Monday, June 22, 2015

“The Quietest Place in the Universe”

This title of an article in Harper’s magazine naturally caught my attention.  I have studied the yoga sutras, read the commentaries, memorized a few of them, chanted some of them (though I make no claim to being anywhere near a scholar of them) and I always come back to “yoga is the stilling/quieting of the fluctuations of the mind” as the sutra that calls to me most.  I like the simplicity and the invitation to something both difficult and mysterious. I also remember as a child being quite taken by the Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Lead, South Dakota is at almost the exact geographic center of the United States.  In Lead, there is a deep hole, possibly one of the deepest in the world.  Once a gold mine, it is now a center of scientific study on neutrinos and dark matter.  Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have been around since the birth of the universe. They are not very well understood and in fact, are rather mysterious.  They are able to pass through matter and so pass through the earth, and us, all the time. 

Deep underground, the theory goes, the rock will filter out background radiation noise from other sources so the path of the neutrinos might be recorded. It is as if one is moving from above ground being like the sound of applause at the Super Bowl to a place where one hears only one hand clapping or perhaps, a single breath or the “residual sweep of neutrinos from the Big Bang, like the movement of air inside a newborn’s lungs.” 

The author of the article, Kent Meyers, says this:  “I began to think of neutrinos and dark matter as whispers: the most intimate messages of the universe’s voice, carrying its closest secrets to ears that are all but deaf—or, perhaps more accurately, immune, because so other-natured.” 

It is so incredibly difficult to filter out the busyness and consequent noise of our lives and our minds.  And yet, I suspect, that filtering out of noise is one of the important paths for us to collectively and individually find another way of living with the earth and all the beings we share it with—what Thomas Berry the myriad ways the Divine communicates.  Yoga may be part of the change we seek, a way of bringing something back into balance – the yoga that brings us home to our bodies and quiet to our minds so we can hear the whispers of the breath of the universe as we listen to the whispers of the breath of our own bodies. 

Kent finishes his article with words that deeply touched me.  He describes this research as a kind of science of introversion and withdrawal, “setting up the conditions of silence and waiting for the smallest voice of the universe, the voice of its conception.”  Telescopes reach out into space in search of information and images just as our eyes reach out into our world and take in information that is sent to our brains.  The research in this deep cut in the earth, originally dug in an attempt to gain wealth in gold, is now a place of withdrawing and listening. 

“Part of me is excited by the possibilities of neutrino and dark-matter research, the sci-fi glitz of better heath and medicine, longer and richer lives, interstellar travel.  Another, quieter part of me, though, wonders.  What if we arrived at knowledge that we cannot mine or turn into something—arsenic, dynamite, trucks—that helps us mine something else and in so doing produces, always, another thing we cannot get our minds around?  What if dark matter and neutrinos are so out of reach that all we can do is think about them, not manipulate or change them or mix them into new combinations?  Of the many revolutions science has offered us—and challenged us with—that could be the quietest and the largest and most interesting of all.”

When we sit and quiet the fluctuations of the mind, or filter them out perhaps, we are also setting up the conditions of silence and waiting for the whisper of the universe. The yogis and other ancients who explored and developed the practice of meditation have given us a great wisdom. We do not need science to confirm it but the parallels are fascinating and quite beautiful as they overlap and interweave with each other. 

If you are interested, I highly recommend this article in Harper’s, May 2015: The Most Mysterious Particle in the Universe (on cover), The Quietest Place in the Universe. 

Also, Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth.

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