What is More Real?

What you first need to know is that each of these sides of the diagram grows from the bottom, the least inclusive to the top that is the most inclusive. On the left is diagrammed levels of organization of life. On the right is my interpretation of what I have heard about lovingkindness meditation. Feedback on the latter would be especially welcome, because I know very little, but it seems to me progression of this wonderful style of meditation proceeds first with identifying one’s own compassion and then gradually expanding it to include all of the life of which one is a living part.

It seems to me like — if science recognizes a reality that is taught in a 2500 year old spiritual tradition, there must be connections, right? Similarities? Maybe the conversion of two strong reality traditions toward the understanding of a common truth. Or one could say homing in from two directions on a common reality, and that would of course be the reality of life. Wouldn’t it?

Your Test Question for Today

Can you tell me why I claim the following statement (taken from an older PBS documentary that I think was entitled DNA) is a cop-out? So far I have thought of three reasons.

“There are many very serious problems facing humans, among them poverty and ignorance. And about these problems we can do very little, but cancer is something we can actually do something about, so I work on cancer.”

Mike Wigler, Cold Spring Harbor

Lately it seems like the end of Autumn is the beginning of Spring, but we do have another six weeks or so before we start to grow new things.

Bare Bones Biology 033 – Coming and Going

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell told the story of an Indra (an Indra is king of the gods) who managed to cure a terrible drought in his kingdom. Unfortunately this Indra let his achievement go to his head. They all do, I think that’s one point of the story. (And by the way, I’m making this story very much shorter, if you want to hear the whole thing, come to the Brazos Museum of Natural History on the second Thursday of January. Or you could read the Upanishads.) Anyway, this Indra thought he was the savior of the universe, so he began to build for himself a glorious palace, with every conceivable modern technology, worthy of his magnificence. Joseph Campbell describes his downfall when a visiting boy introduced him to reality (this is heavily edited):

“ . . . Well, said the boy with a voice like thunder rolling on the horizon, I’ve been told that you are building such a palace as no Indra before you ever built. I’ve surveyed the grounds and looked things over and it seems that this is true. No Indra before you has ever built such a palace.” . . . “Indras before me, exclaimed the King, young man, what are you talking about?” The boy said: “Indras before you, I have seen them come and go and come and go.”. . . and while he was talking there came in parade across the floor an army of ants, in perfect range, and the boy laughed when he saw them. . . and said to the King: “Former Indras all.”

Come and go, come and go, come and go. I have not lived as long as that boy, but I have seen enough coming and going of heroic efforts — until now I do not believe in any simplistic answer to our problems. And so the bigger problem is – all the solutions I hear being proposed around me are – simplistic.

For example. I can’t count the number of people who have told me that the Green Revolution was a failure and therefore we should – and then they propose their own simplistic solution that involves throwing out most of the good that we accomplished, and more importantly the things that we learned, as a result of our heroic efforts during the green revolution.

Where I come from, that kind of behavior or thinking was known as pitching out the baby with the bathwater.

Surely all those concerned people during the green revolution – who worked just as hard or harder than you are working, can not have been total failures, even though they did not accomplish their overall goal. The overall goal was, by the way to prevent the population exploding until the ecosystem can not feed us all. They failed. That does not mean we should ignore all the good information they collected. Or hand it over to the corposystem to use against our better interests, which is basically what happened.

What does it mean, pitch out the baby with the bathwater? It means we took an extremely complex problem, we took the responsibility to try to solve it, we made amazing progress, and then we handed it over to our American dream.

But now our American dream is determined to believe that progress is all about winning and losing, bad and good, black and white, and if we didn’t win, then everything we did must have been bad. The modern American idea of success is to pitch out everything and start over with another different but equally inadequate set of tools.

And why do I say our new tools are inadequate? Because they are simplistic. Good and bad, black and white, winning and losing, and


So this is a helpful hint to all modern Indras. Even the most simplistic problem has at least three parts that must be considered before it can be resolved, and in the case of the ecosystem a whole lot more than three. Better we should stop ignoring all the good thinking that has already been accomplished, and get together and discuss how best to integrate it with our new good ideas.

Bare Bones Biology
KEOS 89.1, Bryan

Bare Bones Biology 032 – Life as a Poem

The other day I was feeling down in the dumps, so someone suggested I should think of my life as a poem. He didn’t say what kind of poem. The first one that popped into my head was:

“White cat shedding.
Cat hair

I think the good poet writes from the deepest part of her soul, and if that’s true, I hope I’m not a good poet with a soul full of cat hair. But I don’t believe we have control over the deepest part of our soul. Maybe great poets do, but I doubt it. The greatest poet probably is the one who can see the rhythm and beauty of her soul, and the ugliness and pain, and channel them out into words. Channel them from the deepest part of her soul into her computer, print them out and hang them on the refrigerator with a magnet that has a picture of the whole living earth on it.

I have three poems on my refrigerator. They’re too long to read in my five minutes here, but the titles are: “Poem” by Mary Oliver; “This Talking Rag” by Hafiz; and “Not in Our Name.” And a poem I wrote about a rainbow. A real, lovely memory. I often read my refrigerator.

I also have several pictures on the refrigerator. The green, living earth from space, a crystalline drop of water on a green blade of grass, a grandfather with his twin grandsons, and a woman about to be engulfed by the Asian tsunami of 2004. If I could pick one painting to hang on my wall, it would be the horse market by Rosa Bonheur, or Van Gogh’s flowers. But we also must recognize the truth of The Scream, by Edvard Muench.

For photographs, a favorite was taken by an independent war photographer in Iraq. His name is Zoriah, and he has a web site, but of course that particular picture is no longer there. I’ll put a copy on my blog.

Great art illuminates a snatch of real truth, in a world of fake fronts. Facades. That’s why we like it. Great art is a process of recognizing reality; not creating it. Reality is what it is, and the artist somehow captures its essence. We don’t make the poems. Life does. We only catch them.

Life flows through the ecosystem in the genetic code that tells every little cell when and where and how to do its job to keep the body alive and well. We merely pass it along, millennium upon millennium.

Do we believe we made “our” baby? If so, we’re delusional. We don’t make life. We share it. Or maybe we gift it. And we cherish it. Or we don’t. We hold this gift in our bodies, and in our deepest soul for a time. But it is the ecosystem that protects, nurtures and maintains physical life. Not us. Individually and collectively, we are nothing more than little drops of life in an interacting evolutionary flow. We depend for our lives on the other little drops and the whole of life, very much in the same way that a red blood cell is just the tiniest bit of a flow of blood that energizes our bodies, interactively with all the other body parts to give life to us.

We owe our lives to the DNA that informs every living part of the eco-system. We can cherish that fact. If we are a great artist we can sing its praises or its pain. We can participate in maintaining its health, or we can fight over the scraps of its malaise. But we cannot control it.

Thank God.

(Iraqi photo by Zoriah, WWW.Zoriah.com)
(Bryan Photo by Lynn)

Trying to Decide

Which picture to blow up big and hang at Greta’s Frame Shop on First Friday. This one,

or the middle one,

Or the third below.



or Joy

If we can’t choose everything we want — then which do we choose to cherish most into the next year.

Thanksgiving Proper

So quiet, as a proper day of thanks should be. No planes, not even a flyover from TAMU. No cars. Well, a few cars, but no trucks. Only the cry of geese hastening to stay ahead of the front that dropped the temperature more or less 50 degrees F. Peace, peace, peace. Why do we keep pushing happiness, when peace is possible. For me and my cat and you and the flying geese, and the buzzards out there playing on the thermals of the approaching front — and the whole shebang.

Of course, both would be nice, but happiness comes and goes. Peace we could make for the generations if we really wanted to, more than we want to be happy today.