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Stop the Presses! Hold the Phone!

Loving Eurogames

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Just in time for the Holidays!


“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
Emerson, Journals, 1834

Throughout my presentation of Mindful Ecology I have tried to emphasize that it is a path towards some happiness and sanity for our individual lives. Today I invite you to celebrate with me one of my life’s finest sources of pleasure. For more than 30 years I have found delight in playing games with my wife, family, and friends. Not just any games, a very particular type of game first developed in Europe after WWII.

Little else has stood the test of time as well as the satisfactions we derive from having learned how to play together. I think this is because these Eurogames are an exercise in ecological thinking and mind training cleverly packaged as entertainment. The people of our generations, as opposed to the Ostriches, respond to such things.

Mind Training – Players learn to win and lose gracefully by mastering the emotional roller-coaster they experience as fortunes rise and fall.

Ecological Training – Players learn to use limited resources wisely, carefully shepherding what is valuable to achieve what is most important.

The result of such training is to slowly shape our characters – for the better.

In a Well Played Game everyone wins because everyone has had fun. This happens when the dramatic competition for the win is never allowed to eclipse the larger context of joyful interpersonal cooperation. This is not a bad lesson for people to be exposed to in our time of hyper-capitalism and hyper-divisive politics. It might even show a way forward for the rebuilt communities that lie in wait for us on the other side of the Era of Cars.

All of this and more, is packaged in a humble game. How wonderfully ironic.

Can learning to play the Well Played Game teach us how to live the Well Lived Life?
Read Loving Eurogames: The Quest for the Well Played Game and decide for yourself.

Earth Love: Mind

“But epistemology is always and inevitably personal. The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer: What is my answer to the question of the nature of knowing? I surrender to the belief that my knowing is a small part of a wider integrated knowing that knits the entire biosphere or creation.”
Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity, Gregory Bateson


What is it exactly that forms the river into the specific form it takes as it winds its way down a mountainside? The water interacts with the land it touches and together they work out the path it takes. Riverbanks constrain the water and the water carves the riverbanks. Throughout, conditions form the expression of the river; a boulder in the middle of the river here, a fallen log there, the incline of the ground is steep here and less steep over there. The tides and flows are molded by all these factors. The shape of the river also is influenced by the organic matter it interacts with; algae slowing the flow in the stagnant water of a cul-de-sac or a trout vigorously kicking splashes of water and pebbles to and fro.

Not one element of the river is expressing itself just-because. There are causes involved at a multitude of scales all working together to bring forth the exact expression of the pattern of relationships which we call a river. Ever changing yet ever constrained, the river embodies and expresses these patterns of relationships moment by moment.

Ask a physicist what makes the river take the exact form it does and they will be able to explain it in terms of gravity and hydrodynamics. They can provide a detailed description in complex equations. Here is another area in which I think it is extremely helpful for contemplatives to have some grounding in modern science. The equations involved in the description of fluid behavior are difficult. These complex discoveries are among the more impressive achievements of the modern mind, yet without some exposure to the level of detail the sciences speak there is no real way to appreciate that. This blog is not the place to examine such equations and I am certainly not the best guide to such explorations but it is worth a moment to just see one set for a simplified 2D flow:

Navier-Stokes-Stream2DStill, in spite of our deep understanding of the dynamics of fluids the human mind remains unable to predict the shape of a river in any but the most trivial of environments. This inability to predict is due to more than just the number of variables involved, although those are immense. Imagine a computer able to handle them all and still we would be unable to form accurate predictions due to the chaotic nature of water flows.

Just how the turbulence within the river will develop is highly sensitive to the initial conditions. We call this state of affairs a chaotic system. The force of cause and effect is no less prevalent in such systems; it is simply that the slightest change in the starting values of the parameters leads to very different outcomes. In the real world our instruments are only able to measure to certain degrees of accuracy so those differences in initial conditions act as a barrier to our ability to predict exactly what will happen as the rivers weave their warp and woof on their way to the oceans. (Measurement and its characteristics in the real world were mentioned earlier.) There will be more to say about complex systems that incorporate chaotic dynamics as we proceed along this blog project. For now I think it well illustrates that the type of ‘intelligence’ a river is involved in is not as simple and trivial as we might think it is before we analyze it.

The river itself of course has no trouble navigating all these factors. Embodying this ‘intelligence’ is what it does moment by moment. It reminds of a quip by Buckminster Fuller, “I wonder”, to paraphrase what he said, “how many decimal places of Pi nature carries out her calculations before deciding it is good enough to make a water bubble?”

We have grown so used to thinking of mind as something only human beings have. A more narrow definition of mind would be hard to imagine. Such a narrow definition is useful in some contexts but as a general world-view it may not serve us well. Too narrow a view admits only a mysterious ghost in the machine in the human brain finding itself in a dead universe of automatons and carnival masks, or to use the classical terms – atoms and void. Ok, let us say for the sake of argument that view is true on the atomic level. Does that necessarily entail that there is nothing real at any other level? To insist it does would be a logical error.

This might seem pedantic but there are enormous debates in our history trying to decide if the consciousness animals have might have any characteristics we could rightly call mind and if so to what degree. The way we treat and eat animals might need to change if we were to change our view on this matter. Still, most people are willing to assign some degree of mind to their pets and extend it as a logical implication to other animals of the wild. The Elk and Wolf both display behaviors that we recognize as purposeful and intuitively we assign such functionality to mind. It gets a bit harder to say the same about a worm or a gnat perhaps.

Here is where a mindful ecology lets its love for the earth whisper wisdoms from indigenous peoples. As astonishing as it might be, and as I have mentioned before, even a single celled amoeba can be said to have beliefs of sorts since it too displays purposeful behavior. Daringly, might we suggest that those flowing rivers we just looked at are best understood as also being expressions of mind? Or to be a bit more careful, mindful ecology is suggesting that there are definitions of mind that are coherent while being able to incorporate not only the biological but also the whole container in which the biosphere is found. To be clear: this is the heresy some proponents of the Gaia hypothesis are at pains to disown. They are comfortable admitting life might form non-life towards serving its needs but cannot see how the obverse relationship could have an equally valid standing. We are so conditioned to see the non-life as dumb and dead and nothing more it is difficult to imagine any other view could even be coherent unless there was theism behind it.

Why might it matter how narrow or wide we define the nature of mind? I asked a few posts ago to take some time with a flower or a candle and really ask yourself; just what is it you think is really going on here? Here is one way to view such things.  This view I am proposing is firmly rooted in an ecological understanding of how critical to the well-being of living things is the interactions they have, always and everywhere, with the non-organic. There is a whole here that cannot be separated. Even a cell in a laboratory’s sterilized Petri dish remains dependent on its environmental container.

That there is design in nature is the puzzle of puzzles. Theists claim it proves their view, Darwin is said to have explained it without recourse to a mind-of-god hypothesis and the artists, poets and lovers never fail to be inspired by it. The contemplatives suggest it is actually very difficult, perhaps impossible, to draw a distinct boundary between the expression of mind seemingly inside and the expression of mind seemingly outside. They seem to have intuitively grasped a definition of mind surprisingly modern in its ramifications.

Describing the shape and dynamics of a river as a manifestation of intelligence comes from an appreciation of a few fundamentals normally attributed to consciousness. There is information. Information requires a physical representation; it needs a material base as we have learned from cybernetics and computer science. In our computers the information is in the form of electrical voltages high and low, in the formation of a river it is in the form of the riverbanks and other elements. There is communication. Communication establishes relationships which are required to express any pattern whatsoever. In our computers the relationships are between logic gates, particular patterns of electrical circuits. In the shaping of the river the relationships are between hydraulic flow characteristics, gravity, organic material and a whole host of other features.

Recognizing the primacy of relationships is another way of saying reality is interdependent, or dependently arising. Recognizing the primacy of relationships is also why when Gregory Bateson tried to teach about an ecology of mind that would include the mind of the Redwood forest and the sea amoebas. He wrote: “The pattern which connects is a metapattern.  It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect.” (Mind and Nature, italics in original). Patterns are relationships in which meaning is found, intelligence.

When you can sense the trees you see shimmering their leaves in the wind are joining the shrubs and lawn under the cloud bedecked blue sky in expressing a mind that is not fundamentally different than your own – then a peace can blossom in your mind-stream that embraces you thoroughly, warmly, like a mother. Look straight up into the deep blue sky. Without over-romanticizing it sense the ancient jellyfish who were perhaps the first to seek light, and the vines crawling upward reaching for the sun, then add the countless flowers spread over the whole of the earth and over eons, shifting to get just a few more of those precious rays. Sense your ancestors, many of whom were not at all polite or quiet or even human. The treasure house of awareness in its container is precious, priceless, the jewel worth more than any possible purchase.

Everything that would make you into a stranger on this earth, resist it. Others are all too willing to deny your reality to sell you something, force you to do their bidding, enlist you in their cause, trap you in their own nightmares… gently set aside the peer pressures. Remove the hands of fear from your throat. Fight off the constrictions on your chest and breathe freely. Recognize that with the jewel of awareness you have everything of ultimate worth. Just perhaps, that insight will cut the power behind our clinging to lesser things. Try it. As my teacher says, give it a shot.

Training in the View

“Rely on the teaching, not on the person;
Rely on the meaning, not on the words;
Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional;
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary mind.”


Now with a model of reasoning under our belts we can turn our attention to using it.

The program for using it is going to be multifaceted, a collection of intellectual chores taken up not for gaining academic tenure or impressing our friends but because we really want to know, to the best that we can, just what it is to be alive in this universe that appears to us. We have a certain faith that asking the right questions can itself teach us something about paying attention, being awake to the wonder of everything, and even how we might live the good life as philosophers have long recommended.

The point is to overcome suffering. This path is soteriological. The Buddha taught that there is an end to suffering, nirvana exists. The teaching is that we suffer because we are confused; we do not see reality as it is. So we train in seeing the universe as the Buddha sees it, we train in what is called the view.

The crux of sharpening the experience of contemplation is a knack you can learn. It is an ability to entertain some way-out thoughts. Following a set of premises to their conclusions can uncover a universe not at all like the one that presents itself to us day after day. If we trust our reason (and what other choice do we have?) it penetrates another layer of understanding. All this is well known. Biologists teach us all plants and animals are constructed from cells which are intricate almost beyond belief, biochemically vast and complex. Yet only the eye of reason is able to picture the living world this way. It is very interesting, is it not, that in a sense it can be said that this cellular vision is more “real” then the picture we receive as our cognitive default, namely that all living things are separate individuals?

This is why it takes effort to train the mind in what is called the view. It takes some mental exercise to overcome the cognitive default that believes the root of a tree, the brain of a worm and the life of a man have almost nothing in common.

Where the university student will memorize facts and pass tests about cells and a documentary film maker might find the cell a perfect subject for their film, the contemplative takes the same material and works on it in their own way. The contemplative goal is not to pass a test nor create a work of art, though what they are after is a bit of both. The contemplative is training in opening the eye of wisdom. In this example the inner apprehension of what it really means that all living things share the same fundamental biological building block, the same fundamental chemical and structural similarities. Then perhaps training in what it really means that the body, that feels so intimately one’s own, consists of trillions and trillions of these miniature galaxies of intelligence, these vibrating drops of awareness. The contemplative turns an artistic eye on scientific content and heals the split between reality and imagination in an alchemical marriage.

I think this is a valid first way to try and explain the way of meditation for we moderns.

I hope to illustrate how the application of reasoning to ultimate questions leads to radical conclusions. These conclusions or insights are difficult to fully experience in all their ramifications, so meditation is used as a tool by which we are able to become familiar with them. We train in seeing the truths of the world as we understand it really is.

It is easy to see how this might work by considering quantum mechanics. Our most advanced theory in physics assures us the world is “really” made up of molecules. The universe presents countless collections and aggregates but all its myriad forms are molecules none-the-less. It has also found that these molecules are constructed out of approximately 100 types of atoms. In all the universe stuff only comes in approximately 100 flavors.

Now here is the interesting thing. We can study all this and using our imaginations can form pictures of it but that’s as far as it goes in most western forms of study. To contemplate is to go a step further. If you were not studying quantum mechanics due to a mild curiosity attracted to the strange but were studying it desperate to discover what reality really is, with all the weight of life and death breathing down your neck… well then you would have gone a step further. With the silent stillness of shamatha meditation to ground our investigations the process is less like fireworks then the impression I may have left with that description but the key to turning up the juice is recognizing the existential nature of what is being considered.

Most schools of meditation have a traditional series of subjects for contemplation that progressively lead towards the wisdom and compassion that is the ultimate goal. This makes it sound as simple as passing through grades in school but we’re talking about training the mind where nothing is ever quite as simple, or complex, as it seems. In the Tibetan Buddhism I study there are progressions of whole schools of philosophical thought. Progressing from one view to the next is also what is meant by training in the view.

The next cycle of posts will be about sharing the foundational view which should be quite congenial for most of my readers. It is thoroughly dualistic and materialistic just like the prevailing consensus in the modern world about what is really real. It is considered foundational because before we can appreciate some of the advanced views, say those aligned with quantum mechanics and emptiness, there first needs to be a clear and distinct picture of what is being negated.

There are a number of subtleties and fascinating implications that the contemplative’s over millennia have discovered and shared about this view which for the most part has not been given much thought in the west. There are many western voices with the same messages but they have never occupied a mainstream position in our societies. I would be honored if you let me introduce you to a few of them in the coming weeks. Meditation is learned from teachers met in the flesh. I offer my words as just one practitioner’s celebration of the opportunity to live this contemplative life and to encourage or entice others, as the case may be, on this same path. I see the role of these posts as an adjunct, not a replacement, for a basic study of Buddhism, in this case roughly the Hinayana as presented within Tibetan traditions.

Before we begin proper, however, as is typical if one is trying to stay true to the systematic nature of things, we must set the stage, provide the context, sketch out the boundaries of our inquires. First, there seems to me is the rule above all others; we are seeking the really real, the truly true, whatever existentially are the “facts” and should be willing to cast aside whatever doesn’t jive with them. Second, that said we recognize the fundamentally probabilistic nature of reasoning and accept that we will need to update our understanding of just what “facts” might be as we learn. Third, there are limits to what language can accomplish directly as a medium for communicating meaning so look for the moon and don’t get hung up on the finger pointing to it. This is important as these ideas, ultimately, stretch language and with it conceptual thought, to its breaking point. At the loftiest heights are the Madhyamika or Middle Way schools who play with reasoning to pole vault into altered states of consciousness. This reasoning thing we have been looking at runs in some fashion or another along the whole path. We will not be going to those Madhyamika peaks but it is good to know right from the start that they are there.

Another vital element of the context of the upcoming discussion is the intention. Times are tough. Not just the daily grind but the knowing that grinds at your heart, threatening joyfulness; the more you learn about ecological reality the more dismal it gets. I sincerely believe that for many people adopting a contemplative practice offers a lifeline as the cold wind blows. We are learning to be of benefit to others, training in a strength of mind that can meet these tough times head-on.

To prepare, if you want to play along, I’ll leave you with the assignment to ask in your quiet contemplative time just what is happening exactly right here and right now. Feel your way into just where does the moment of now arise and just where your experience is actually happening. Try to tease out the difference between thinking about experiences and being with experience directly.


This last day of the year seems a good time to wrap up the current set of posts dealing with mindfulness. By looking at both its meaning and its practice there is now a working definition for what the term means for this blog project. All that remains at this stage is to place it in context, which for our society means examining mindfulness’ association with psychology.

There are therapeutic uses of mindfulness proving to be effective treatment for a number of painful psychic disorders for which we should all be grateful. The cognitive psychologists in particular are able to combine their work with traditional techniques of mindfulness for the express purpose of relieving the suffering of others. All of this is powerful stuff. My crystal ball tells me as tough times continue to squeeze, more and more people will find their way to practicing these very practical techniques for monitoring and rationally confronting paranoia, obsessions and a whole host of neuroses.

Also, it can be said that from the point of view that considers all consciousness the proper subject of psychology the states and insights that accompany samadhi, nirvana and enlightenment are all proper subjects for it to study.

That said, it is my opinion that what the mindfulness and contemplative practice as found in the wisdom traditions is all about is far beyond anything typically considered within the realm of western psychological science. It needs to be said that our society’s intellectual climate has no place beyond psychology in which to frame an understanding of something like the contemplative practices and their results. The natural way for a modern mind to approach such things is to consider that in some way they will lead to a healthier, saner, more well-balanced and well-adjusted individual. We expect the addition of wisdom to adorn our fairly modest ego desires and are ready to be satisfied with such milk toast.

The enlightenment I understand is much more dangerous than that. Those expectations are born from a culture that has been thoroughly psychologized. Our vision of ultimate human potential is shaped by a conformity to capitalistic norms, molded by the goal of psychology, namely, to aid the client in adjusting to the roles and responsibilities of the dominate consumer culture. There is a vast poverty of imagination revealed in this psychic characteristic of our time.

I do not want to be misunderstood as advocating that these adaptations are anything but good things, worth working for, even required to empower us to carry out our duties to ourselves and others. There is an ancient teaching among the Hindus that explains that for most people there are natural and proper stages in a life. The young are to gain their education, the middle years see us marry, raise families and work while the last stage in life is for turning inward and taking up the ways of yoga. There is a wholesome welcoming of each aspect of a full human life in this approach to things. Proper respect is paid for the skillful means displayed by adapting to your cultural norms. This is not the same as selling out. In every stage the contemplative does well to practice mindfully. Nor are the stages as black and white as the teaching might make them seem; there are phases within every stage of life where one element or another play a stronger role.

To return to our subject psychology, consider interpretations of a mandala. In depth psychology this is considered the central motif of the greater Self, that which is beyond ego at the core of the psyche, that which we experience as god. In therapy guided by depth psychology the client might make mandalas in sand or by painting, they watch for the appearance of mandalas in dreams and generally try to allow them to exist in their own space and take their own good time in revealing their healing message. All of this is great advice and the best we are able to do given the psychological context from which we think.

The traditional interpretation of a mandala differs in a number of respects. First in how they are used. They are detailed targets for intricate visualization practices giving a workout to the powers of the imagination’s inner eye. Instead of symbols of the individuation of the psyche they are gateways to the sacred world that is said to be around us right now though we are blind to it. Mandalas are the palace home for deities, yet in the center-most point is enthroned emptiness – there is a fundamental type of atheism in the traditions that use them. The last point of difference I would like to illustrate is a bit more of a stretch. The mandala in depth psychology is a manifestation of a psychic reality and while synchronicity might entangle the material world, its manifestation remains focused on an individual’s psychological states. The mandala in traditional thought is a manifestation of a transcendent reality that is neither all psychic nor all material.

In the center of the mandala is the central mountain of earth. It corresponds to the nervous system housed in the spine inside the body and to a specific mountain in the Himalayas. Or the center of the mandala is said to be a sacred tree; the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha became enlightened, which is a tree in India you can visit today. That same tree is also the nervous system branching through the spine within the inner body. These are the kinds of traditional teachings that accompany mandala images. They are clear statements of non-dual awareness and this places it beyond the reaches of most of what the west understands as psychology. These mandalas come from a world that is filled with magic.

In this worldview there are special trees, special mountains. The earth is alive with expressions of intelligence in form and flow, ceaselessly churning the dances of the ten-million things. In this worldview it is a precious, temporary condition to be experiencing a human life surrounded on all sides by clouds that dance, flowers that breathe, and waters that laugh.

Our psychologies are our containers; they are not the be-all and end-all of the contemplative path. They should not provide us with our final, ultimate sense of identity. We work with our neuroses as best we are able but shouldn’t confuse that with the great work: to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. This is not navel gazing. This is real work. It works with consciousness and the world. It is needed now, right in the middle of this maelstrom of the sixth extinction event.

All of this is to warn us against a too romantic version of Buddhism, a subject that is even addressed in the Wikipedia article on Buddhism and Psychology where this fine diagram can be found.

EarlyBuddhismThis coming year may we all work to walk more lightly on the earth, save a tree or a stream or a species. Our anxieties and complexes will just have to deal with it. We have work to do.


Buddha_Bodhi_Tree_Sanskrit_ManuscriptI have a tree all lit up in my living room. When my wife and I brought it inside we invited all the great outdoors indoors. As a Buddhist I do not see a contradiction between my practice and my culture in having a tree in my house around the winter solstice. I see an opportunity to build a ritual connection with this great, rich tapestry of my ancestor’s stories. Living the symbolism of ritual is another avenue of contemplative practice.

Living the symbolism, what does that mean? I’ve raised three children, the decorations on my family tree are shining with memories, heart meanings reflected. There is no way to know just what a tree decorated this way can mean without doing it; putting up the tree year after year and trying to make magic in the lives of your children for a special morning. Naturally some things hang around, others disappear over the years until a distillation of the love and concern of your family with all its quarks and quirks comes forth.

Trees play important roles in just about every mythic narrative we know about. In Christianity there’s the crucifixion on a tree. In Norse mythology Yggdrasil is the world tree. The Buddha gained enlightenment sitting under a Bodhi tree. The Druid traditions have whole languages of trees. Judaism includes the story of Eden’s trees and their mystics study the Kabbalistic tree of life. There is also the Maypole, lodge pole, yule log and all the other variations on trees that populate our customs and stories.

There is a widespread symbolic illiteracy among modern peoples. Unless your studies have included mythology, depth psychology or a mystical tradition chances are you have not been exposed to reading symbolisms. As this is the holiday season perhaps it is worthwhile to take a moment to examine the workings of the Judeo-Christian myths that formed the foundation of the culture that became the industrialized modern world. It does us good to honor the stories and recognize they provided our grandmothers and grandfathers lives with meaning, guided their hard work of trying to live good lives and accompanied their sufferings as a comfort and source of solace.

The basic tree narrative in the Bible is rarely spelled out but remains workable. The Eden state is characterized by having the tree of life at its center ever overflowing with the fruit of eternal life. This is a mandala image. The esoteric studies of the Kabbala with its classification of symbolisms, paths and spheres is said to be explorations of this tree. The other tree of the Bible story has played a much more central role in the formation of values and tales in the western world; the tree of good and evil or as it is sometimes called the tree of knowledge. The story is that all mankind fell into sin by eating the fruit of this tree. With knowledge came sin and with sin death entered the world. It took another tree, the tree of torture where god killed himself for the sake of loving mankind, to redeem the fallen state.

It is not hard to read these symbols as dealing with the limits of the conceptual mind, specifically its conscience built as it is on the knowledge of good and evil. With this self awareness we are cast out of Eden, unable to partake of the fruit of the tree of life any longer. Our destiny is to be alienated from creation because we know we will die one day and this makes life a burden of toil and tears. Only granting eternal life can solve the flaw which is a way of asserting that only removing suffering, not transcending it, can address the fundamental unease we experience.

How exactly a Christmas tree, a tradition born for the cultures with these Bible stories, relates to all this is hard to fathom for most people, even those who participate in the Christian holiday rituals year after year. The esoteric tale is simple though. The torture was not the final word after all, it was a kind of delusion as the Christ rose from the dead and it is said by the Christian mystics the tree of the cross became the tree of life, even the bridal chamber. The Christmas tree all lit up and adorned with good foods and shiny things represents the tree of death, the tree of knowledge, transformed through the tree of torture into the tree of life. Get the message and Eden is as close as your living room.

That is not however why I too have a lit tree in the living room this week. I am grateful for an opportunity to share the tradition of a tree brought inside and decorated with rainbow lights. For me other clusters of symbolisms and other stories gather around it that resonate more truly with my understanding of my human experience and my best comprehension of what it is to live the good life in the Socratic sense.

I think everyone should take advantage of this once a year chance to celebrate ritually, our poor culture is so ritually malnourished. Exchange gifts with strangers, friends and loved ones and with every exchange aspire for a world not dominated by graft and greed, where the marketplace is just one part of living and not the dominate slavery it has become. When you decorate a tree do so with whatever artifacts resonate with you and yours. Culminate the decorating with a tree top, what will it be for you? If you are a Christian an angel seems perfect, if Jewish perhaps a star, if a Buddhist perhaps a mandala, if Muslim maybe a model of a minaret? I wonder what our friend the Archdruid does? The point is, this is a way of participating in a cultural psychic waveform, shall we say, to honor our roots in the collective psyche. All traditions have a tree symbol or story; I suggest not allowing fear or pride to keep anyone from participating.

I have an ulterior motive as well. I cannot help but think that if more people brought a living tree into their houses, their own sensitivity to ecology might be heightened. I believe being near a living tree is a balm to many of the stresses and strains we suffer from living in our overly man-made environments with all those sharp corners and straight lines. Finally, I think that with just a dollop of awareness it is very possible to have a quite moment of reverence some evening before the soft glow of a lit tree in a quite house. It is just possible that for a flash you will see through the mind-word label ‘tree’ and see the actual, wholly unique individual tree sharing with you a temporary moment of existing. Perhaps you will be invited to rest with one pointed mind, samadhi, the gateway to nirvana. In the final analysis all the symbolisms and rituals are just props to aid us in gaining a pure perception of the reality of this tree; a participant in flows of sunlight and rain, nourishing soil and creating the very air we breathe. It is the reality that is most magical but, sadly we do not see it, it is as if we are under a spell that casts a shroud over our eyes.

Decades ago I was taught what remains for me the most powerful symbolic reading of mythological or scriptural trees. There is a symbolic analogy between the tree and the human nervous system with its spinal trunk and dendrite branches. Along this tree there are chakras, wheels where a nexus of energy and material flows unfold over time. These chakras are rainbow colored providing a harmony with the tree in my living room all aglow with lights. Through skillful means a relationship with this tree brings forth one of the fruits of contemplative practice, often called nirvana.

My favorite set of symbols around nirvana cluster around the rainbow. Multiple double blind experiments have demonstrated that there are deep psychological reactions to the colors we experience. The rainbow captures the largest mysteries of physics I have learned from my cultural inheritance; the speed limit of the universe and the particle and wave duality at the core of quantum experiments. It also captures the most mysterious aspects of our psychologies; the breakdown of clear light into rainbow as if it was hiding there all the time just needing a different way of looking at it and how exactly the mind – all that wet-ware of synapses and neurotransmitters – sees light in dreams and inner visualizations. Where is this light exactly in the darkness inside our skulls? Spend time with this question and one might come to hear the music of the spheres.

An interesting feature of the chakra and Kabalistic symbol systems is that there is room for more than one level of “truth.” Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs these maps of potential conscious experience recognize higher states build on lower ones. They try to capture the funny way events seen one way can mean something totally different when seen another way. In Buddhism there are said to be two truths, not one; the relative truth and the absolute truth. The relative truth is all that we experience of reality in what we might call the scientific world view. The absolute truth is all that we experience beyond the duality of conceptual mind, though careful reasoning can lead us to its threshold. Both are true, the relative and the absolute, simultaneously. The tree symbol teaches us this as it maintains its roots in the good earth even as its branches reach the spaciousness of the sky.

Nirvana is a state of consciousness that is experienced as beyond time or as one with all time. The yogi dares to recognize this state of consciousness as valid, naturally arising in the body-mind of human beings. Though it does not seem like it to our daily, get up and get your coffee consciousness, things like the symbolism of the tree are of more primary importance to the experience of being human than we typically can recognize. In the moments of orgasm, death, slipping into the sacred world, touching the Buddha mind, in those moments a profound transformation of values occurs as the contents of conscious experience shift to another, altogether more profound plane. Because this is inherent in consciousness itself every sentient being is destined to share these experiences. Every man, woman and child but also every whale, stink bug and brown bear will also pass through these inner worlds of experience. At least it is no less rational to assert this is the case than the position that consciousness is nothing more than an accidental spandrel. How and why this works out future posts will explore but first our understanding of what reasoning itself is will need to be sharpened.

The yogi dares to recognize this state of consciousness as valid, hence the need for all those metaphoric ideas so easily misunderstood as dogmas. Ideas like reincarnation reflect the aspect of timelessness that is part of this awareness. Ideas like complete and total rest from the desires of the body and mind reflect the aspect of total satisfaction of the heart’s deepest longings that is part of the experience. Ideas like non-duality reflect the aspect of deepest homecoming that is part of this awareness.

Unlike dogma which often must just be accepted despite our honest reasoning and critical intelligence, the contemplative traditions assert only the nature of reality. Granted they are willing to include universal human experiences that are normally not given much thought, not often discussed, and poorly understood yet the whole case for enlightenment being a real thing, a real possibility for human beings rests on the simple, almost scientific assertion of what is really real.

Denying this aspect of the human experience, we discard a large proportion of what provides mankind with its most profound dignity; the dignity that arises from the core of self awareness, from consciousness itself. Part of the middle way is a balance between the inner world and the outer world we encounter in our daily experiences. Evolution primes us for paying attention to the outer world, our curiosity primes us to ask about our inner one. The practice of a contemplative is nothing more or less than the commitment to try and live in such a way that neither the one nor the other are allowed to dominate. Ritual offers a means of using externally perceived objects like a glowing tree as statements of internally perceived objects like the light of the mind.

On this holiday I would like to thank my readers from all over the world. These posts require a degree of commitment to share with me week after week. These words are my gift to you, your time and attention your gift to me. Thank you.

Happy Holiday friends.