A group of young fellows are swimming in the creek at my usual sitting spot, so I walk a couple hundred meters upstream and put the pad down across the stream from a picnic site. A lone cyclist is there, and the minute he leaves, a family descends on the place, complete with dog and yellow raft.
Despite initially suspicious and disappointed looks at finding a stranger sitting across from their family outing place, they go about their business, and I stay put for the time being.
They seem like a nice family. The older girl smiles as she enters the stream with her younger sister, a girl of about eight in a pink bathing suit with matching pink water shoes.
Carrying her doll, the younger sister boldly crosses the creek and heads right for me. As she approaches, she says, "Land ahoy!" Then, stepping onto the bank a few feet away, she adds, "Coming ashore." She's a fearless little card, I think. We exchange a few words and she crosses back over to her family.
Leaving the spot to the brood, which, by this time, has unloaded a large amount of stuff from a gargantuan vehicle, I move again. My final clue to move was a portable grill, which is placed on top of the BBQ at the site. I return to my first choice, which has been vacated by the dudes.
To my exasperation, the older sister and her brother pull a big yellow raft downstream in front of me. I wait for the commotion to die down, which it does after 20 minutes or so. Watching without a watcher, meditation ignites.
V.S. Ramachandran, a brain scientist at the University of San Diego, says there may be a soul in the sense of "the universal spirit of the cosmos," but the notion of "an immaterial spirit that occupies individual brains and that only evolved in humans is complete nonsense." That sounds right.
The notion of soul in the Christian tradition is inextricably linked to man's special place in creation, as well as the ludicrous projection that man is made in the image of God. Most scientists and thinking people, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, flip to the opposite side, and uphold a mechanistic view of the universe.
But the fact that we humans are matter and energy, and evolved along with all other life, does not mean, as many scientists and secularists believe, that the universe is merely mechanism plus chance. Creation did not begin and end, like some giant clock, with the Big Bang. Rather, it is going on all the time in nature, without the need to postulate and project a Creator.
More importantly, there is an infinite mystery, which science can never solve, because there's nothing to solve. Mystery, like infinity and ongoing creation, are simply the warp and woof of the cosmos. Science is but the film of knowledge, uncovering or concealing (depending on how we approach it) the limitless unknown.
The vast bulk of theology boils down to the veneration of self, thought, and the things made by thought. Humans used to worship golden calves; now we worship science, iPhones, and high technology. Religionists and secularists aren't nearly as different as they think. Indeed, believers and atheists are two sides of the same coin.
Is the cosmos aware? Obviously the moon and stars aren't aware, but anyone who is able to quiet thought completely realizes that there is an inseparable awareness beyond the mind of man in the universe. Indeed, one has the perception in the meditative state that awareness both preceded the birth of the universe, and will be there after the death of the universe. Perhaps awareness itself, without any interference, is God. What need then for a beginning or end?
It has become fashionable to blur the difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. People pretend, by observing the biological relationship between animals and humans, that there is no gulf between Homo sapiens and the rest of nature. Facile reasoning from scientific fact will not resolve the riddle of man however.
Humans evolved along with all other life, no doubt. But that raises the question: How is it that all other life moves in a dynamic, inextricable wholeness and order, while humans are generating increasing fragmentation and disorder? That is our conundrum--not nature's, or God's.
When, through undivided attention to the movement of thought, the human brain falls silent, one comes into contact with the background awareness of the universe. And despite man's misuse of 'higher thought,' only the human brain has the capacity to be consciously aware of and participate in the mystery of ongoing creation.
That's the real meaning and purpose of meditation--to fully awaken our capacity to see and feel that to which the word sacred refers.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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