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Last week I walked a labyrinth.
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by Daedalus for King Minos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape his own labyrinth after he built it.
There has been a resurgence of interest in the labyrinth as a symbol and a revival in labyrinth building. The labyrinth is a model or metaphor for life.
Ancient labyrinths are believed to have been built to trap malevolent spirits. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized the difficult path to God. The center represented God and the entrance symbolized birth.
I have heard many versions of what the labyrinth represents and also how to walk it.
It can be seen as a symbolic pilgrimage. You walk the path to salvation or enlightenment. For those who could not travel to holy sites and lands, the labyrinth was a substitute.
You can find them in parks and at churches, monasteries and places of worship. Most are not very large or elaborately built. The last one I walked was painted on a church parking lot. But even in a painted one, you can lose track of direction and of the outside world, and it can quiet your mind.
Though there are many Christian uses for the labyrinth, it does not have to be a religious walk.
In the labyrinth, we don’t know where the path will take us. We don’t foresee the twists and turns ahead. There is one way in and one way out. (Though I have seen people get lost in them.) Eventually, if you continue, you will arrive at the center.
You meet others along the path. Sometimes you meet people face-to-face and step aside to let them pass. Some catch up to us and pass us, and we pass others along the way.
When you reach the center, you can rest, watch others, pray, stay a long time or leave quickly.
There are no rigid rules. At the church last week, I was told to ask God a question upon entering and then listen for an answer during the walk. When I walked a labyrinth in the woods a few years ago I was told to be open to a question emerging. Each time I came to the edge of the circle, I should pause and take note of the direction I was facing and focus on what question was in my mind at the moment, if any. The answer would come when I exited.
Though I have never found THE answer in a labyrinth, I have found answers there.
You may be able to locate one near you with this labyrinth locator website.
“When someone seeks, then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal.” – Siddhartha
I read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse when I was a sophomore in high school. A good age to be a seeker. It is a small and simple story and has become a classic. You could read it in a day or a weekend, but I would suggest that you read it slower. Pause between chapters.Read in a quiet place. Perhaps you should read this book late at night or early in the morning or at the point that is not quite night or morning.
“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books. I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams — like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves.”
Siddhartha is set in India and in it we meet the Buddha. It is a novel about a young man, Siddhartha, who leaves his family to have a contemplative life. But that journey doesn’t work. He becomes restless again. He leaves that life and follows a life of the flesh. He gets a woman pregnant and has a son. His life bores him. He becomes sick of the lust and greed that surrounds him and yet has a hold on him.
At a river, he hears a unique sound that signals to him the true beginning of his life. This begins with suffering and rejection, but ultimately finds peace and wisdom.
“Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”
My next Hesse book was Steppenwolf which seemed like the logical next book, although it is not at all a sequel. Hesse (1877-1962) was a Westerner attracted to the mysticism of Eastern thought. In Steppenwolf, the protagonist, Harry Haller, is a sad, lonely, reclusive intellectual. He feels sometimes that he is a wild primeval wolf. Like Siddhartha, he has trouble dealing with the good life he lives but also despises.
Rather than a river and a sound, Harry’s life changes when he meets a woman who is his opposite. Hermine is carefree and elusive. This second novel did not capture me as Siddhartha had done. Maybe this Westerner seemed too much like me.
“… there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source. The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life. Nor will suicide really solve your problem […] You will, instead, embark on the longer and wearier and harder road of life. You will have to multiply many times your two-fold being and complicate your complexities still further. Instead of narrowing your world and simplifying your soul, you will have to absorb more and more of the world and at last take all of it up in your painfully expanded soul, if you are ever to find peace.”
Even though Hesse told me that “This is the road that Buddha and every great man has gone, whether consciously or not, insofar as fortune has favored his quest,” I much preferred to walk the road with Siddhartha.
For many years, I have been scribbling quotations in blank books. Nowadays, I often pass them on via the Internet. I have a number of them from Hesse and most are from Siddhartha. Here are a few for any seekers reading this post. Read and apply with caution.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.
Often it is the most deserving people who cannot help loving those who destroy them.
I live in my dreams — that’s what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own.
That’s the difference. (from Demian)
You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live.”
It is not for me to judge another man’s life.
I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.
Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny –
not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself.
Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.
I have always been a great dreamer. In dreams I have always been more active than in my real life,
and these shadows sapped me of my health and energy.
Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart
and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell. (from Narcissus and Goldmund)
If I know what love is, it’s because of you.
He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being. But although the paths took him away from Self, in the end they always led back to it. Although Siddhartha fled from the Self a thousand times, dwelt in nothing, dwelt in animal and stone, the return was inevitable; the hour was inevitable when he would again find himself in sunshine or in moonlight, in shadow or in rain, and was again Self and Siddhartha, again felt the torment of the onerous life cycle.
The river is everywhere.
“In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is no distinction between sacred and profane. All of the world is sacred for those who know how to see.”
I saw this quote in one of Richard Rohr‘s “daily meditations.” It is taken from his book, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “The world is in truth a holy place.” He is a writer I initially investigated when I was in high school just because he was quoted in a John Updike novel. I think “holy” is a more “loaded” word than sacred, but the philosophy is very similar.
Teilhard’s was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was trained as a paleontologist and geologist. That intrigued me. He and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. I loved that mix of science and religion – two areas that more often argue and disagree.
He conceived the idea of the Omega Point. It is simply described (though it is not so simple) as the maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which [he believed] the universe was evolving. He also helped develop Vladimir Vernadsky’s concept of Noosphere. (I wrote earlier about the Omega Point and Noosphere.)
Teilhard’s writings were censored by the Catholic Church during his lifetime because of his views on original sin, but attitudes have changed somewhat and he has been praised by Pope Benedict XVI.
Is there a way to follow a “religionless Christianity” or is that an oxymoron? If you see a division between the sacred and the profane (terrible term for it) worlds, then it is not possible.
The early religions focused on identifying sacred places, sacred time and even sacred actions. That leaves most of life “unsacred.”
Where you find God in most religions are the places and events that are largely controlled by the clergy. As Rohr say, this is probably partially related to “job security” – organized religion needs people to survive.
Another area of religion that interested me as a young person was mysticism, including Franciscan mysticism. My mother had a book in our house on the life of Saint Francis and I read it one summer. He saw no distinction between sacred and profane. I was immediately taken with the notion that the universe and all events are sacred. They all might be doorways to the divine, if you know how to see. This was not something the priests and nuns were telling me in religious classes.
I know that all of this still doesn’t work for religious people who don’t accept being “spiritual” as a way of life (even though a growing number of Americans report that as their religious affiliation).
It was a Lutheran mystic, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the mid-2oth century who called this “religionless Christianity” as he saw people moving beyond the framework of religion to what they saw as a deeper but still Christian experience.
I would say that I see people moving even farther to a “religionless spirituality” that is unattached to any formal religion and may or may not be connected to any formal conception of God.
Do you sometimes feel the need to center yourself? If so, what does that mean?
It is a term I have encountered in a number of situations including meditation, including both in a religious and spiritual sense.
A plain old dictionary definition of “to center” would tell you it means to have something as a major concern or theme, as in “the book centers around how people interact with nature.” Synonyms include to focus, concentrate, pivot, hinge, or revolve.
We even use the scientific term “center of gravity” (or more accurately the center of mass) is that unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero. The body is balanced around the center.
If I asked you to be still, close your eyes and “find your center,” what would you do? Possibly you would become more conscious of your body, your breath and the tension in your muscles. Without any training, you would be meditating.
There are books that combine this centering concept with other less spiritual practices, as in Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person.
When I first encountered meditation, through investigating Zen Buddhism, I was given the book Zen Flesh Zen Bones. It is a one volume collection of four original sources for Zen: Zen Stories, The Gateless Gate, Bulls, and Centering Together. That last book shows you that this concept of finding your center is a key part of Zen practice.
The book contains many centering practices and you can find many of them on websites too.
Some of these sources will remind you that “Zen is nothing new, neither is it anything old. Long before Buddha was born the search was on in India, as the present work shows. Long after man has forgotten such words as Zen and Buddha, satori and koan, China and Japan and America – still the search will go on, still Zen will be seen even in flower, and grass-blade, before the sun.”
If you have participated in a meditation class (or if you just watch a ten-minute meditation video online), the introductory portion is generally a kind of centering exercise.
If you move from spiritual to religious practice, you will encounter centering prayer. This is a method of silent prayer that is very contemplative. It is often described as prayer that is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
Father Thomas Keating has been a key figure in the centering prayer movement since the 1970s. It is not a new practice and it has roots in Christian history. I took a life-changing religion and literature course in college that exposed me to the Desert Fathers and Mothers to The Cloud of Unknowing, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila.
Religious groups are careful not to allow centering prayer to cross over into a version of New-Age spirituality.
Many religions encourage a kind of “centering prayer.” Catholics are advised to meditate in some form daily — such as on the rosary, or on Scripture (lectio divina). This practice makes use of a “sacred word” which might sound similar to using a mantra to others.
Mantra (a Sanskrit word meaning a sacred utterance, word, or phrase) is believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power. A mantra may not even be syntactic nor have any literal meaning. The spiritual value of a mantra comes when it is made audible, visible or present in thought.
Earliest mantras were composed in Vedic times by Hindus in India, and those are at least 3000 years old. Now they are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and similar hymns or chants are found in Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Christianity and elsewhere.
Thomas Keating emphasizes that centering prayer is not an exercise in concentrating, or focusing one’s attention on something such as a mantra. Rather, it is concerned with intention and to “consent to God’s presence and action during the time of prayer.”
Centering prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer. It is the opening of your whole being. I the sense of prayer, opening to God, but in other spiritual practices it might be opening to the Ultimate Mystery, a life force, energy or the universe.
Keating is a monk in the Cistercian Order in the Benedictine tradition. He has written many books, including the best-selling Open Mind, Open Heart. He lives at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado where he established a program of 10-Day Centering Prayer retreats, which are now held world-wide.
I’m not sure he would be happy with the definition that Centering Prayer is a form of “Christian” transcendental meditation, but he has presented the Centering Prayer method and its related mystical theology to workshops of non-Christians. He has also used it as a kind of therapy and has written a book on centering prayer and the twelve steps.
I used to teach classes in using a map and compass. One of the first things you teach in the field is orienting a map. You position it so that North is actually pointing north. When you orient a map and know where you are on the map, you can look in a certain direction and see a real landmark and find it on the map. You find your place in the world. For me, it always felt like a kind of centering.
I also like the idea of using triangulation. That is the process of pinpointing the location of something by taking bearings to it from two remote points and find where the lines intersect on a map. Without knowing where you are, you find your place by looking at your relationship to known things.
If you knew how to use it,
then starting anywhere,
turning any direction,
you could check,
find your bearings,
tell where you came from,
know where you were going.
If you knew when you entered these woods
where you wanted to be
at the end of this journey,
it would have taken you there.
If you knew how to use it.
If you knew when you entered.
If you knew where you wanted to be.
I noticed on an almanac site that December 27 was the birthday of German astronomer Johannes Kepler, born 1571. Kepler intended to become a theologian, but when he read Copernicus’s Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs, he changed paths.
Copernicus’ writing put forth the evidence that the planets revolve around the Sun, not the Earth. That was not only a radical theory in its time, but it was one that questioned the religious views at the time.
Science and religion continues to clash on many issue today, with topics like evolution being the best known examples. That’s what I like about Kepler’s story. He saw Copernicus’s theory as evidence of a divine blueprint for the universe. He decided to prove the theories through scientific observation.
Like Darwin, they were religious believers who hesitated to publish theories that would overturn beliefs. But the evidence was overwhelming.
Kepler’s defense of Copernicus, The Cosmographic Mystery (1596) was his start, He would eventually posit three laws of planetary motion. The first two were published in 1609 in New Astronomy. Johannes Kepler’s book, outlining his theories of planetary motion, made the radical claim that the planets move in ellipses, not perfect circles. Kepler’s second theory is that an imaginary line joining the planet and the Sun would sweep out equal areas during equal periods of time — in other words, the planet moves faster during the portion of its orbit that is closest to the Sun. His final law, published in Harmonies of the World (1619), describes the mathematical relationship between the distance of a planet from the Sun and the length of the planet’s orbital period.
Kepler’s theories were based on data collected by astronomer Tycho Brahe. He had to make thousands of calculations to work out the peculiarities of Mars’s orbit, describing the experience as “my war with Mars.”
I also owe Kepler for his role as “the father of modern optics.” We share poor vision (his from a childhood case of smallpox). He explained the mechanics of vision in the eye, and also explained how both eyes work together to produce depth perception. He then developed lenses to correct nearsightedness and farsightedness.
Thanks Mr. Kepler, for helping us see more clearly, literally and figuratively.
The theory of everything comes from theoretical physics and is the idea that some thing could fully explains and link together all known physical phenomena.
I first read about it during a period when I was reading a lot about Albert Einstein. Attempts to unify gravity with electromagnetism go back before Einstein, but after Einstein’s theory of gravity (general relativity) was published in 1915, he and the many others began to search for a “unified field theory” combining gravity with electromagnetism. For Einstein, it was a theory of everything that obsessed and confounded him until his death.
I did some searching into the origin of the term. A character in some of Stanisław Lem’s science fiction stories in the 1960s was working on the “General Theory of Everything”. It sounds like something that Douglas Adams would have included in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Physicist John Ellis claims to have introduced the term in an article he wrote in 1986. But my guess is that we have been thinking about it for thousands of years.
It is The Answer.
Though some may search in quantum physics, others search in religion or spirituality or in their own interactions with nature.
The ancient Greeks thought that in all the world’s complexity that an underlying unity was hidden. That was what held Einstein’s interest in his last years. But no one has been successful in finding it.
Now, I am reading about “biocentrism” which is a new theory of everything.
Theorists get caught up in the idea that the odds of events are so high that we can’t explain the Why of things.
I read that the probability of random physical laws and events leading to us being here on this Earth at this moment is less than 1 out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Cosmologists might explain our origins as “particles bouncing against each other” until something put it all together. Or, try this: it is like “a watch that somehow wound itself up, and that will unwind in a semi-predictable way. “
On a personal level, how and why did some random bits of carbon become me pressing keys on a computer in Paradelle in 2010?
Biocentrism seems to explain the nature and origin of the universe based on understanding the role of the observer.
That’s us. Our presence.
That means getting past what many theorists currently think. Oversimplified, the universe came from nothingness. That’s actually the “theory” of some religions too.
There was that Big Bang, but if it had been just a tiny bit more powerful, it all would have pushed out too fast and there would be no galaxies and stars. Make it a bit less on the gravitational force and stars, including our Sun, wouldn’t have ignited.
Mess around at all with any of the physical parameters and we don’t exist.
But we do exist. Why?
I have a few books related to this, but my friend Steve pointed me to Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman that came out earlier this year.
Biocentrism really turns your worldview upside down by theorizing that life creates the universe instead of the other way around. Life is not an accidental byproduct of the laws of physics.
Probably a good number of readers are saying that “God did it.” If that works for you, great. Rest easy. That only works partially for me.
Thirty years ago I was reading the great naturalist Loren Eiseley. His book The Star Thrower (another one from Steve) says that that scientists “have not always been able to see that an old theory, given a hairsbreadth twist, might open an entirely new vista to the human reason.” He thought you might look at evolution but consider the Big Bang as the end of the chain of physical causality, not the beginning of it.
There is no way to remove the observer — us — from our perceptions of the world … In classical physics, the past is assumed to exist as a definite series of events, but according to quantum physics, the past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.
If we, the observer, collapse these possibilities (that is, the past and future) then where does that leave evolutionary theory, as described in our schoolbooks? Until the present is determined, how can there be a past? The past begins with the observer, us, not the other way around as we’ve been taught.
We create space and time. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting it all together. Everything we experience, even our bodies, is occurring in your mind.
Will the next age be the Age of Biology? (As we pass out of the age that focused on physics.) Will that age begin not with some familiar calendar click like a new year, decade or century but with the 2012 timewave? It seems fitting that the new age might be one that turns our universe outside-in. Not the end of anything but new possibilities, new perspectives and not seeing reality the same way.
“When we measure something we are forcing an undetermined, undefined world to assume an experimental value. We are not ‘measuring’ the world, we are creating it.” — Niels Bohr