May is a Pious Fraud

MaY is a pious fraud of the almanac.
A ghastly parody of real Spring
Shaped out of snow and breathed with eastern wind;
Or if, o’er-confident, she trust the date,
And, with her handful of anemones,
Herself as shivery, steal into the sun,
The season need but turn his hour-glass round,
And Winter suddenly, like crazy Lear,
Reels back, and brings the dead May in his arms,
Her budding breasts and wan dislustred front
With frosty streaks and drifts of his white beard
All overblown. Then, warmly walled with books,
While my wood-fire supplies the sun’s defect,
Whispering old forest-sagas in its dreams,
I take my May down from the happy shelf
Where perch the world’s rare song-birds in a row,
Waiting my choice to upen with full breast,
And beg an alms of springtime, ne’er denied
Indoors by vernal Chaucer, whose fresh woods
Throb thick with merle and mavis all the years.

— James Russell Lowell

Practice and Routine

Spiritual disciplines have a natural life cycle.  They begin with inspiration that focuses the mind and gradually fade into rigidities.

Creating habits is among the most powerful of choices available to us as seekers.  We select practices that shake up our routine, and reinforce the qualities of mind that we wish to cultivate.  We feel fresh and new.  But over time, practice becomes stale from familiarity.  When we find ourselves performing by rote, it is time to continue our challenge by adopting new forms.

Paradoxically, it may be just when we cease our avoidance and become fully comfortable in a routine that we know it is time for a change.


The Depths

When the white fog burns off,
the abyss of everlasting light
is revealed. The last cobwebs
of fog in the
black fir trees are flakes
of white ash in the world’s hearth.

Cold of the sea is counterpart
to this great fire. Plunging
out of the burning cold of ocean
we enter an ocean of intense
noon. Sacred salt
sparkles on our bodies.

After mist has wrapped us again
in fine wool, may the taste of salt
recall to us the great depths about us.

~ Denise Levertov (via Joe Riley’s Panhala)


Man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

~ Thomas Jefferson

Carr and Barr

Before 1973, scientists regarded the laws of physics as elegantly simple and arbitrary in their details. And life was thought to be an opportunistic exploiter of whatever physics is available to build self-reproducing machines.

Bernard Carr was a graduate student of the most eminent cosmologist in the world, Martin Rees. Only with Rees’s endorsement could the two publish a paper pointing out that some details of physical law like the strength of gravity and the mass of the electron were just right to make an interesting, complex universe in which life is possible. If you imagine the set of all possible physical universes, the vast majority of them are simple, uniform, dull and lifeless.

The basic features of galaxies, stars, planets and the everyday world are essentially determined by a few microphysical constants and by the effects of gravitation. Many interrelations between different scales that at first sight seem surprising are straightforward consequences of simple physical arguments. But several aspects of our Universe—some of which seem to be prerequisites for the evolution of any form of life—depend rather delicately on apparent ‘coincidences’ among the physical constants.

[In fact Carr and Rees articulated and popularized an idea that had been derived from Brandon Carter, Richard Dicke and others.]

Carr went on to a dual career as an accomplished astrophysics researcher and also a mystic, becoming head of Britain’s Society for Psychical Research. 

Stephen Barr is a UDel professor of physics who explains these “anthropic coincidences” and how an evolving physics community has regarded them. His own preference is to explain the “coincidences” as the handiwork of a personal God, but he is eminently fair in explaining other hypotheses.

(My own view is closer to Carr than Barr,and is not mentioned in Barr’s video. I think of a universal Consciousness that is more fundamental than physics, rather than a personal God.)

Critique of Pure Reason

Because of the world’s ceaseless creativity, we typically do not and cannot know what will happen. We live our lives forward, as Kierkegaard said. We live forward into mystery, and do so with faith and courage, for that is the mandate of life itself. But the fact that we must live our lives forward into a ceaseless creativity that we cannot fully understand means that reason alone is an insufficient guide for living our lives. Reason, the center of the ENlightenment, is but one of the evolved, fully human tools we have for living. In the 20th Century, reason itself has finally led us to the inadequacy of reason. Our task, then, is to reunite with the fullness of our humanity.

Stuart Kauffman

To Monica Gagliano

Spring green comes suddenly to forest glade,
The naked trees bedecked in just one week.
We have no ken what language they may speak,
To synchronize their shift from sun to shade.
Our ancestors knew trees as fellow souls—
They had no need of Lorax to translate.
We technophiles have lost our native state
Of oneness with the plants that fill our bowls.

The violence of man is but a sign
We’ve severed our inherited lifeline
We’ve lost the instinct, what to do and how
To live intuitively in the now.
We’re unsustainable; this cannot last;
The greening of our lives will happen fast.

— JJM, from the Poetry of Onenesss

Aspen Leaf in Windless World

Watch how the aspen leaf, pale and windless, waggles
While one white cloud loiters motionless over Wyoming,
And think how delicately the heart may flutter
In the windless joy of unworded revelation.

Look how sea-foam, thin and white, makes its Arabic scrawl
On the unruffled sand of the beach’s faint-tilted plane.
Is there a message there for you to decipher?
Or only the joy of its sunlit, intricate rhythm?

Yes, we wander our world
Of miracles, whispers, hi-jinks, and metaphor.
What image–behind blind eyes when the nurse steps back–
Will loom at the end of your own life’s long sorites?

— Robert Penn Warren, born this day in 1905
(shamelessly condensed from a longer poem)

The largest obelisk

Of course, there’s the Washington Monument. But the WM was constructed in the 19th century from human-scale blocks of granite and marble that machines of that time period could lift.

Here’s an obelisk only about one third as tall as the Washington Monument, but it is carved from a single piece of granite. It is a relic of unknown age, discovered in an Egyptian granite quarry.

We don’t know why it was never finished, but we must imagine they had plans and capabilities to remove the obelisk from the quarry in one piece and set it upright. It weighs about 1100 tons.

Could a single piece of stone with this dimension be quarried, transported, and erected today? It hasn’t been done, not by a long shot. It would take some fancy engineering. It is 10 times heavier than today’s largest construction cranes could lift.

Ben at UnchartedX makes the modest claim that this one relic is sufficient proof of an ancient technological civilization. There’s lots more evidence on his channel, beginning with the Pyramids.