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Tag Archives: cosmos

A Dichotomy of Tears

After my retirement, I determined to make this blog one in which I could write about both professional topics and personal topics, which meant I would share my thoughts about the many things I find of interest. It also meant I planned on writing about my feelings and experiences over the years. It hasn’t been easy, as I’m quite certain some of my thinking is not mainstream and — in some cases — is certainly frowned upon by some sizeable chunk of the population. Nevertheless, I keep plodding along and, in that spirit, I share here something I posted on Facebook recently.

Two things brought me to tears the other day. The first was the ending of the current episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Just knowing what has been accomplished by my fellow human beings; the incredible discoveries and wondrous inventions that have accompanied our ever-growing knowledge of the workings of the universe takes my breath away at times. The other evening was one of those times. They were tears of ineffable joy.

Japanese Umbrella

A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread by my Mother-in-Law, Taka Shitara

The second was being reminded of the terrible injustice wrought on the Japanese people who were living in the U.S. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as well as many of my wife’s extended family, were “relocated” in internment camps. Many lost everything they had worked so hard to accomplish, much of it never to be regained. They were not the enemy . . . and they did not deserve the treatment they received, nor did those who stole their property deserve what they gained. These were tears of inconsolable anger and shame.

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Out of The Final Closet?

Atheism and the Earth

Our Real Common Bond is our Life on Earth . . . in This Cosmos.

In October of last year, I posted about a dilemma I was having with the possibility I would, at some time, be asked to give the pre-meeting invocation at one of my Rotary Club’s weekly meetings. I haven’t been asked yet and, even though there are no comments to the post, I have received a couple of emails from others who have dealt with the problem before.

As I said, I haven’t been asked and I’m not in the lineup for at least another month or so. Neither have I bothered to write anything. I will likely wait until it’s absolutely necessary prior to doing so. I need the actual pressure of a deadline sometimes to get things done. I do, however, think about what to say quite frequently, especially when I come across a story that touches on the issues.

Today, a friend shared a link to an Arizona publication that posted a story about a State Legislator – Juan Mendez, of Tempe – who gave a prayer-less “invocation” before a session of the Arizona House of Representatives. The story pointed out, as well, that he quoted Carl Sagan in closing. Here’s a link and, just in case you don’t bother to go there but would like to know a bit more, here’s an excerpt:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

He went on to say:

“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.”

And closed with:

“Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'”

He said one more thing I think is especially pertinent to what happened yesterday (May 21, 2013) in Arizona. It also reflects how I feel about the importance of “coming out” for those of us who profess no belief in a supreme deity, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. It hasn’t shaken the strength of my convictions, but it has been a royal pain in the ass at times.

When I worked on the SSME program at Rocketdyne, I felt it necessary to be very careful about expressing my beliefs for at least a decade. When I first started working there (late 80s) it was practically a shrine to Ronald Reagan, and overtly identifying myself as an atheist I’m pretty sure would have been counter-productive, if not self-destructive :).

As an ordained Minister (in the eyes of the State, a “Church” is a corporation) I have performed somewhere around fifty weddings over the years. All of them have been non-religious, non-sexist ceremonies, using a combination of portions of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, descriptions of folklore and customs I had learned about, and the occasional poem written especially for the couple. I was pretty close to a lot of the people I performed the ritual for, including my brother and sister-in-law and my sister and brother-in-law. Crafting something especially for them was pretty easy. I usually worried, however, that someone’s parents would be offended though, of course, no one ever was. Come to think of it, Gibran uses the word “God” a couple of times in one of the pieces I used repeatedly.

Here’s the final quote I think is so important, in light of my experiences and those of so many others:

“I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”

The part of me that’s remains Jewish wants to say “from his lips to G-d’s ears”, but that would be just silly, right?


How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


How Dare I Discuss Religion!

Hawk Circling

My Gateway to Everywhere & Everywhen

Actually, I’m not going to discuss religion here. I’m not even really going to talk about a lack of religion, except to set up what I really want to talk about. Sit still! I’ll get to it shortly.

I was raised a reasonably devout Jew. Brought up in the Conservative “wing” of the Tribe, I spent four years in Hebrew School and am Bar Mitzvah, a son of the commandments. Sometime after I became a man in the eyes of Judaism, however, I began to question the existence of such a thing as G-d (that’s how Jews spell “his” name . . . in English, that is). I can remember laying on the grass in front of our home, staring out at the night sky, and wondering what might be at the end of the Universe. Was there a wall and, if so, what was on the other side? After all, there’s always another side if there’s a wall.

I don’t remember when I became an atheist, which is the best term I can use to describe how I relate to the question of a deity and his – or her – existence. There was no magic moment, forever imprinted on my memory, that marked the occasion. It just, apparently, happened without my actually marking the moment. It did happen, though. Of that there is no doubt. Some time in my early twenties I also became aware of both Hinduism and Buddhism. If I recall, it was the writings of Herman Hesse that first opened my eyes to these philosophies. Shortly thereafter, when I was experiencing a deep depression brought on by the unrequited love I felt for a young woman I was in a relationship with, I encountered a book that would change my life – The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts.

Now, before I go on any further I would like you, dear reader, to take a moment and watch this short video. It is a beautiful visualization set to the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson answering the question, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” When I watched this I got goosebumps and experienced a moment of bliss so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. I hope it affects you at least fractionally as deeply as it did me. After that I want to share an experience with you.

Neil mentions connectivity, and it’s the essence of my story; an experience I’ve never repeated and likely never will . . . because it isn’t necessary. This happened to me sometime in the Summer of 1990 or thereabouts. I was living on the third floor of a well-kept apartment building, a block from my place of employment. I had a nice one-bedroom apartment, with a balcony overlooking a garden area with a fountain. My view was to the West and there was a hill not far away. It was late in the afternoon on a beautiful, temperate day. The Sun had gone behind the hill and, though I was standing in shadow, the sky was still a bright, luminescent blue.

The situation was reminiscent of many late afternoons I’d spent in Palm Springs when I was a boy, where my family used to spend long holiday weekends in the late 50s and early 60s. The city was hard up against the San Jacinto Mountains to the West and the sun would disappear behind them very early in the day, creating an almost cathedral-like atmosphere as the town rested in shadow, the sky remaining a vibrant, cerulean blue, made even more so by the contrast with the city streets.

As I stood on the balcony I looked up and noticed a hawk lazily circling on the thermals created by the hill and watching it I became more relaxed, beginning to enter a somewhat meditative state. I can’t explain why – perhaps I had seen a program on quantum theory; maybe I’d read an article in Science News; or possibly I’d had a recent conversation with one or more of the scientists I worked with – but I experienced a transition that felt like I left my body. My mind’s eye began to soar above the hawk, out into low Earth orbit, beyond Geosynchronous orbit and, eventually, deep into the cosmos.

I became more and more disassociated from my body, for how long I can’t say (thought it couldn’t possibly have been very long), and came to feel as though every fiber of my being was interwoven with the entire Universe . . . everywhere and everywhen. I experienced a sense of peace and a calmness I had never before quite known, and have yet to experience like that again. The sensation, the feeling I was part of everything that ever existed, or ever would exist, was profound. It has changed me forever.

I earlier mentioned a book by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was the catalyst for a life-changing experience and, now that I think of it, that book may have triggered my transformative moment. I had read it at least 15 years prior to this and, perhaps, had read it again. This was not too long after my father’s death and was right around my 40th birthday, so I may have been particularly engaged with contemplating my mortality. I’ve now read it at least three times, the last being when I was diagnosed with a melanoma and was required to once again face the possibility of my death . . . at least until the surgery to remove it was over and the biopsies all came back negative. <whew>

So . . . back to Mr. deGrasse Tyson and his most astounding fact. We are, indeed, stardust (“We are golden, we are billion year old carbon” Thank you, Joni*) and the things we’re made of, on a quantum level, have likely existed since the beginning of time; perhaps before, whatever that might mean. Zen (this is what Alan Watts ultimately wrote about) holds that we are all part of the Godhead (which I interpret to mean the entirety of the Universe) and all that matters is now so, perhaps the nature of time is irrelevant. I don’t know. Mostly I don’t care. My idea of faith is to accept the Universe as unfolding rather nicely all by itself, regardless of what you or I believe. We have but to pay attention – using science, not blind faith – and our understanding can continue growing.

What I have gained from my experience and my reading and contemplating, and what I get out of this marvelous video and this most astounding fact, is that we are very special and very lucky . . . and that we are all connected, intimately, with time, space, and matter (and each other) in a way we have only begun to understand. Is there an afterlife? Frankly, I don’t much care. Mostly, I hope not. Imagine how boring it would be to spend eternity with some of the people who think they’re going to Heaven. If my feelings that day are any indication, beforelife and afterlife have no meaning. There is only now that matters. I believe if you understand this, you can’t possibly fear death and you have no need of an afterlife. So sue me.


* God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) bless you, Joni. You wrote these lyrics and the music, but I’m a rock n’ roll guy at heart and this rendition of your song is the one that floats my boat.

Circling Hawk Pic courtesy of 68photobug


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