Thursday, December 15, 2011

A NATURALIST'S POETICS OF WINTER’S SOLSTICE (Parts I & II)


Part I: Experiencing the Seasons

“Days and nights, seasons and tides, cycles of fertility, rest and activity: all are reflections of the rhythms imposed upon us by celestial motions.  They have influenced where, and how, people may live; the elements that they must overcome; the shelter and dress they must construct, and the stories that they tell about it all.” (114)
-          John D. Barrow The Artful Universe (1995)

          Every season has a poetic as well as an experiential gist.  There are stations that we find in each passing season where we are able to come to terms with what that season might mean to us, existentially, subjectively and inter-subjectively—as well as how it is constructed, objectively; i.e., in terms that science and rational engagement with Earth & Cosmos can discover and then explicate.  In touch with our experiences, natural and personal, inward and outward going, we travel around the Circle of the Seasons, moving from one station to the next.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A NATURALIST'S POETICS OF WINTER’S SOLSTICE (III)

Part III: Poetic Touchstones of the Winter Solstice

          Once we have explored the naturalistic parameters of the Winter Solstice, what can a more subjective and aesthetic experience tell us about it?   As someone open to Earth & Cosmos, the entire cosmos comes into play in my meditations.  Deep experiences of/in Nature at a particular season constitutes the Novitiate for Poetic Creation.  The Winter Solstice Season is replete with deep sensory and experiential associations.  This is an existential experience.  It is constituted by:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Earthen Spirituality & Storytelling (26 November 2011)

“What we call fiction is the ancient way of knowing, the total discourse that antedates all the special vocabularies.”

- E. L. Doctorow  Esquire, August 1986

 “We learn who we are through the stories we embrace as our own. – The story of my life is structured by the larger stories (social, political, mythic) in which I understand my personal story to take place.”

- Sallie McFague  Speaking in Parables (1975)

 “The stories scientists tell are not simply bedtime tales.  They place us in the world, and they can force us to alter the way we think and what we do.” (49)

- Thomas Levenson  Ice Times (1989)

As we adventure though the seasons, meditating and reflecting on our experiences, a narrative inevitably emerges.  “Remember when x happened?”  “Last year, at about this same time …”  When did we last go to x (i.e., a particular place)?  Want to go again today?”  “All of the things that have happened there!”  The longer we immerse ourselves in Nature’s cycles, going deep and ever deeper into what the round of the seasons presents us, the more insightful will be our stories; even our anecdotes of ‘this hike’ or ‘that visit’ to a certain natural vista that has inspired or that sill haunts us with intimations of meaning.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Adventuring Through the Seasons (20 November 2011)

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” (29)
- Carl Sagan  The Demon-Haunted World (1996)

“Days and nights, seasons and tides cycles of fertility, rest and activity: all are reflections of the rhythms imposed upon us by celestial motions.  They have influenced where, and how, people may live; the elements that they must overcome; the shelter and dress they must construct, and the stories that they tell about it all.” (114)
                                                                - John D. Barrow  The Artful Universe (1995)

“The practice of observing the natural world – of getting down on one’s hands and knees before a tide pool, a lichen, a quail, a silent stone, learning from such wild things all one can about their place, their life, their needs, and doing this over and over again, over days and years – is humility’s medium.  In such moments, our vision is renewed, our sense of proper place in the world is both strengthened and deepened.” (110)
- Lyanda Lynn Haupt  Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent (2006)
 Life is an adventure; spiritually understood.  While there will be quiet times as well as stormy ones, and though we are sometimes more at home and at ease with ourselves and our path than at others, living is always a matter of negotiating the choices and maneuvering around or through the obstacles that come to be ‘in our way,’ whether by accident or intent.  We make plans, and think we know where we are going, but we don’t usually end up exactly where we intended.  This is the adventure_ to path consciously; not to be drawn along by the crowd; to be awake in the flux and flow—not to be a pawn of circumstances, if we can help it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ruins & the Harvest: Autumn Themes (23 September 2011)

“Beauty is a threshold event: it may make use of ordinary and uncomplicated things, but these serve as the bridge to a domain of meaning and significance.” (xx)
-          Robert P Crease
The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most beautiful Experiments in Science (2003)

In the turning of the seasons there are many thresholds; many events that mark the passing of time in its spiral dance; the onward movement of existence through the inevitable march of moments.  These moments may pass without ceremony; our lives slipping into the void slowly without notice or remark.  Or, we can mark these moments of transition; thresholds in the pattern of the annual cycle—and make our lives more distinct, more earthen, more tied to Earth & Cosmos.  By establishing markers for these thresholds, we can note time’s passage, nurture a quality of self-awareness that enables us to remember seasons that have passed, and plot out future directions and explorations for ourselves with conscious intent.  This ‘active pathing’ lends vivacity to life in its inevitable passing, and facilitates the generation of meaning out of what-is.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Naturalist Meditations (Focusing Exercises)

 
“I’ve found that you can come to know the universe not only by resolving its mysteries, but also by immersing yourself in them.” (21)

-    Brian Greene  The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004)

This afternoon, having gotten off early from work, I went for a walk in a local wood.  The days are getting shorter, and I was out on the cusps of eventide.  All around me, there were subtle signs of Autumn’s approach: I saw green acorns fallen on the ground and, as I was coming down off the ridge, a single red leaf on the ground.  I picked up an acorn and the leaf and brought them home to use as foci in meditation this evening.
Focusing is a crucial part of a mature meditative praxis.  It is what gives depth to our meditation and fleshes it out.  To focus is to ‘meditate on’ some thing; some object or idea or phrase or quote—it is to allow oneself to dwell ‘with’ the object or idea; to ‘participate’ in it, sensually and intellectually—and thereby to allow its potential meanings to infuse us.  Thus it is very important to pick your foci well; it is difficult to undo the intimacy you will accrue as you ‘meditate on’ an object or idea that fascinates you over a period of time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What is Meditation? (A Naturalist's Perspective)


“Meditation is really very simple; there is not much need to elaborate techniques to teach us how to go about it. ... Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”
                                                -          Thomas Merton
                                  Contemplative Prayer (1969)

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.  When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual." (29)
                                 -          Carl Sagan
                                      The Demon-Haunted World (1996)

         Perhaps because I’ve written a lot in my blogs about meditation, a couple people have recently asked me, “What is meditation?”  I’ve practiced meditation – under one guise or another – for forty years, and I would now say that meditation is a procedure for centering oneself in oneself, as well as a process through which to come to peace in one’s body and in one’s life in the Earth & Cosmos.  Though I first learned meditation under the guise of wicchan mysticism in the 1970’s, and later learned both Celtic and a monastic meditative practices, I have found meditation to be, at root, a naturalistic experience; i.e.,—there is nothing 'supernatural' about the process itself.  If you are religious, meditation will play into your spirituality and contribute to your adventuring toward whatever goal your religion prescribes for you.  But meditation itself is not a religious practice, and does not need to be expressed in religious terms.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Meditation on the Elements (revelatione natura) – 12 July 2011

“Instead of being overwhelmed by the universe, I think that perhaps one of the deepest experiences a scientist can have, almost approaching a religious awakening, is to realize that we are children of the stars, and that our minds are capable of understanding the universal laws that they obey.  The atoms in our bodies were forged on the anvil of nucleo-synthesis within an exploding star aeons before the birth of the solar system.  Our atoms are older than the mountains.  We are literally made of star-dust.  Now these atoms, in turn, have coalesced into intelligent beings capable of understanding the universal laws governing that event.” (333)
                     - Michio Kaku
                       Hyperspace (1994)

Ever since turning to science in the late 90’s as the primary resource and touchstone for a lived spirituality, I’ve sought new meditative foci to orient me to the objective dimensions of reality.  As I moved out of mythology and ancient mystical ideals into an experience of reality infused and informed by the revelations of the modern sciences, I became inspired to meditate on the Periodic Table as a way of reflecting on Nature at a fundamental level; i.e., as a naturalistic form of lectio divina (i.e., the monastic habit of devout reading) ­­– and through it come to a deeper communion with the Earth & Cosmos and ourselves as an expression of the universe.  The “Table of the Elements” has come to replace the “Ancient Four” elements on which I had meditated for 30 years prior to my ‘conversion’ to science from various religious quests.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Dolmen on the Heath – A Summerwood Meditation (21 June 2011)

“Wonder is our human reaction to the exuberant and astonishing power of things to be – that is, their sheer is-ness.” (76)
-          Paul Brockelman
Cosmology and Creation (1999)

The natural world around us is greening to its fullness_ coaxing me into verdant meditations on the nature of Summerwood; drawing me to reflect on the spiritual themes appropriate to this time of the year.  Summer Solstice stands at the pinnacle of Nature’s resurrection each year; it is the height of the ‘Olden Wheel’; the ever-repeating earthen cycle.  It is the longest day of the year, embraced by the shortest nights.  Traditionally, Summer Solstice was associated with ‘luck’ and ‘fate,’ as at this point fields, gardens and forests were fecund with the promise of bounty, yet people could not predict the outcome of the summer growing season—whether it would come to fruition or not, or how fully.  There is also an inner ‘contradiction’ in Summer’s Solstice; that while this is the longest day and life seems to be flourishing, and although the plant world will continue toward fructification and fruition for the next couple months or so, from here on out the days will get shorter and shorter.  This irony portends an intimation of mortality amidst all of the delicious ripening and fullness; a first hint that Autumn and then Winter will yet come again.  But for now_
Dance!  Sing!  Play!  Revel!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Resurrection and Rootedness (A Beltaine Blog; 1 May 2011)

        For almost a month, between wind & rain storms, I’ve been working outside whenever possible, preparing flower beds and repairing my little bit of lawn.  Spring inspires in me a savoring of the natural world as plants come back to life from their winter ‘sleep.’  Stepping carefully through flowerbeds, pulling weeds and transplanting the less fortunate drifters, I’m struck with the sense that everything around me is reviving from a mysterious dormancy.  While we can understand it in scientific terms, the revival of the plant world each Spring still inspires awe and wonder.  Scientific understanding does not do away with mystery; it deepens our appreciation of the mystery of all that is.  Walking in natural places – along field-side paths and through the woods – fills my meditation with images of soil, buds and new leaves, early flowers – crocuses, daffodils and tulips – and the scents of Spring – Black Cherry and now Forsythia.  Each Spring, I become enraptured with New Life!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wandering with Intent (An Eostre Blog)

         Spring has come, and over the last month I’ve been going out-of-doors as much as my schedule permits, wandering and seeking out new experiences in Nature as well as in my Imagination.  It is time for “Emergence,” for breaking with our Winter-long practice of “Enclosure.”
Tonight is Eostre; an old Pagan name for the night of the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox—and I long for a night hike!  To be out in the light of the Full Moon is a naturalistic experience that I’ve long valued; it is linked symbolically with the source of creative Inspiration and with Poetic Praxis—the creation of stories and poetry out of living dreamed scenarios.  As I wait for the skies to clear and the Moon to rise this evening, I find myself reflecting on the nature of ‘wandering’ from a spiritual and philosophic point of view.
The themes of journey, quest and ‘perpetual wandering’ have long been found in human literature, music and art.  They complement and augment the themes of dwelling, homesteading and the idea that we find meaning in places where one’s family or one’s ‘people’ have lived for a long time.  These are all spiritual themes, having to do with deep rooted experiences of our species.  To explore them is to discover touchstones of more personal disciplines, such as “Enclosure” and “Emergence” (which I have discussed in earlier blogs).

CAVES AND THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY (1 April 2011)

Caves have long been a theme in human spiritualities.  Almost any tradition you look at will have some mention of caves and the role they play in personal transformation and spiritual self-realization.  In the traditions of the West, caves have been used by spiritual communities and individual seekers since the Paleolithic (between 40,000 and 11,000 BCE).  Some of the earliest members of our species to venture into Europe, used caves for what appear to be rituals pertaining to hunting, initiation and spiritual rebirth.  As some of the first known examples of human art are preserved in these same caves, questions about the origins of art have long been tied up with questions about human ritual and religion (if you would like to explore these caves and their art, see Randall White's Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind, 2003).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Scientific Cosmology and Eschatology (27 March 2011)

"One does not have to be especially spiritual to experience awe at the infinity of galaxies we can see in the night sky.  Our human consciousness does not merely make possible the question Why?  It insists that the question be asked.  The urge to know is a defining feature of humanity: to know about the past; to understand the present; to glimpse what the future may hold.  ... The night sky is full of unanswered questions.” (389-340)
- Richard Leakey  Origins Reconsidered (1992)

Meditating on the Universe and this planet from the perspective of a scientifically grounded cosmology, I often center down and reflect on the nature of life itself.  Understanding Life requires an existential hermeneutic; it requires poetic reflection upon what is known and what is hoped for, what is dreamt and what is already proven.   Life arises out of the processes set in motion at the Big Bang.  It has come into being on this planet as a logical though not necessary consequence of the various particulars of the dust & gases that were available when our sun began to coalesce coming together and then, as planetary bodies – perhaps dozens of them in the early days of our solar system – began forming, either being blown out of existence by collisions with other bodies being formed or else being drawn into the creation of larger bodies through gravitational attraction.  Soon after our planet came into being, the potential for life must have existed as a matrix in its material systems.  Life did not have to happen.  Yet it did, and in that becoming many wondrous beings have come into existence and then passed away again into extinction, over and over, down across the eons of time since the genesis of life on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mythology, Spirituality and Fundamentalism (13 March 2011)

“Humans need stories—grand, compelling stories – that help to orient us in our lives and in the cosmos.  The epic of evolution is such a story, beautifully suited to anchor our search for planetary consensus, telling us of our nature, our place, our context.” (174)
- Ursula Goodenough  The Sacred Depths
of Nature (1998)

“What does mythical-narrative language contribute?  Something that, although it is contained in my empirical reality, is usually not visible.  I use the gospel, or other religious traditions, to say something that is vital to me.  I use myth and mythical speech because I need it.” (151)
- Dorothee Soelle  The Window of Vulnerability
(1990)

"At the root of myth is a praxis, a way of being within the world that expresses itself in a corresponding way of feeling and approaching reality, including the Supreme Reality that wraps all things around; God.” (215)
- Leonardo Boff The Maternal Face of God (1987)

“We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al‑Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived.  Their stories are what concern us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world ‑‑ attached to various heroes in various lands ‑‑ that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment.” (230‑1)
- Joseph Campbell  The Hero with a
Thousand Faces  (1968; 2nd Ed)


It was once thought that ‘myth’ referred only to stories that weren’t ‘true.’  In the 18th and 19th centuries, the rise of science and scientific history (a researched account of the past, as opposed to traditional stories about the past) threw what we now call ‘mythology’ into question; its truth value was investigated and found wanting—at least as regards its account of things that might actually have ‘happened’ at some point in the past.  In the last half of the 20th century, however, there was a reconstruction of the value and meaning of mythology; as evidenced in the quotes above.  ‘Myth’ came to be seen as something much deeper than a mere account of the actual historical past.  It was seen to be a vehicle for human self-understanding and as a repository of cultural wisdom about the human situation.  Mircea Eliade, Ernst Casirrer and Joseph Campbell were among the most popular promoters of this move to rehabilitate the idea of myth.  I would argue that this ‘rehabilitation’ was actually a reclamation of an earlier understanding of the stories that constitute mythology; an understanding that was fractured by the rise of the historical sciences and their emphasis on ‘what actually happened’ in the past.  While the contribution of the historical sciences is important for understanding the objective world in which we live, the return to mythology in the late 20th century reaffirmed the existential, subjective and spiritual value of these stories.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Revel Toward Spring! (27 February 2011)

SPRING IS COMING_
It is near, but not quite here_ I can sense it!  The days have grown almost long enough for it to be declared ‘Spring’_ but not quite.  Three weeks until the Vernal Equinox!  Though we are still in the grip of wintry weather_ I can sense the turning of the Wheel of the Year in my bones, in my ever-chilly flesh.  Who will dance with me in anticipation? 
The time for Enclosure is passing; I am moved toward Emergence; that bodily desire for movement outward_ for being out on the witch; out on the path_ leaving the solitude of the Hut of Dwelling for three seasons!  I’ve been hearing the ice around my Hut melting for the last week_ despite the storm we had last Moon Night—and though more snow is in the forecast_ something within me cries, “It is time to end this hibernation!
To the Woods!  _If only I could_ brave the ice-laden and slippery paths and skate my way to a new place of insight and inspiration!
Awaken!
Look around you!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Raising the Bar: Evolution and Evangelism (12 Feb 2011)

Last summer I had a visitor at my front door.  I heard the bell ring and went to see who it was, only to find myself confronted with two well-dressed strangers who were anxious to speak with me.  Each was beaming with apparent enthusiasm over something they wanted to share, and after introducing themselves, proceeded to blurt out the well-rehearsed question, “Well, sir, we were wondering if we could speak with you about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Do you yourself know Jesus?”
I was struck by the formality of their presentation and by the meticulous way in which these two believers spoke.  One man and one woman, they smiled at me with a coaxing simplicity that covered more covert intentions; they were – most assuredly – praying for me ‘inwardly’ as they confronted me.  I, too, was ‘praying’ for guidance, and suddenly found myself asking them if they understood and accepted the truth of evolution?  _I was rather surprised by these words coming out of my mouth, but it felt ‘right,’ and so I beamed at them with a hopefully less duplicitous enthusiasm.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Symbolic Reflections at MidWinter (2 February 2011)

It is time to revel in the waxing of day light; the lengthening of the days!
This evening as I was walking home after work I noticed just how much lighter it is at 6 PM than it was a month ago, and was thus reminded that we are at Mid-Winter; that time of the year commemorated in myths and stories as a time for ‘awakening’ as the light of the sun grows ‘stronger.’  Standing about half way between Winter’s Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, I turn to reflections on the symbols, stories and rituals that have been used to mark this turnstile in the Wheel of the Year, in both Pagan and Christian traditions.   The first days of February have long been occasioned by the lighting of fires, hearths and candles.  It has been connected with spiritual awakening; waking up and turning toward the light that is growing day by day—in the hopes of wisening in our ways.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Musings on Naturalistic Ethics (16 January 2011)

“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject permits and not to seek an exactness where only an approximation of the truth is possible.”
                                              - Aristotle
                                  Nichomachean Ethics

I was out in the woods walking through winter landscapes yesterday, wondering as I went, when an inspiration came over me, and I said to myself, ‘there just seems to be no reason, at this point, that we can’t ground an understanding of morality and ethics in naturalism.’  Moving amidst the snow covered deciduous trees denuded of their leaves and the conifers with their snow laden boughs, with the afternoon sunlight making the landscape shimmer and shift as I went, I wondered seriously why it is so hard for people to give up the ‘skyhook’ of God as the justification for their morality?[1]  Why do we think that we can’t be moral on our own?

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Winter’s Day Meditation (14 January 2011)

“In my mind a naturalist is someone who comes to understand the biological life and ecological relationships of a particular place with some depth and seeks to use this understanding to forge an appropriate relationship with earthly life.” (14)
-          Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent (2006)

I have been kept in the house today by a beautiful flurry of snow and wind.  Sitting here, watching the snow falling, hearing its slight patter on the window and smelling the snow-fresh air coming in at the crack under the door, I have turned to devout thinking, and am inspired to wonder at Nature in all its beauty.  Looking out the west window as the lecturer on my laptop continues talking about inflation and how it solves certain problems related to the Big Bang and cosmic evolution, I’m suddenly led to reflect on the ways in which we interact with Earth & Cosmos.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Science and Spirituality (Epiphany 2011)

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.  When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual." (29)
-  Carl Sagan  The Demon-Haunted World (1996)
A spirituality is a set of disciplines, rituals and stories that facilitate what certain philosophers have called "the good life;" that is, a life lived as well as we can live it, given our abilities, situation and the conditions in which we find ourselves.  A spirituality is a pattern for living life to the hilt; to the fullest – a praxis (i.e., a theory united with practice) that helps us make the most of the brief time we have in this world as mortal animals.  To facilitate the ‘good life’ a spirituality must (1) identify paths for realistic personal and social transformation and (2) situate the practitioner in the world as it is known to be (for how can you affect real personal and social transformations, if you don’t have a realistic grasp of the world?).