The Laughing Universe

Not long ago my wife, Ana, attended a five-day meditation retreat. Early in the event the speaker, Joe Dispenza, spoke about the difference between trying to make things happen and drawing them into being — between seeing a goal as something you have to travel toward, or seeing it with such presence that it travels toward you. Making the mountain come to Muhammad, as the expression goes. (Or, to borrow from a different tradition, saying to the mountain “Be moved from here to there” and having it move.) This idea has always held my fascination: that when you loose the bonds of everyday distraction and slip deep, with full attention, into the ocean of possibility that surrounds us (quantum field, cosmos, field of faith, whatever name you want to give it), then that which you visualize, you will tend to magnetize. I’ve had quite a few experiences of this principle, some of them quite surprising. Such as here (manifesting a cover endorsement from the ether), and here (having my favorite author show up for my birthday). So at this retreat, moving the mountain was on the agenda, and everyone was asked to select their particular mountain. The participants were told to picture something — anything — that they would then picture at certain points during the meditation practice, giving it their full attention, to the extent that in the course of the next few days, it would physically show up. “Not something you’d normally bump into,” he instructed. “Not a cactus” (the retreat was happening in Arizona) “or a pink flamingo. Something unlikely.” Ana immediately thought, an old friend...

Love Song

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” ask the Zen masters. Scientists do not have a ready answer for that one — but last week they did record the sound of two black holes merging, a sound that had never before been heard by humans. Using two massive sensors, one located in Louisiana and the other in Washington state, they recorded a brief rrrrrrruupp! wave disturbance created by the merging of two massive black holes. An event that occurred more than one billion light-years away. One light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles, which means this little quail-like chirp scientists recorded on Thursday, February 11, was made by an event happening at a distance of 5,880,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. So, not very close. And think about it in terms not of space but of time: this chirp was made by something that happened more than a billion years ago. And in order to record this signal, they had to be able to measure movements in their detectors of less than one ten-thousandth the width of a single proton. So, pretty small. The sheer fact that we could detect this signal at such a distance, in both time and space is astonishing. What’s more, the event offered a confirmation of Einstein’s century-old prediction of gravitational waves. So as a scientific achievement, it was epic in every way. Yet what struck me most was the nature of the event itself. Picture this: Two black holes, the most massive entities in the known universe, approach each other and start revolving around each other. Their mass is so great — one is about 36 times more massive...

Buried Treasure

His beard was black, His beard was long; He always sang A pirate song. But now he’s dead, He went and died. And his grave is The last thing I spied. You know who wrote that masterpiece of verse? Me, at age ten. Yes yes, cute; I know. But let’s be honest here: as poetry goes, it’s not very good. Cringeworthy, in fact. (“But now he’s dead, he went and died”? Really?) I share this with you to make the point that sometimes, what I write is mud. I thought of this because I’ve just spent the last few weeks digging in the mud, looking for buried treasure. For months I had worked on two books, one a parable, the other a book on Spec Ops snipers. I’d reached a point with both where I thought they were finished. They weren’t. Turned out, both still needed major work. Once I woke up from the happy, rose-colored illusion that they were perfect just as they are! every word just right! and looked at them with clearer lenses, it was plain to see that there was, yes, plenty of mud on the page. I often get things wrong at first, and not just in writing. I remember the first time I went to the step class my wife and I now attend three times a week. Half the steps, I just could not get right. I overcooked a lot of over easy eggs before I eventually learned they do better on medium heat. My first business went bankrupt. My first two tries at marriage … well, they both had their good...

Not a Stranger

When I was fourteen I spent a year being depressed. Most of my life, I’d been a pretty happy kid. But not for the year that stretched from mid-’68 to mid-’69. Part of it was that for that year, we moved to another state. My dad was on sabbatical, my mother on pregnancy leave, both of them free of local obligations. My school didn’t have a ninth grade, and my parents knew a great school in northwestern Philadelphia that did. So we picked up and moved into a friend’s house in northwestern Philadelphia (that friend being away for the year, also a teacher on sabbatical), leaving behind New Jersey, the home I knew, and all my friends. Another part of it was that I was, well, fourteen. Adolescence wasn’t treating me well. In my new school I found myself withdrawn, introverted, painfully shy. Everyone else in my class knew each other, had been classmates for years; I was like a foreign object that the host’s immune system wasn’t sure what to do with. I made no friends, scarcely talked to a soul. Sat through my classes every day, then went home to play my cello and listen to Ravel, Bartok, and Brahms, my only friends through that long winter. Slipped through the halls of my ninth grade year like a wraith, invisible and unnoticed by all. When my family pulled up stakes at the end of the year to move back to Jersey, there was no one to say goodbye to. No one. Nobody would even realize I’d left. Fast forward four years. Back in New Jersey I had...