Listening to Pema Chodron

Listening to Pema Chodron, while all around me people are dissing the miracle. What miracle? I only know one miracle for sure, and that is life. I know a lot about life. I know quite a few things about how a cell works. I know that it functions by all those little molecules in there interacting with each other. First are the genes that direct the production of proteins at the right time and place in the cell to do whatever jobs they are perfectly constructed to do. Next are all the other molecules that are already ready to help with whatever they are supposed to do. Then there are the things outside the cell that send molecular messages to help the cell select whatever action it needs to do to stay alive. All this is happening faster than we can decide on anything, and yet – it is us. Without a few billion cells doing this, there would be no me.

People say, in an abstract sort of programmed way, oh yes: “life is a miracle.” But mostly they don’t understand what they are saying. Think about the word miracle. What does it really mean? It does not mean technology. It means, really, that we cannot control it. We can change today, but we cannot control tomorrow. We can’t even understand it. Where did it come from? Where is it going? If we try to stop life – even if we destroy ourselves or our species – to life, it’s “no big deal.” The miracle will just flow around the roadblock and carry on into the unknown. And people keep telling me that technology can stop the reality of the miracle of life and “save us” from it. What nonsense.

We are in principle no different from the molecules that function in the life of a cell. We function in the life of life itself — interacting with other species — and without a few billion different kinds of species there would be no life at all, so far as we know, in the whole universe. Together, we are the flower of the universe – the miracle itself. And yet, as Pema quot ed: “It’s so ironic that so many of us have a deep disrespect and even loathing for ourselves . . .” But for me, whenever I look at a tree or the ground or any other living thing, I do think about cells and tissues and ecosystems and evolution and embryology and actions and reactions and causes and effects, and I do reflect that it is a miracle and it’s an even greater miracle that I can understand that it is a miracle. Next time I look out my window at that tree out there, I will think about xylem and phloem and the color green and oxygen and my beating heart and hemoglobin. All joined together in an enormous miracle. I am it, but without it I am not. Only empty space. “Emptiness.”

Listening to: Nobel Heart, Pema Chodron
Graphic from Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook

Bare Bones Biology 058 – Happiness

“May all living things enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.”

I recently attended a weekend workshop at Omega Institute , where Pema Chodron explained, “The root of happiness is when we can stop struggling with ourselves just as we are, and against the world and our experience just as it is.”

She spent eight hours explaining this statement, and of course I can’t tell you about it in just five minutes, but the concept coincides perfectly with our scientific understanding of life on earth. And it reminded me of one of the most important ideas in the Bible, that is humility. When three bodies of knowledge converge, it’s time to pay attention. If we want to be “happy” or content, we need to have the humility to recognize that humans cannot change the works of God. We can’t change how the ecosystem functions. Even if we are the biggest cheese in the corposystem. Even if we are a biologist.

Biology is the study of life, and life is a fragile flower, beautiful and delicately balanced at the intersection of the interacting laws of physics. Change one little bit of it, and life will change as well. In fact, that is a definition of life. It changes as conditions change. That’s how it stays alive. But life CAN NOT change the basic laws of nature that give rise to life in the first place.

If we want to survive, let alone in happiness or contentment, we need to know what we can change and what we cannot change without destroying the interacting emergent balance that is life itself. It’s not hard to understand. It’s common sense, once we know how the power flows through the ecosystem, and if you want to know this you can download the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook from my web site.

Life exists on earth because the natural laws are exactly as they are. If gravity were a tad off, or energy transfer were not as it is, we would not exist. If the diversity of species is sufficiently diminished, the living earth will not be able to accommodate the changing conditions of life. That’s how it stays alive. The living earth could die, just as your living body can die, if the balance of its needs is overwhelmed.

Technology can not change these things. We are not God; when we struggle against God’s miracle we are fighting against God, or the ecosystem, or life as it must be if it is to be. Exactly as the corposystem is now fighting in a vain and ill-advised effort to overwhelm the ecosystem. It is the worst kind of hubris to believe that we have more power or knowledge than God – or the ecosystem. I think it is the worst kind of criminality, because we know what the ecosystem needs to stay alive, and we know what will happen if we mess it up, and yet we publish continuing propaganda promoting ever greater messing, rather than to admit our mistakes and come together in an effort to bring a better quality of life to our future generations.

“The root of happiness is when we can stop struggling with ourselves just as we are and the world and our experience just as it is.” Pema Chodron

The Bible refers to this happy quality as humility. Recognizing reality for what it is.

Our experience of suffering arises from our struggle against the realities of the miracle of life.

Doing the right thing is not a struggle against reality – it is the process of going with the flow of positive human values informed by the needs of other living things and their emergent properties. The right thing to do exists where the best of human values affirm the long-term welfare of all sentient beings at all of their levels of organization.

Bare Bones Biology 058 – Happiness
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