The Laughing Universe

February 23, 2016

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 — a person I haven’t seen in decades.

“… And not a person,” the speaker added. “An object.”

Oops. Okay, she thought, not a person. What then?

She tried to think of an unlikely object, and what popped into her mind was: a rubber ducky. Why not? Sitting in a hotel in Arizona, a rubber ducky seemed as unlikely as anything.

The next day they were ushered into an auditorium for the day’s session. There were fifty tables, each seating ten, for a total of about 500 people in attendance, and they were assigned randomly to specific tables so as to avoid the usual jockeying-for-the-front silliness.

Ana ended up at table #49, way, way in the back.

At first she felt pretty unhappy about this. From where they sat, she could barely see the speaker. Why here? she thought. Why couldn’t I have been closer to the front?

The person next to her was deep in conversation with someone else, so Ana moved over to another empty seat and struck up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to her. As they talked, it turned out this woman was also from Massachusetts (the only one at the retreat, as it turned out). And lived just miles from where Ana lived. It turned out they knew some of the same people. And had some common history: they’d both studied the same subject, many decades earlier. From the same teacher.

No, wait. Not just the same subject and same teacher. They’d both been in the same class at the same time.

And then they recognized each other. They had known each other.

In a seminar of 500, the only two participants from Massachusetts, who had known each other years ago but not been in touch since, had been seated — at random — at the same table together at the very back of the hall.

Ana was absolutely flabbergasted. She’d only thought about that particular mountain for a fleeting moment … and here it was!

However, no rubber duckies dropped from the sky. Nor did any show up in her hotel bathroom. Nor did any ducks, rubber or otherwise, sit at her table at any of the following sessions.

The seminar came to an end. On the way to the airport, Ana drove to a mailing store to ship some stuff back home. After finishing her transaction she went back out to the parking lot, and found a very distinctive car parked next to hers.

So distinctive that she took out her iPhone and snapped these photos:



This was not just a rubber duckie. It was a RUBBER DUCKIE.

Robin Williams, that gentle, generous soul, offered the platypus as proof that God occasionally got high. I don’t know about getting high, but I think we can safely say this:

God has one helluva sense of humor.

Photo of baby platypus courtesy of


  1. Dave Fuehrer

    Your words carry warmth, John. I felt almost as though I was at the table as two friends re-connected.

    “Moving the mountain” reminds me of a Buddhist reading I had the unique pleasure of attending. The story spoke of a hunter, seeing the lion off in the distance that had attacked his village. Without hesitation, the hunter drew an arrow with all his might and shot at the lion. He moved quickly to see the result, but as he approached he realized his lion was actually a large stone. And the arrow was buried deep in it. Not believing his eyes, he fired another arrow at the stone, but this time it bounced off.
    I love your opening; not knowing something is impossible, sometimes makes it possible.

    • John David Mann

      Ha! — I love that, Dave. Bury that arrow! I just finished reading LIFE OF PI … feeling very connected to the possibility of impossible things!

      • Dave Fuehrer

        That’s a wonderful place to be! Cheers 🙂

  2. Connie

    “…that when you loose the bonds of everyday distraction, and slip deep…”
    Did you ever come across a phrase so beautiful that it fills your mind as you read, reread and read it again, attempting to understand fully its depth? Or just 2 words- “…slip deep…” that have probably never been paired together with such mind riveting effect?
    Wow, John.
    Pure creativity combined with wisdom.
    My mind is now officially blown.

  3. Interesting

    Interesting and I am going to try this in a minute. Thank you


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