers, couldn't deal with our incessant questioning.
It scared them.
Lest Ye Be Like Children
I spent a lot of time wandering around alone as a kid. I remember coming across a broken camera in the alley that ran behind our apartment building in Chicago when I was about ten years old. What a find!
I took it home and immediately took it apart.
Then, I wondered why the heck the world was upside down when I viewed it through the single lens I extracted from that camera?! After fooling around for awhile with the various lenses I then collected, I figured out how to right the image. Soon, I was able to make objects appear larger. Before long, I had made a telescope. Then, I began logging the motion of Venus as it passed over the rooftop of the building across the alley night after night. I noticed that it wasn't in the same place at the same time each evening. Why not?
The question "why?" didn't scare me or frustrate me. It evoked curiosity and a sense of wonder.
Later that same year, I discovered that an electric car I'd received as a Christmas gift made static on the radio's speakers whenever its path took it close to the radio. WTF? Again curious, I took the car apart and discovered that the sparking of its electric motor created the noise in the radio's speakers. There was an invisible energy traveling between the motor and the radio. I'd discovered radio waves! Before all was said and done, I had cobbled together a homemade keying device and learned morse code so that I could send actual messages through space using invisible waves of energy.
This early interest in invisible waves of energy continued.
In junior high school I became a licensed ham radio operator -- and a musician. Sound waves, radio waves, light waves. They all fascinated me. The idea that these waves operated at different frequencies, at different rates of vibration became clear to me. I learned how to tune my guitar. I learned how to tune my homemade transmitter to deliver maximum power at a particular frequency.
Resonance seemed like high magic to me. When the electronic attributes of a circuit hit a point where the rate of vibrations synched up perfectly, Shazam! With the same amount of power that it took to light up a 75w light bulb, I could generate invisible waves that would radiate from my wire antenna hanging between two trees in Illinois to contact other ham operators. One night, those waves reflected off the invisible charged particles in the freakin' ionosphere, then bounced back to earth and back to the ionosphere a couple of more times -- to communicate with a station at the South Pole!
How cool is that?
It gets better.
Invisible energies continued to fascinate me. By the time the Hippies were happening in Haight Ashbury a couple of thousand miles away, I was quite inclined to believe in "the vibes." I didn't find it odd to believe that there was a dimension of experience that involved such things. I'd been exploring invisible energies for years. Experimenting with mind-altering drugs was a logical extension of my own curiosity about the nature of reality. I was soon exploring yoga and meditation practice as well.
In the course of the next few years, with the support of a number of kindred spirits (we formed a short-lived "commune" in the early 70's), I learned that one didn't have to do drugs to be in touch with a dimension of experience where subtle invisible energies were at play. If we pay attention, "the vibes" are as perceptible as the wind on our skin. Then, I came to see that, just like in music and radio, there were certain principles at work.
One Love: One Truth, Many Paths
Although the belief structures and institutions that emerged sometimes led to conflict, there were also those seekers who saw through the illusion of a fundamental separation. The question "why do beliefs differ?" didn't frighten them and cause them to reject another point of view, it led to a deeper exploration of their own.
Wisdom was the result.
In the West, one tradition of such wisdom teachings is known as the Perennial Philosophy. I first saw it referred to in Frontiers of Being, a book written in 1969 by Duncan Blewett, a Canadian psychologist engaged in LSD research. His work chronicled the experiences of people involved in clinical trials that mirrored the mystical writings of the world's religions.
The Perennial Philosophy traces its roots from the Neo-Platonism of the middle ages in Europe through the Transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau, etc.) of 19th century America, and into what many have called the New Age Spirituality of our times. The basic premise of the Perennial Philosophy is that all the world's religions share a single, fundamental Truth, a Truth directly perceived through the "mystical" experience of it's founders and subsequent prophets, seers, sages and saints.
I think a whole lot of us who came of age in the psychedelic 60's and 70's tapped into that experience -- with or without drugs. In this relatively widespread Collective Kensho, many of stumbled our way into a deep recognition that we are, each of us, inseparable parts of an Essential Oneness. In what is now referred in some circles as a "Non-dual experience," we saw clearly that we are not only "all in this together", we are all this -- together.
Once our Essential Oneness is understood, it's not surprising that each of the world's major religions then place a fundamental importance on Love and Compassion. Jesus claimed that it all boils down to loving God, and loving one another. Five hundred years before that, Buddha said that the only eternal law is that hate doesn't cease by hatred, it only ceases through love.
The other major religions seem to agree.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the key. In each of these traditions, there is some form of the Golden Rule. They each present a pretty similar ethical framework for our behavior: don't kill, don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, etc.
It only makes sense, right?
That part of us which experiences ourselves as individuated focal points of awareness in relation to the "other" beings out there should be kind and caring. After all, at the deepest, most profound, most mysterious level, you and I are One. We are the infinite warp and woof of the same Grand Tapestry.
So what does this have to do with telescopes, radios and guitars?
E = MC 2
Albert Einstein, a man who never lost a childlike sense of wonder as he danced along the edge of Science and Mystery, discovered that matter and energy and light are fundamentally the same thing. Once that is understood, it's pretty easy to see some common principles at work.
In theory and in Practice, it's all about vibrations, waves, and fields:
1. Energy can be focused. (Did you ever focus sunlight through a lens? )
2. Energy radiates. (Throw a rock in a still pond sometime -- or just turn on a freakin' light switch.)
3. Energy also resonates. (Sing in the shower and find the exact note where your voice is amplified dramatically by the acoustical dynamics of the physical space.)
Physicists and engineers have been all over this for a long time.
Attention = Energy
That being the case , where and how we focus our attention becomes profoundly important. Our attention is energy -- and it matters! The energy of attention has a tangible effect not only on an individual's own experience, that effect also radiates outward.
The Saints and Seers and Seekers and Sages of the world's religions throughout time saw this clearly. A quality of awareness that is truly attentive, open, curious, kind, and caring is an energy that vibrates at a different frequency than that of a consciousness that is grasping, or fearful and angry, or distracted and confused. They also saw that the energy of Loving Attention not only palpably touches oneself and others, it also resonates deeply with Something deep within and beyond us, a field of energy that seems limitless, infinitely inclusive and expansive.
Some folks refer to that Realm of Being as God, some folks may call it Shunyata, the Tao, Allah. I call it One Love. (A rose by any other name...... ) As we grow in our ability to "vibrate at that frequency", we resonate with that. This then has a subtle, yet profound impact on our life and the lives of those around us--and even beyond that. If you're paying attention, you can see that play out directly.
The impediments to being kind and compassionate are, of course, many, varied, and deeply engrained. We've been conditioned by a highly judgmental, fearful, and often unkind modern capitalist society. This makes Simple Kindness and Compassion an exacting discipline. Yet, without an Open Heart and a Clear Mind, any actions we take in our lives -- and in our world -- will ultimately ripple forth and bounce back as a reflection of our fear and anger.
In our world today, it's obvious that a whole bunch of us have got to do a lot better.
That's why I Sit most every day. I've been doing that for decades now. It's just like tuning up the guitar. It takes a bit of time and effort. For the past several years, I've also been working with the Lojong Trainings -- on and off the zafu. Studying and practicing the 59 slogans of these Tibetan Buddhist teachings helps me to stay "in tune" within the activities of everyday life. Although most days don't pass without me thinking "I sure could have done that one better," for the most part, life has become much easier -- and much more satisfying.
The cultivation of kindness and compassion -- and the on-going curiosity necessary to stay truly Present enough to act skillfully-- takes time and effort. It takes Practice. Yet, I can't think of anything more worthwhile to do.
How about you?