The Blind Man and the Lame Man & The Chicken and the Egg

Every time I am certain that I have things right and that I KNOW something, sooner or later (and often it is sooner), something comes along to show me (if I am paying attention) that maybe, just maybe what I was sooo certain about might just be a bit of an other way. As I have searched for stories for this blog, as I thought and taught in the past, I was fairly sure that individuals and small groups needed to change, grow, develop, evolve to create a more loving, just and compassionate base before we could adequately and effectively build more just and humane social structures. Well, I kind of thought that. I do remember enough Buddhism most of the time to know that the solid ground we stand on is mostly ephemeral quicksand.

But we live in a rational, linear world don’t we? OK. I know we don’t really. But we have been socialize to think we do. Many folks have been raised with the American koan that asks: who came first, the chicken or the egg. Many have pondered it thoughtfully and deeply. … Until the around 2009 when the answer was revealed in this joke: “A chicken and an egg are laying in bed together. The chicken is all happy and has a big smile on it’s face while the egg is irritated and looks a bit disappointed.  The egg turns to the chicken and says, ‘Well, I guess we solved THAT riddle.’”

So, chicken or egg? Individuals or structures? It is a bit of a koan in a conundrum in a riddle in an enigma.

Then I was prowling the internet looking for parables from Poland, the homeland of my grandparents. And I found this poem by Ignacy Krasicki (from his book Fables and Parables)


The Blind Man and the Lame

A blind man was carrying a lame man on his back,

And everything was going well, everything’s on track,

When the blind man decides to take it into his head

That he needn’t listen to all that the lame man said.

“This stick I have will guide the two of us safe,” said he,

And though warned by the lame man, he plowed into a tree.

On they proceeded; the lame man now warned of a brook;

The two survived, but their possessions a soaking took.

At last the blind man ignored the warning of a drop,

And that was to turn out their final and fatal stop.

Which of the two travelers, you may ask, was to blame?

Why, ’twas both the heedless blind man and the trusting lame.


So, you might think its settled! These guys need to change, get over their issues and learn to trust or we will never be able to build a better world. Ah, but Wikipedia to the rescue! Because there we are reminded that Krasicki wrote this around 1779 just after Poland had been taken over partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria, an action that ultimately abolished the commonwealth of Poland until after World War II. So, the social structure shaped and constrained the experience, view, imagination and dreams of its inhabitants. Which leads me to re-member: both/and indeed is better. Who came first the chicken or the egg? Life would be so much happier if they both come together. Who changes first the individual or the community/social structure? Life would be so much happier if they both changed together in consort and harmony!!



The Miracle of Pouring Tea

 Three men walk into a bar … no, wait … a priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar … no, wait … I’ve got it! Three monks are on a pilgrimage. They meet a woman who has a teashop. The woman prepares a pot of tea for them. She brings the teapot and three cups, places them on the table in front of the monks, and says, “Oh holy monks, let those of you with miraculous powers drink the tea.”

The monks look at each other, and you can just see them thinking: which of us will pour the tea? Who will claim miraculous powers? We are monks. We can’t publicly claim miraculous powers, what will others think of us?

The woman waits a few moments, then says, “Watch this decrepit old woman show her own miraculous power.” And, she picks up the teapot and pours tea into each of the cups and goes out of the room.

The woman is wonderfully present to and engaged with the moment and the needs and wants of the moment.  The universe is present in that moment, in that act, in each moment, in each act. The sun, the rain, the earth are in the tea leaves, in the fuel for the fire, in the muscle tendons and bones of the woman. All of the universe is present in all. All the world is in a grain of sand if we will be see it.

The woman was fully present to the monks. She engaged with them with an open heart and mind. She taught her lesson, and left to go on to the next bit of living. Lovely. Fair. Just. Dignified.

Know that your powers are miraculous. They are enough. Do your best. That is miracle enough. That is enough. That is a miracle.

With thanks to Mary Grace Orr, “The Hidden Lamp: Stories from twenty five centuries of awakened women” Wisdom Publications and Parabola.

Cape Cod Dreams and Memes and Change

Cape Cod is a most wondrous place. September arrives and graces the soft sands of the Cape’s endless shores, and while so many others have returned home to work and school, I remain, reading and napping and bearing witness to the day’s gentle surf and warm breezes.

As I nap, I read Paulo Coelho’s “Manuscript Found in Accra” 

in the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement.

The winter struggles to reign supreme, but in the end is obliged to accept spring’s victory, which brings with it flowers and happiness. The summer would like to make its warms days last forever, because it believes that warmth is good for the Earth. But in the end, it has to accept the arrival of autumn, which will allow the Earth to rest. . . .

Within that cycle there are neither winners nor losers’ there are only stages that must be gone through. When the human heart understands this, it is free and able to accept difficult times without being deceived by moments of glory. Both will pass. One will succeed the other. And the cycle will continue until we liberate ourselves from the flesh and find the Divine Energy.

And the cycles will continue until we find enlightenment, eternal rest, nirvana, moksha, until we find that for which we search. But as human’s we seem destined to search, even if it is for justice and rights, for fairness and dignity, the search goes on. We are creatures on a pilgrimage, a path. Perhaps it is not that we are strangers in a strange land, but pilgrims on a pilgrimage. For us humans, the journey is home. Lots of folks have plotted the shape and direction of that path. And, it is important to know where you are going – otherwise, how will you know when you get there? One of my favorites path tracers is a largely unsung fellow named Clare Graves who wrote about memes that mark the flow of human and cultural growth.

Now, meme (pronounced meem) is a fun kind of word that is not (yet) part of the common daily verbal lexicon.  It was probably coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “the Selfish Gene” as a concept useful for explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. So, a meme could be a melody, catch-phrase, fashion, idea, symbol or practice that is spread from mind to mind through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other ways of being that we can imitate. Meme’s self-replicate, mutate and respond to pressures.

 Clare Graves wrote about eight memes or themes for existence that human beings and cultures seem to embrace and develop as we move in the world. For Graves, each meme is essential and important and is incorporated and integrated into the ones that follow even as subsequent memes work to solve personal,  social or ecological problems that emerge as a consequence of ways of being consonant with earlier memes. Then the new meme catches on, and becomes a ‘normal’ way of living, thinking, being in the world. On an individual level, think here of crawling, walking, running for example, each remains important in its own rights, even as we build our ability for more complex forms of movement. For Graves, human cultures develop and evolve new, more effective, more complex ways of structuring and organizing communities and cultures, even as we continue to incorporate earlier ways of being.

And then there is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan theory to add to the mix. Black Swans are rare events that have an extreme impact and that are retrospectively but not prospectively predictable (no one saw it coming, but looking back it makes sense). I’m thinking that Black Swan events help shift values and ways of being as they become dominant culturla memes.

Now all of this is pretty heady thinking for a day dream day on the beach, and as I thought about all of this I felt myself drifting off for a bit of a nap. And as I napped, I dreamt of nomadic cultures and communities struggling for survival living on their instincts. And then I woke and thought about tribal cultures and spirit quests and their search for kindred spirits. And I thought about how cultures grew from a sole focus on basic needs and survival to include spirituality and connections with family and kindred spirits.  And I thought about how democracies evolved creating space for individualism and spawning revolts, aggression and warfare – identity and independence seem to be linked with power and assertiveness and aggression. Traditions and religions seem to have emerged as one response to aggressions, but their structure and discipline that help to control chaos and to connect individuals and cultures to a higher ideal come with a call for self sacrifice that can be overly sacrifice freedom for security and tradition. The progress of modernity brought with it technology and material wealth and convenience, entrepreneurial growth and wealth – for some, but at a high cost to others and to the environment. There is the hope of green societies that offer compassion, community and equality, but these remain tender buds in the growth of communities. Perhaps we will see even further evolution toward more self actualizing cultures and communities, where survival, security, authority, structure, networks, systems and organic wholeness each and all find place in a dynamic balance and wholeness. And I found myself wondering where we will evolve next as human beings, as human communities. Perhaps memes of hope and healing (personal, social, cultural, environmental healing) will emerge and grow? I found myself wondering what a world free of oppression and discrimination would be like? What would we value? How would we organize family and education and care giving and wonder and awe and mystery and science and, and, and. And the joy of a sunny afternoon on Cape Cod is that I could wonder widely and wildly.   

So, now I am dreaming of love, compassion, and generousity exploding into our ways of being — as a black swan that becomes the next meme. It could happen. We could yet have a world where fairness reigns and dignity is respected.  I know my dreams will continue. The cycle will evolve. Indeed, change is the only constant. And amidst all of this change and wonder, there is the wonder and joy that Cape Cod is indeed a most wondrous place.

Walking a Labyrinth to find Pandora’s Gifts

Cape Cod is a most wondrous place. It is a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic ocean. It is divided from the mainland of Massachusetts and the United States by a man made canal (rendering it an island? Or not? I think not.) It has miles of beaches and sand and dunes. It has hundreds of kettle ponds. It has rolling hills and trees and forests and marshes, estuaries and bogs. It has historical sites and houses, state parks and a glorious national sea shore and museums of art and natural history. In the town of Sandwich (named after the Earl not the food) it has Heritage Museums and Gardens. Cape Cod is indeed a most wondrous place.

Heritage Museum and Gardens was once the home of Charles Owen Dexter, When he was 59 years old Mr. Dexter was diagnosed with a serious illness and was told that he had only months left to live. Upon hearing this, Mr. Dexter decided to live his last days in the pursuit of  activities that nurtured his soul. So, he purchased what was then known as the Shawme Farm in 1922 and devoted himself to gardening, to planting and hybridizing rhododendrons. When Charles Owen Dexter died in 1944 – at the age of 81he died a happy man. Cape Cod is a most wondrous place – so too is following the path of your heart.

Heritage Museum and Gardens, in addition to its amazing rhododendron gardens also has a labyrinth. Labyrinth’s are Greek in origin, with connections to the labrys – a two edged sword, and with connections to the earliest goddesses. Labyrinth’s have come to symbolize a path to a sacred center, as symbolic forms of pilgrimage. So, one cool afternoon I was at Heritage Museum and Gardens walking the labyrinth, quietly chanting and meditating on life and change. I slowly followed the path through to center, round the tree at the center and back out again. It was a quiet afternoon, so I sat down on the bench under the tree just at the edge of the path and had myself a bit of a nap. And while I napped I dreamt of Pandora. She was beautiful, and radiant, and immediately struck fear in my heart (I was raised catholic after all, and early practices linger). When she saw my fear Pandora laughed, and as she laughed, she said,

“Daughter, do not believe all you have been told. Too many of the early fathers where jealous of the life giving abilities of the mothers, and they strove to distort our gifts and our countenance. This is the truth of my being: I am Pandora, Giver of all gifts. To you my children I have given the pomegranate, I have given you the flowering trees that bear fruit, and vines that bear grapes that sustain you and give you joy. I have given you seeds and taught you planting. From me you have received plants for hunger and illness, for weaving and for dyeing. I am the goddess of the earth, and beneath my skin I hold for you minerals, ore and countless clays to shape and mould to your needs and uses. I have given you flint to spark the fires of your hearth to warm your heart and home. I, Pandora bring you wonder, curiosity, memory, and wisdom. Justice tempered with mercy are my gifts. I bring you caring and the love of family and friends. I bring to you courage, strength and endurance. I bring to you compassion and loving kindness for all sentient beings. Daughter, I bring to you the seeds of peace. Fear not my gifts. Revile not my name. Take what it your birthright and celebrate it with open hearted joy, rejoicing in the bounty and grace of the goddess and all that is woman.”

 And I woke from my dream, murmured, “so mote it be.” And gave thanks for the gifts of the goddess Pandora, for her daughter Charlene Spretnak who opened a path to re-member the lost goddesses of early Greece, and for the wonders of Cape Cod.

Philippe Petit and Doves that don’t fly

Philippe Petit is a French high wire walker.  In his lifetime his has walked across high wires strung between the Twin Towers in NYC, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and many other breath taking locations. And what does this have to do with justice and human rights? Well, just as stories are important, so too is symbolism. Symbolic acts can help to transform our hearts and minds in ways that create a space for more open hearted, compassionate actions. And THAT is what Philippe Petit has done to advance justice and human rights.  Here is an excerpt from his TED talk that speaks to his high wire walk in Jerusalem. His talk is called “The journey across the high wire.”  I hope you enjoy it and that you find yourself thinking a bit more expansively …

Philippe Petit says:  Faith is what replaces doubt in my dictionary.

So after a walk when people ask me, “How can you top that?” Well I didn’t have that problem. I was not interested in collecting the gigantic, in breaking records.

Each time I street juggle I use improvisation. Now improvisation is empowering because it welcomes the unknown. And since what’s impossible is always unknown, it allows me to believe I can cheat the impossible.

Now I have done the impossible not once, but many times. So what should I share? Oh, I know. Israel.

Some years ago I was invited to open the Israel Festival by a high-wire walk. And I chose to put my wire between the Arab quarters and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem over the Ben Hinnom Valley. And I thought it would be incredible if in the middle of the wire I stopped and, like a magician, I produce a dove and send her in the sky as a living symbol of peace.

Well now I must say, it was a little bit hard to find a dove in Israel, but I got one. And in my hotel room, each time I practiced making it appear and throwing her in the air, she would graze the wall and end up on the bed. So I said, now it’s okay. The room is too small. I mean, a bird needs space to fly. It will go perfectly on the day of the walk.

Now comes the day of the walk. Eighty thousand people spread over the entire valley. The mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, comes to wish me the best. But he seemed nervous. There was tension in my wire, but I also could feel tension on the ground. Because all those people were made up of people who, for the most part, considered each other enemies.

So I start the walk. Everything is fine. I stop in the middle. I make the dove appear. People applaud in delight. And then in the most magnificent gesture, I send the bird of peace into the azure. But the bird, instead of flying away, goes flop, flop, flop and lands on my head.(Laughter) And people scream. So I grab the dove, and for the second time I send her in the air. But the dove, who obviously didn’t go to flying school, goes flop, flop, flop and ends up at the end of my balancing pole.

You laugh, you laugh. But hey. I sit down immediately. It’s a reflex of wire walkers. Now in the meantime, the audience, they go crazy. They must think this guy with this dove, he must have spent years working with him. What a genius, what a professional.

So I take a bow. I salute with my hand. And at the end I bang my hand against the pole to dislodge the bird. Now the dove, who, now you know, obviously cannot fly, does for the third time a little flop, flop, flop and ends up on the wire behind me. And the entire valley goes crazy.

Now but hold on, I’m not finished. So now I’m like 50 yards from my arrival and I’m exhausted, so my steps are slow. And something happened. Somebody somewhere, a group of people, starts clapping in rhythm with my steps. And within seconds the entire valley is applauding in unison with each of my steps. But not an applause of delight like before, an applause encouragement. For a moment, the entire crowd had forgotten their differences. They had become one, pushing me to triumph.

I want you just for a second to experience this amazing human symphony. So let’s say I am here and the chair is my arrival. So I walk, you clap, everybody in unison.

So after the walk, Teddy and I become friends. And he tells me, he has on his desk a picture of me in the middle of the wire with a dove on my head. He didn’t know the true story. And whenever he’s daunted by an impossible situation to solve in this hard-to-manage city, instead of giving up, he looks at the picture and he says, “If Philippe can do that, I can do this,” and he goes back to work.

Inspiration. By inspiring ourselves we inspire others.  By believing in ourselves, by seeing the possibility of the impossible, we believe in others and together we grow the discipline to build the impossible.  The road to the impossible is not an easy one.  It is never straight forward. It is never smooth. It is surely not a level playing field. But there is a road, there is a path that we can create.  Sometimes we must build that path together. Sometimes we walk that path together. Sometimes the path must be forged by the solitary pioneer. But there is a path to freedom, to dignity, to justice.  On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Junior delivered his “I have a dream” speech. His dream became a defining moment of the Civil Rights movement. Let us continue to dream wildly and wantonly. Let us continue to walk the path to freedom, dignity and justice – together and as pioneers ever forging new visions of dignity as we sing the old songs of freedom and hope.

Fifty years ago today: Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream

Fifty years ago today, on Aug. 28, 1963

At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech:

 (Copyright 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


Fifty years ago Dr. King had a dream. He had the vision and courage to speak that dream to us all.

Dream your grandest dreams. Then wake up and live them with full hearted courage and love.


thinking about Schrodinger’s cat

So … the other night I was watching TV. Specifically, I was watching a Big Bang Theory rerun.  At the point when I tuned in, Leonard and Penny have just returned from their first date. Leonard asks Penny if she has ever heard of Schrodinger’s Cat.  Penny grimaces, and says, that she has heard too much about the cat. (Apparently Schrodinger’s Cat has been a recurrent topic among the boys and Penny throughout the episode.) Leonard then proclaims that the cat is alive, and kisses Penny. All is well – or at least as well as things get between Leonard and Penny in the series – until Leonard notices the video camera that Howard and Raj have installed so that they can watch the good night moments between Leonard and Penny, but that is another tale. So the mention of Schrodinger’s Cat got set off a resonance of familiarity for me, but got me to wondering about what the story was with the cat.

Then , the very next morning (August 12, 2013) I opened my computer, went to Google, and  I saw an image celebrating Erwin Schrodinger’s 126th birthday!

 There are no coincidences. So I figured that it was meant to be that I should compile a blog about Schrodinger’s cat! And here you have it – thanks to Google and Wikipedia ….

First you need to know that while Schrodinger’s cat is real, it does not now, nor has it ever actually existed. That being said, Schrödinger’s cat is what folks call a thought experiment. It could also be understood as a paradox. Schrodinger’s cat was devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger back in 1935.  Erwin used the story about the cat to illustrate what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects, an application of quantum mechanics that often resulted in contradictions with common sense. (Don’t buzz out on me this is about the cat not quantum mechanics.)

The Copenhagen interpretation is one of the earliest (1924–27) and most commonly taught interpretations of quantum mechanics. In essence it says that quantum mechanics does not give a description of objective reality but deals only with probabilities. And, the Copenhagen interpretation also proposed that the act of measurement causes the set of probabilities to immediately and randomly assume only one of the possible values. If you are into name dropping, the names associated with the Copenhagen interpretation include devised by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

So … Schrodinger’s cat scenario describes the circumstances of a cat that may be both alive and dead, depending on an earlier random event. (Of course while the original “experiment” was imaginary, similar principles have been implemented, examined and used in practical applications.)  In the course of developing this experiment, Schrödinger coined the term Verschränkung (entanglement).  Schrodinger asked folks (that would be us) to imagine that a cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small, that perhaps in the course of the hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, that a bit of radioactive substance does decay, the Geiger counter tube sets into action and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid which would kill the cat. (Clearly this thought experiment was devised before the days of the SPCA and PETA!) If you have left this entire system to itself for an hour, you could say that the cat still lives if no atom has decayed. Mathematical description of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

 In effect, this thought experiment poses the question, ‘when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states (a superposition of states is when both/and are taken to exist concurrently and at the same time) and become one or the other?’ So, when does the cat stop being alive AND dead, and become either dead or alive? If the cat survives, it remembers only being alive. If the cat dies, it remembers nothing – at least that is what we seem to believe about cats and their afterlife.

 The thought experiment illustrates an apparent paradox. Our intuition says that no observer can be in a mixture of states—yet the cat, it seems from the thought experiment, can be such a mixture. Is the cat required to be an observer, or does its existence in a single well-defined classical state require another external observer? Each alternative seemed absurd to Albert Einstein, who was impressed by the ability of the thought experiment to highlight these issues. In a letter to Schrödinger dated 1950, he wrote:

“You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality, if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gunpowder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.”

 Suffice it to say that within the realms of science and literature there are many detailed interpretations of this thought experiment.  Superpositions of the states of the cat – the cat is both alive and dead – are possible only until there is observation. But, does the cat count as an observer?  And of course there is the post modern observation that if the cat is not observed within a period of time it will be dead from lack of food. And … there is no mention of kitty litter in the statement of the thought experiment … and … both science and literature are rich with interpretations.

Go, explore. Think seriously. Think with a clear and critical mind. Think with a light and open heart. Think about how this might apply to how we live our lives, to how we perceive and think about ourselves and each other.

Think about being alive and dead at the same time… think about both/and possible conditions.  Maybe some people, maybe ALL people really can be both good AND bad at the same time and the way they appear to us really is an artifact of our observation?  Remember the story of the Native American Grandmother and the compassionate and evil wolfs that live in each of us? And which lives? The one we feed, the one we observe and attend to! Elizabeth Kubler Ross was fond of saying that we all, each of us carry within our soul’s both Hitler and Mother Teresa – who we become is who we observe and attend to and nurture.

 Remember the Thomas Theorem: situations perceived as real are real in their consequences. What you see – what you expect to see – is what you get.  Be aware of your expectations. Be awake, be aware.

So … who will you be? What will you observe and build in your world. No, this is not a call for everyone to become Pollyanna. But it is a reminder that what you see may well be what you get, and that there is more choice than we realize in what we see.

Go forth my friends, nurture your sense of wonder at the world through which you wander. Never hurry by an open door. Never hurry by an opportunity for kindness and compassion. Keep an open heart, a giving hand, and a shoulder firmly pressed to the work of fairness and respect for human dignity.

From NPR: A 40 year old photograph that stands as a counterpoint to Trayvon Martin’s murder

I don’t often just cut and paste and repost here, but this one is an exception.

Last week the decision was announced in the George Zimmerman trial — he was found not guilty in the charges against him in the aftermath of his shooting teenaged Trayvon Martin in Florida.  I wanted to post something meaningful here, but words failed me. Most folks that I spoke with found the verdic abhorent and predictable.  My frequent response to such matters: ‘UGH’ seemed appropriate but inadequate.

then I found this story on NPR:

it seemed about right. so … read on, please …

This 1973 photo of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral on the Internet. The children were Rhonda Shelly, 3 (from left), Kathy Macool, 7, Lisa Shelly, 5, Chris Macool, 9, and Robert Shelly, 6.

In late July 1973, Joseph Crachiola was wandering the streets of Mount Clemens, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, with his camera. As a staff photographer for the Macomb Daily, he was expected to keep an eye out for good feature images — “those little slices of life that can stand on their own.”

The slice of life he caught that day was a picture of five young friends in a rain-washed alley in downtown Mount Clemens. And what distinguishes it are its subjects: three black children, two white ones, giggling in each others’ arms.

“It was just one of those evenings,” Crachiola remembers. “I saw these kids — they were just playing around. And I started shooting some pictures of them. At some point, they saw me and they all turned and looked at me and struck that pose that you see in the picture. It was totally spontaneous. I had nothing to do with the way they arranged themselves.”

This week, Crachiola, who now lives in New Orleans, posted the vintage photo on his Facebook page.

“For me, it still stands as one of my most meaningful pictures,” he wrote in his post. “It makes me wonder… At what point do we begin to mistrust one another? When do we begin to judge one another based on gender or race? I have always wondered what happened to these children. I wonder if they are still friends.”

After several days when the world seemed to be reduced to one big argument about race, the elegantly simple photo hit a nerve — in a good way.

After his Sunday post, Crachiola’s Facebook page blew up — as many as 100,000 page views. Six thousand “likes” and thousands of shares. The Macomb Daily reprinted the photo on its Web page and sent someone to the archives to help identify the children, who are now middle-aged.

It’s hard not to smile while looking at this picture. Crachiola liked it so much himself that he printed a large copy and has it hanging in his dining room. Former Michigan Rep. Don Riegle reportedly also liked it so much, he got a framed copy and hung it in his office.

Crachiola says that learning of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial reminded him of the photo and made him think to post it.

He’s been gratified by the response. Between Facebook and the newspaper, he has solid leads on where the children are today. “Someone emailed me saying he works with one of the guys who was in the picture,” Crachiola says. “He actually works for the Macomb County Road Commission.” And just before we spoke, Crachiola saw someone had posted an even more intriguing note: “This,” wrote Darnesha Taylor Shelly, “is my husband and sister in laws.”

Looks like a reunion might be imminent

Michelangelo and The Stonecutter

The path to greatness is seldom smooth or straight. Indeed, excellence is a hard won standard. When I think of greatness and excellence in art, Michelangelo is certainly one of the names that fairly quickly comes to my mind. But art was not Michelangelo’s most predictable career, it was his most passionate calling.

On March 6, 1475 Michelangelo was born Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni in  Caprese in Tuscany, Italy. For generations the men in his family had been bankers, his father was a banker, and everyone expected that Michelangelo would carry on the family tradition, and that he too would make the honorable and respectful choice – that he would become a banker. Banking was in his blood after all. But life is not always predictable. Life is often not predictable.

In 1481, when Michelangelo was 6 his mother became very ill, and died. This was more than his father could bear, and that year Michelangelo was sent to the country to live with a stonecutter and his family. Michelangelo was fascinated with the work of the stone cutter. He was entranced with the man’s ability to step up to the side of a mountain and elicit from it blocks of stone which the man then transformed into shapes and figures. Michelangelo would watch the stonecutter for hours, noticing how he held and used the tools, how he stood and moved in relationship with the mountain.

But Michelangelo was six and had just lost his mother. For a young boy, love and hate are very near neighbors. One day Michelangelo’s grief at his loss of his mother exploded as he witnessed the stonecutter’s happiness. If he (Michelangelo) was miserable and unhappy, it was not fair that this man should have such peace and contentment in his life. (Of course Michelangelo could not have put these words to his feelings, but in later years, he found his way to a similar expression as he thought back on this day.) He raged at the stonecutter. He berated him for his lowly station in life, for the lack of comforts, for the lack of power and influence that the stonecutter had achieved.

The man listened thoughtfully to the young boy. He let him go on until his emotions were spend, and when the anger and run its course and became tears, the stonecutter gathered Michelangelo into his strong arms and hugged him tenderly as if he were his own son. Then he sat down with Michelangelo on his lap and told him this story.

Michelangelo, the things you say to me are nearly true. They are matters that have come to my mind in the past, and I have considered them most carefully, for at one time I was quite dissatisfied with myself and with my position in life.

Then, one day I was walking by a very wealthy merchant’s home. Through the gate and past the door of his house I was more riches than I could ever have imagined. The man had important visitors coming and going all day. “How important and powerful this merchant must be.” I thought to myself. I envied him like no other, and wished that I could be him. Well, to my astonishment, I became the merchant. I was enjoying luxuries and power beyond my greatest dreams. I was envied – and detested – by those less wealthy than myself.

But then the Governor passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by servants and soldiers and musicians and dancing girls. Everyone bowed before the procession. And I thought, “How important and powerful this Governor is.” I envied him like no other, and wished that I could be a great Governor.

And before I could blink my eye, I was the Governor. I was carried everywhere in a beautiful sedan. I had servants, and guards and musicians. My wishes became commandments, and all bowed before me. And then one day was especially hot, and I became sweaty and sticky and uncomfortable in my chair. I looked up and saw the sun. The sun beamed magnificently in the sky, unaffected by my presence and commands, unaffected by anyone. And I thought, “How powerful is the sun.” And I wished that I could be the sun.

And as soon as I had finished my thought, I was the sun. I was shining brightly, fiercely on everyone. I scorched the fields and dried the ponds, and the farmers and sweating laborers cursed at me. And just then a magnificent storm cloud moved between me and the earth, so that my light could not be seen by anything below. And I thought, “How magnificent and powerful that storm cloud is.” And I wished that I could be the storm cloud.

I became the cloud, and I sent out my rain. I flooded the rivers and the fields. The villagers looked up and shouted at me. And as they did, I could feel myself being moved. It was the wind blowing me away. And I thought, “How powerful the wind is!” And I wished that I was the wind.

And in the instant of that thought, I was the wind. I was a splendid and powerful wind. I blew roofs off houses, uprooted trees. I was feared by everyone. But then I came up against something that I could not move, no matter how I blew against it, no matter how much force and speed I used. It was a huge towering stone mountain. And I thought, “How powerful that mountain is.” And I wished that I could be that mountain.

And, I became the mountain. Standing strong and sure, I was more powerful than anything else on this earth. But as I stood there, I heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solidity of my rock. I felt myself being changed. “What could be more powerful than me? I am solid stone?” And I looked down and saw a stonecutter.

And once again I became how I was and always will be.

And Michelangelo snuggled into the stonecutter’s arms and murmured, “I will be who I will always be” even as he held onto the stonecutter’s chisel.

Michelangelo is often quoted as saying, “If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer.” Michelangelo grew to be one of the world’s most respected stonecutters.

with thanks to Benjamin Hoff for his version of the stonecutter in the Tao of Pooh, and to the myriad versions of the Chinese/Japanese/Indian parable on the web.

24 hours to die, 24 hours to live

Back at the cloister a new postulant has just entered the cloister. Sister Beatrix was bubbling over with joy and enthusiasm to begin her life as a Sister of Mary Magdalene. Her enthusiasm was infectious, although it was becoming a bit taxing to some of the more sedate sisters. Mother Magdalene was aware of the emerging tension when Sister Beatrix came in to meet with her for her formative spiritual guidance. Sister Beatrix had barely taken her seat when she began, “Reverend Mother, why does my mind wander around to forbidden places? Why am I so inclined to gossip when none of the other sisters do? Why do I feel such frustration and resentment for others instead of a sense of compassion for all sentient beings like Sister Visentia?”

Mother Magdalene smiled to herself, recognizing that she needed to take the situation in hand and help Sister Beatrix to slow down and to find her pace within the flow of the cloister. Mother Magdalene took a slow breath and thought she might take a bit of a risk with Beatrix. “Sister Beatrix, your questions are thoughtful, but, it seems to me that in 24 hours from now you will die.”

Sister Beatrix looked startled. She stood up and started to walk out of Mother Magdalene’s office.

Mother Magdalene asked, “Sister Beatrix, where are you going? You entered my office with such vitality and enthusiasm, and now you look so down hearted.”

Sister Beatrix replied, “But Reverend Mother, you just told me that I have but 24 hours to live. I must go and say my goodbyes to the other sisters before I die.”

“Ah, but there are 24 hours,” said Mother Magdalene, “sit, and we will talk a bit more.”

“Please Mother,” Sister Beatrix asked, “I must go and gather myself and say my goodbyes.”

Beatrix quickly left Mother Magdalene’s office and returned to her own room. Sister Bryda saw her crying, and softly knocked on the door. Beatrix wept as she told her what Reverend Mother had said. Then Beatrix asked to be left alone, and she wept into her pillow. Time quickly flew by with Beatrix weeping, pacing and weeping. Before she realized it, there were only 3 hours left. Death had not yet arrived, but Beatrix was all but dead as she lay on her bed waiting.

When there was only one hour was left, Mother Magdalene came to Sister Beatrix’s room and knocked on the door. She said, “Sister Beatrix, why are you lying on your bed with your eyes closed, crying. Death is still a whole hour away! An hour is 60 minutes – 3600 seconds – long. That is a lot of time. Get up, wash your face. Let us talk a bit.” 

Sister Beatrix sat up and said, “Mother, why should we talk now? Please may I just die peacefully?”

“Oh, Beatrix my child, there is still time and our talk will be concluded before your final time arrives.”

So, Beatrix pulled herself together, washed her face, and sat waiting for Mother Magdalene to speak.

Mother Magdalene asked Beatrix, “Now, my daughter, in the past 24 hours, have you gossiped about anyone?” 

“How could I gossip? I was only thinking about death?!” replied Sister Beatrix.

“In the past 24 hours, did your mind wander?  

“How could it, I could only think of my imminent death” said Sister Beatrix.

 “In the past 24 hours, where you frustrated with others?” 

“Oh Reverend Mother, not at all, I was only thinking about death.” 

Finally Mother Magdalene said, “Dear Beatrix, I really don’t know when anyone will die. I do know that we all have to die some time. But understanding the ultimate truth – that every living creature must die – can be very liberating and enlightening. All the questions you posed to me have been answered by yourself because of the awareness of death that you experienced during the past 24 hours. The difference between you and the other sisters is that you were aware of death for hours; the other sisters here have been practicing that awareness for I have been aware for years. Be patient with yourself. Cherish the moments, spend your hours thoughtfully and with compassionate awareness.” 

“You know, Mother Magdalene,” Sister Beatrix murmured thoughtfully, “this reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite quotes, I think she said it was from someone named Gwen Brooks. Mom would often say to us when we complained that something was impossible, she would say, ‘You are alive until you are dead. Ten minutes before you are dead, you are alive. You could save the world in ten minutes.’ I guess mom and Gwen Brooks knew something!”

“Indeed.” Mother Magdalene thought outloud, “indeed.”