Sunday, January 5, 2014

Zen For Scientific (and all) Explorers

Regularly, a person has to stop and sit back and let the mind rest. You may be a scientific explorer yourself. Perhaps you are a researcher, a student or you are in another kind of field altogether, and following science is a hobby for you. Whatever occupies your time, however you make your living, you need to regularly take a break. This is a time for mental quiet, mind wandering, and sometimes big-picture thinking. Mostly, it is time for our minds to transcend where they are and go into fresh new space. This is how I understand Zen.

I am taking a Zen break right now. I have a new series of articles, called the Fractal Universe, ready for you and I think you will like them. They were probably my most fun yet. I've let them sit while I enjoy Christmas with family and friends and now they sit while I do other things, and rest.

Zen, to me, has two parts: first you observe your mind, your thoughts, as you go about your day and dream at night. Second, you quiet your mind. You let the thoughts take a back seat for a few minutes here and there. You will find, if you are a curious always-scheming-up-something kind of mind, this won't be easy. Try it right now.

Just feel your chest move and listen to your breathing without thinking about anything. Before you know it, your mind has gone down some tangent. What am I cooking for supper maybe, or did I pay that power bill? That's okay. Observe that you are thinking again and bring it back to breathing. This is all you do but it's very hard! If your mind is like mine, you will discover it is extremely sneaky. Again you are thinking about something before you've even shut the door on the thought that came before it. It is like herding cats but that's all that Zen meditation is, just doing that. You will find anger, frustration, sadness, and all other emotions pop up on you. Observe that you are holding your breath. Breathe. Treat them all as water moving past you and let each one go.

Soon, you get into the habit of observing your thoughts, asking yourself why something or another is so important to you, for example, or why that person or another always pushes your buttons. When you observe, you start to weed out the not so important from the important in your life.

You will start to re-evaluate your priorities in your life. Your new priorities might look very different from what you think they should be, and this process might make you feel off-balance. It takes time, years (I'm not even close to done). You are moving toward a life that uniquely your own, lived for you, and authentic. And, ironically, you may eventually find the part your own start to dissolve away. You glimpse the world, all the people in your life, all the living beings and objects, everything, as being less "out there somewhere" and more right here all at the same time inside you. This is where you start to go with Zen.

Why do I write this blog?

I have some scientific background but not in physics. Why does it lure in me in so strongly? I honestly can't tell you. I didn't have this kind of curiosity when I was younger, in university, but I have great passion for it now, and that development seems to be leaking out. For Christmas my daughter, a jewelry designer, made me a beautiful necklace with all the planets on it and she had a bracelet made for me, of the Milky Way.

I find myself incredibly lucky to have the time to pursue this, thanks to a very understanding husband, and that fact that my only child is now grown up, married and doing great on her own. I have time because I am, more than anything simply a housewife. I cook most of the meals, clean house, do laundry, garden. I contribute a little bit financially by working at the garden centre in the local Walmart in spring and I do link-checking for a contract with our small company, ScienceMan Consulting. I find a quiet kind pleasure in the repetitive nature of doing these everyday things. I also read all kinds of genres, work out at the gym, travel when I can, play with the two cats, and I like to spend time talking, sometimes with a wine, beer or rum and coke. My life is about as typical as it gets. But for me, and I have thought about this, it's a good well-grounded, nourishing and full life - one which I am grateful to have.

And yet I also have this passion for physics. Why? Who knows. I make almost nothing from the ads on the blog and I have spent many, many hours reading, writing, thinking. Why? My only answer is a big-picture one. My life is short. If I'm lucky I've got maybe 80 years of good quality time existing in this amazing universe. When I look back on my life, I am comfortable that I will be okay with having spent a good chunk of it studying what this place is all about. The search itself is enough for me but the fruits of it continue to be entirely unexpected. All the questions brilliant people ask, the puzzles, the game of it all, and the maddening/stunning fact that we are all INSIDE this game - these things are alive and colourful and ever-changing in my mind. It's much more of an adventure that I could have ever imagined!

Now why do I drag you along by writing about it? Because I hope I am reminding you that you are on your own fascinating journey too. Every one of us is an intrepid explorer of our own life. Whether your passion is science or something else, we are explorers of our lives one way or another. Follow your own unique passion and see what you find. We are all playing this big crazy game together.

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