Space and Holograms and Black Holes …Oh My!

I’ve always held firmly to the idea that just because something you believe cannot be proven by science doesn’t mean you should change your mind about it.  But, I have to say that, occasionally, it’s nice to get some confirmation from the scientists. This is one of those times.

I recently showed my chemistry class a Nova program, “Fabric of the Cosmos,” featuring Brian Greene (the physicist who gave us string theory). It was entitled “Space” and the upshot was that space was not the vacuum we thought it was. (By the way, this and what follows is not news to any student of non-dualitybut I digress.)  Turns out that space is teeming with energy or ‘activity’ as is the so-called “empty space” that comprises the atom.  My students were fine with all that, except when it came to the end of the show where it was suggested that physicists are now thinking that the universe is a hologram. Seems it has something to do with newly discovered properties of black holes. There was an audible silence after the show as they digested what they had just heard.  The idea is difficult to wrap your brain around. The implications are even more difficult to verbalize.

For me – I was thrilled. I’ve written about this idea, on this blog, based on Michael Talbot’s work, The Holographic Universe, which was published back in 1991. This blog entry was taken from a larger piece I wrote, published in November 2007 in the Aquarius (a newspaper published in Atlanta). You can check that out in their archives here.

These times we are living in reminds me of the early years of the 20th century when science was exploding with all the new ideas put forth by Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr etc. Quantum mechanics was born during that exciting time and changed how we view the world. I feel that we are on the precipice of a similar radical revision of our view of reality. I felt it back in the early ‘90’s when I read about the work of physicist David Bohm, who is mentioned in Talbot’s work. That was also around the time I read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics.”

Ideas that have been discussed and bandied about outside of the mainstream over the past few decades are now suddenly being hailed as “new” discoveries. I applaud those men and women who risked and endured being ridiculed and laughed at in order to present the world with other possibilities. In the words of Epictetus, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”


Ocean of Consciousness

I don’t want to turn this into an essay about ‘what I did on my summer vacation” but I just spent the past week in Daytona Beach. My sister and brother-in-law have a condo there and they invited me down.  I felt compelled to go even though the seven-hour drive from Atlanta (by myself) seemed daunting to me.  So I packed up my car and hit the road. It had been a while since I’ve spent time at the ocean. Heck, it’s been a while since I spent time in nature. I had a meditation retreat in the Georgia mountains one weekend in June, but it was right after school let out and right after I had my cat put down, so I was way too stressed and tired to fully appreciate my surroundings. Once I got to Florida, I felt a stirring that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Some of the stirrings were childhood memories I have of the ocean. Growing up in New York, I spent a lot of time at the beach.

The next few days were spent relishing the sights, sounds, and smells of the sea.  There I was standing on the shore, the waves lapping at my feet, unable to take my eyes off the water. My mind was quiet.  I could feel the energy of the ocean. I could feel being a part of that energy.  This will sound like a cliché, but I felt one with my surroundings. Somehow, the other people on the beach didn’t seem like strangers. We were connected, not only to each other and the vast ocean in front of us, but to the One Reality or pure Consciousness permeating all of creation.  Nature is the external manifestation of the Sacred.

With my sister and brother-in-law nearby, I asked what it was about the ocean that drew people to it like a magnet. My brother-in-law suggested that maybe it was because we came from the ocean. That primordial memory of our watery beginnings beckoning.  I think that’s part of it, but I also think this sense of oneness happens in any natural setting. It’s hard not to be moved by the majesty of our natural world.  Being in nature, whether it’s hiking a trail in a forest, sitting in the middle of a garden, or staring up at the stars on a clear night, reminds us that we are a part of something bigger.

The ocean appears infinite and constant. For many, while in meditation, it is the picture we see in our mind’s eye that represents the Absolute Consciousness we perceive as God.

You don’t have to be at the beach to dip your toes into the ocean of consciousness.  When the mind is quiet, as in meditation or contemplation, you allow yourself to be immersed in the Absolute, the One Reality, that Is ……..

Ego in the Mirror

I’ve been getting slightly addicted to computer chess lately.  When I get stumped, I ask the computer to give me a hint. A voice, distinctly female, chimes in with the suggested move. Sometimes I find myself questioning the move, thinking, ‘What is she getting at?” Notice I said “she.”  Then I wonder if “she” will get offended if I don’t follow “her” advice. Maybe “she’ll” even think that I’m stupid if I don’t.  I am anthropomorphizing this disembodied voice, which for all I know is probably computer generated and therefore not even human.

So what is a human? Just having a voice doesn’t qualify – there has to be body out of which this voice arises.  Then we have to label it – male, female, son, daughter, tall, short, blonde, brunette, stockbroker, lawyer …you get the idea.  I’ve called these labels our ‘false identities.’  And by the way, thinking of yourself as ‘human’ is a label or false identity as well.  So when you look in the mirror and you think you are seeing yourself, what you’re really seeing are all the labels, which constitute your ego.

If what you see in the mirror is merely a reflection of the ego, which is not the real you, then where are you?  A better question would be, “Who are you?”  Let’s first look at what you’re not – the ego. Psychology defines the ego as the personality.  Eastern philosophy describes it as a bundle of karmas packaged in a body we call human.  But the simplest way to spot the ego is to realize that the ego is only concerned with itself. It needs to feel important.  It experiences self-doubt.  It gets offended.  All of its time is spent fulfilling its every whim.  Back in the 1980’s, with the advent of new age thinking, we were urged to extricate ourselves from our egos. There was so much written back then giving us advice on how to tap into our “higher self,” which was described as the better part of ourselves that is not narcissistic or ‘ego-centered.’  Sounds pretty simplistic, which it is, but it was a good start.

Whenever I finish teaching a yoga class I press the palms of my hands together in a prayer position and say “Namaste” to those who shared that time with me. “Namaste” is a Sanskrit greeting, which loosely means, “The best part of me honors the best part of you.”  So is the ‘best’ part of you and me that ‘higher self’?  Yes, but it’s more than that.  It is referencing, trying to connect with, the real you. The real you that is the essence of awareness buried underneath all the layers of false identities called the ego.  You may not be able to see it but it exists all the same.

Here’s a little exercise that might help you see what I mean. Look at yourself in the mirror. Now look into your eyes, all the while thinking about who you really are.  Hold your gaze steady. As you continue to stare into your eyes, you will notice that everything, including your body, and eventually your facial features disappears. But you, the real you, is still there as pure awareness or consciousness. All that is present is the disembodied essence of reality.

The real you has no form.  Which can be quite convenient when you think about it. No more time spent on hair and makeup or worrying about what to wear. No more teeth to brush, and the best….no more weight to lose.  But we will continue to worry about these things because we can only go by what our senses show us. And our senses show us the ego in the mirror. But if we look closely enough we just might catch a glimpse of the formless essence of the Reality that is our true nature.

Reality and Illusion

I don’t quite remember the first time I heard the statement, “Reality is an illusion.”  It was probably back in the 80’s when I first got interested in yoga philosophy, but where I came across it I have no recollection. I do remember just glossing over these words not thinking about what they meant. A lot of what I was reading back then sounded very mysterious, and this idea that reality wasn’t real was no different.

Fast forward 20 years and I am sitting in a room with a student taking the SAT. I was there to be a reader for him and one of the passages in the reading comprehension section talked about the movie Star Wars and its sci fi effects using holograms. The passage went on to say how science was beginning to gather evidence suggesting that the universe was nothing more than a hologram.  I couldn’t wait to investigate this further.

I went online and found a piece written by Michael Talbot, Spirituality and Science: The Holographic Universe,”  (based on his book, “The Holographic Universe”) discussing the breakthroughs of modern physicists David Bohm and Alain Aspect. Their work seemed to confirm what I had read in that SAT passage – that the universe is indeed a hologram. Two startling conclusions can be suggested if this is so.

First, objective reality does not exist, since a hologram is not real.  Reality, therefore, is an illusion. Second, it validates the interconnectedness of all things in the illusion.

Let me explain the second part using an example from Talbot’s article. If you look at the hologram of any object, say a rose, you will see a 3 dimensional image of the rose. If you cut the hologram in half you will not get half the rose. You will find that each half contains the entire image of the rose. It doesn’t matter how many ‘pieces’ into which you cut the hologram. We don’t get pieces of the rose, only smaller wholes of the rose. This has led to a revision of the mechanistic model of the universe, where we only study the parts of things, to a more ‘wholistic’ way of thinking and seeing the world. We are finally seeing the forest instead of just the trees. The best example I can think of to demonstrate this paradigm shift is climate change. We are finally beginning to understand how by just focusing on the parts has been detrimental to the whole. In other words, we are beginning to understand that when you disturb one part of an ecosystem that can have consequences for that environment and possibly the entire planet. David Bohm believed this suggested that “separateness is an illusion” and that “all things are connected at a deeper level of reality.” A reality that is real.

Pretty radical stuff, wouldn’t you say? To the western mind, yes, it is probably unbelievable.  But the Eastern traditions have been saying the same thing for millennia.

Remember the Star Trek series? In Star Trek: Voyager, the crew was able to entertain themselves on the holodeck. This was a place where various holographic worlds were created and story lines played out with the crewmembers acting out roles. While they were in the story, everything seemed perfectly real to them.  But, of course, none of it was.

So if the universe is not real, then are we? Well, yes and no. Depends on how you identify yourself. If you see yourself only as the body you possess along with all its attachments and the labels that go along with it, such as, male, female, mother, father, executive, taxi driver, American, French …whatever, then no, this ‘you’ is not real. These are false identities we use to play out our roles on this holodeck we call Earth. Our true nature goes beyond the hologram, beyond labels. Our true nature is the One Reality that not only pervades the universe but also created it. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the spiritual master, in his classic work, “I Am That” states, “…There is no ‘myself’ and ‘his self.’ There is only Self of all. Misled by the diversity of names and shapes, minds and bodies, you imagine multiple selves….don’t be stuck in duality.”

Next time I’ll discuss some tools and techniques used to reach a more non-dual view of our world.

Perception – Truth or Belief?

OutTheDoor_thumbI couldn’t wait until I was old enough to buy my own clothes. When I would go shopping with my mother, well, let’s just say our tastes weren’t entirely compatible. If she were alive today and picking out my clothes, I swear she would still buy the blouses with the peter pan collars.  I remember back when I was a teenager and she would present me with yet another blouse with that horrid collar. “Oh mom,” I would groan, “they’re so childish.” “But, Diana,” she would reply, “they’re so pretty.” She thought they were sweet and feminine and I thought they were for six year olds. You could say it was just a matter of taste and leave it at that. But actually, it was a matter of perception. And perception is a powerful thing. So powerful in fact you could say that it is perception that drives not only our lives but also the material world. And the fuel is judgment.

French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote, “There is no truth. There is only perception.” This is an accurate description of what we find when we concern ourselves only with worldly matters. It was perception that was the downfall of Flaubert’s most famous character, Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary perceived her life in a certain way and judged it as dull and empty. Married to a country doctor, she struggled to find romance and excitement through a series of adulterous affairs culminating in a ruinous life and her eventual suicide. Our perceptions become our reality, our truth as it were, but what reality or truth are we really talking about?  There can be no certain validation of applied adjectives as truth. How we view our lives and the words we use to describe them is always subjective.

Our perceptions shape who we are, how we appear to others, and how we experience our lives. And those perceptions not only contribute to the judgments we make, but they motivate our action in the world. For example, if hunger could not be perceived we wouldn’t eat, (well, maybe we would anyway but that’s another story). If the cold and wet weren’t judged as bad, we wouldn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. If we perceive ourselves as not having enough, we then make the judgment that we are poor and we try to find a better paying job. The ‘we’ I keep referring to, of course, is our ego, not the Real you or me, which is timeless, indestructible, and completely unaffected by the role our ego (or character) is playing on the world stage with all of its attendant ‘stuff’, i.e. the material objects that decorate its life.

Remember, a basic premise of nonduality as proposed by Eastern traditions is “Reality is an illusion.” The ‘reality’ here refers the so-called ‘physical’ world and, of course, our perceptions of it. The lens through which we view the world is our mental conditioning, a compilation of every thought and experience we have gone through, which molds our perceptions (hence our beliefs) thereby preventing us from knowing the truth.

It is the ego that buys into all the social agreements surrounding how we are supposed to live and the things we are supposed to have, i.e. the big house, the expensive car etc. More perceptions, more judgments, more struggle. These social agreements form our perceptions and therefore our beliefs, but is there any truth to any of it? Think of all the belief systems in the world and the measures some will take to defend them. We use these perceptions and judgments to drive our characters through the play on the world stage. That is their only function. They do not define who we are. So don’t worry about them. Just recognize the material as immaterial and move on.

Truth is the only thing that has meaning.  If we are searching for it in the material world we will not be able to find it because truth transcends the material. Poet William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, infinite.” And that’s the truth.