December 25, 2012
It has been, in many respects, a year of night. No doubt our human species has had its share of it at large — unceasing and expanding war, recession, and our continuing ignorance of the environmental destruction that could fatally undermine the habitability of our planetary home by the end of this century. By denying our vision we obstruct our evolution. But as Anais Nin once wrote, “societies in decline have no use for visionaries.”
But I am thinking in more personal terms at the moment. My night began 13 months ago, when one brother died, and continued in March, when a second left us. What I had thought was all the darkness I could bear — long term unemployment and a seemingly unceasing walk along the precipice of poverty– had been, and remains, a mere dusk-like prelude or backdrop to that surreal pain of mourning.
Still, darkness tends to merge with itself. The job that I thought would raise my boat and carry me into a new year of light — it lasted a month and was gone. I wondered if I had irretrievably lost something; whether I had been made weak and ineffectual by that persistent gloom; so accustomed to darkness that I became a stranger to light. I seriously wondered if I had become the cockroach in the sink who runs down the drain when someone switches on the light.
This is not exactly consistent with what I teach, what I offer to others as insight. Is that then all a pretense? A mere parade of wisdom, a pabulum of expression that has no possession? If that is so, then there is justice in my namelessness as a writer, and poverty would be a fair fate for me. I will not have long to find out: unless Congress performs a miracle of truly providential scope and design, my unemployment benefits end next week (along with those of about 3 million others in this nation).
Yet on this day — whether by the intervention of Him whose birthday is observed, or by some broader and less tribal visitation — another thought arises. In Nature, darkness has a way of attracting light. That is, the dark and the light are not by nature opposed or combating elements of reality. Dr. Hawking assures us that a black hole is actually a portal to other dimensions, probably other universes. The light that appears lost or destroyed as it touches the event horizon has been drawn there, that it might be transformed or cosmically transported, rather than terminated.
It is, in its way, as difficult and weird a concept as, for example, the story of the virgin birth of a man-God in a stable amid a desert in an insignificant portion of the Roman Empire. For though the mathematics may favor Dr. Hawking’s remarkable tale of light’s cosmic transmigration, the current weight of popular opinion would favor the physical birth of a God from the uterus of a very human woman’s body, which had never been visited by the semen of an all-too-human male.
It all seems as impossible as, well, the prospect of finding and keeping a job in these times; as agonizingly strange and surreal as the realization that there will be no holiday visits or phone conversations with those two men with whom I shared both genes and home, from my earliest days on this planet nearly six decades ago. Again, darkness merges, coalesces; and somehow coexists with and even attracts light.
Scientists also tell us that the dark-adapted eye can detect the presence of a single photon of light in a darkened room. And again, I try to imagine such a thing, such an experience — seeing a single particle of light amid an otherwise oppressive and suffocating darkness. A single, unique presence which embraces and then surpasses both Form and Formlessness; whose very essence is both massless form and substantive wave. The photon, it would appear, is itself the transcendent sperm that conceived the birth we celebrate today. It is the thing that is no-thing; the absolute reality that surpasseth understanding.
Of course, science’s advantage — what I would hope is its definitive and prevailing advantage — is that it does not inscribe its truths into stone, or close them between the covers of a black book that admits no light. Science, it must be confessed, too often becomes stuck in a pit of ideology; that is a failing, a fixation, of human ego rather than of knowledge. Yet even as each pit of science’s history has become both familiar and oppressive, the paradigm shift has appeared, allowing science to resurrect, to rise from its premature grave and move forward, outward, once more. Science may occasionally sleepwalk; its history even includes a few of what might be called near-death experiences. But religion’s coma only and ever deepens; for in its obsession with The Answer, it stops asking questions.
The man of our holy-day would understand that; he was, so far as we know him, a man of the paradigm shift. He called foul on the legalistic and commercial obsessions of the religious ideologues of his day: he treated the Pharisees with the same scorn as Socrates offered the Sophists and as Buddha gave the Brahmans. It is worth adding that, were He to return today and dare to touch the money changers’ tables once more, he would receive the same treatment as his fictional counterpart in Dostoevsky’s famous parable of the Grand Inquisitor. For there remains a single form of darkness that unwittingly attracts but never tolerates light: its name is Power.
So, it is worth recalling that Christ was not a King until he had been made a God, decades after his death. Every tribal ideology has arisen over the ashes of its purported founder, who was never given a say in the matter. I am fairly certain that Lao Tzu would firmly reject Taoism; equally sure that Buddha would find fault with Buddhism; and would bet all I have left in this world on the certainty that Jesus would kick over the money changers’ tables that we collectively call Christianity. But the light of these sages is no longer in this universe; their light endures amid another thread on the web of space-time.
Another thread, another string. I am reading the string-theory physicist Brian Greene’s latest book, The Hidden Reality, in which he attempts to describe, both mathematically and metaphorically, the elements of a cosmos populated with multiple and perhaps infinite universes. Like every paradigm-shifter before him, he begins his book with a stringent claim of empiricism: he is a scientist with no interest in what cannot be objectified or demonstrated. And then he spins a mind-whirling tapestry of concept and image as the most abstruse mythologies of Vajrayana Buddhism could not match.
Yet it all, as far as my weak intellect can approach (let alone embrace) it, makes sense. That the fundamental stuff of All-That-Is cannot be dots of matter in space, but rather strings of being — vibrating energy-bodies that can cross dimensions at will and populate multiple universes without losing their essence, their place as either theory or reality, their identity as either mass or mathematics. And I wonder if the story of the massless vibrations of infinite energy-bodies creating everything we know and feel and all else that we cannot — I wonder if this is as much as we need contemplate about what might have happened 2,012 years ago when a woman named Maria pushed a baby out of her belly in the darkness of a manger in a desolate corner of imperial Rome.
The thought of the strings calls me back. I wonder if Stephen and John — the two brothers whose lives were so deeply bound with my own and now are, or appear, gone — I ask whether they are there, here, amid a dimension or universe too small, remote, compressed, or inaccessible for my human bodily senses to touch. I wonder if the same strings that can make a photon dart along at 186,000 miles per second, or inspire a thought to move (albeit at considerably slower speeds), or somehow attract mass to its energy-body and become a formed thing like me — could these strings, both the potential and the actualization of all consciousness, could they be so formed and invisibly directed as to become guides, hidden leaders, helpers?
I choose this possibility, this potential. Not because it is proven or empirically demonstrated; but because I can feel the alternative to it. The name of that alternative is what Kierkegaard called Despair, the darkness that consumes light yet is not nourished by it; the darkness that feeds only on what it stolen and then distorted; the darkness that has no vision but for its own oppressive Night.
The clearest light is that which exposes such darkness; this is the natural function of the visionary, whose ability is neither insular nor elite. We all have it, but are trained to doubt it. Nevertheless, that single photon of awareness is always near, always vibrating, around and within us. Thus I ask for the light to enter me, fill me, guide me amid my own darkness. Even if it be but a single photon — how many strings, what harmony and resonance of purpose, what worlds, what universes might it contain within that single quantum breath?