The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for his Mother
“Rublack creates an astute and informative study of witchcraft and witch trials.”
The Astronomer and The Witch by Ulinka Rublack at first glance may appear to be a book for history scholars. After all, the author is a well-regarded University of Cambridge don and has written several other academic books. But this book holds many surprises.
Far from dry academic discourse, it is a scintillating read, presenting a fascinating depiction of Johannes Kepler’s 17th century world, a time in Europe of great discoveries and intellectual ferment. Kepler, with his astronomical theses and philosophical canniness, was a well-known intellectual leader with a great many followers. In fact he is one of our most famous scientists.
“Fired by his fascination with cosmic constellations, Kepler, in 1606, published his treatise, De Stella Nova. It reflected on a recent supernova, which he regarded as a new star. The star’s significance lay in the fact that it had appeared close to the conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in the sign of Sagittarius. Kepler enthusiastically presented the age he lived in as positively influenced by this very special planetary conjunction. The universe beyond the Moon and planets was mutable. Unlike automatic clocks, which he admired for their enactment of regularity but criticized for their inability to reflect change, God’s world could thus be dynamic, surprising illuminating and varied, if people kept on positively responding to the possibilities of their time.”
You may justifiably ask how such a forward thinking and progressive man could also believe in witchcraft. As Rublack explains, Kepler believed all humans were “tiny specks of dust” who carried God’s image inside them and continued the work of divine creation.
In this worldview those who questioned Christendom were agents of demons and summarily victimized. Witches were the most unsavory manifestations of Satanic influence to undermine God’s divine creation.
Against this background, Rublack creates an astute and informative study of witchcraft and witch trials. Rublack’s meticulous scholarship immerses us into Kepler’s social and cultural milieu. In telling Kepler’s story—his six-year defense of his mother, Katharina Kepler, at her witchcraft trial—Rublack’s prose engrosses with intimate portrayals of village life, family life, prevailing beliefs, and local governance and legal practices. We learn why witchcraft was part of the 17th century mindset and why people feared witches so fiercely. For these people witchcraft was a fact of life.
For decades, Kepler and his mother had a vexed relationship arising from their conflicting personalities. Yet, without question, and despite all his many academic and other commitments, he came to her defense when she was accused of witchcraft and threatened with imprisonment or death. For six years he prevailed upon his connections in high society and government to gain support for his defense. In 1621 he appeared at her final trial.
“Despite Kepler’s attempt in public to present himself as civilized man of reason, he once more struggled to control his fury about Katharina’s criminal trial. Kepler knew he had to convince the Tübingen professors of law that, above all, his family had become victims of failed governance. . . . Kepler developed an implicit analogy between Leonberg’s governor as the ‘moon’ and Duke John Frederick and his ducal council as ‘the sun.’ As the moon had constantly become smaller, it had begun to reflect the sun’s rays only weakly and then completely disappeared. Finally it had covered the sun with darkness to fully eclipse good government.”
Rublack asserts that Kepler was right: Most Württemberg witchcraft trials and the majority of those that ended in a death sentence were prosecuted during John Frederick’s reign (1608–1628), which suggests that he insufficiently controlled his governors. “Ultimately Katharina was unlocked from her iron chain and set free . . . after fourteen months of incarceration under the severest of conditions.”
In the book’s epilogue, Rublack travels to Eltingen, the village in which Katharina was born, and begins her research by reading original trial papers. She also delves into the Third Reich’s fascination with this period in Germany’s history.
The final chapter is the crown to Rublack’s previous achievements in The Astronomer and The Witch. Here she offers an excellent and satisfactory summation of her findings and thoughts.
The Wolf Border: A Novel
This is a superb novel: luminous and illuminating. You’ll gallop through every page and then read it again. British author Sarah Hall is a writer’s writer . . . as well as a reader’s best friend. She gets it all right. Page turning plot development, command of the protagonist’s third person point of view, gripping story lines, flawed characters (human like you and me), beautiful, shimmering descriptions of her beloved Cumbrian landscape (the Lake District), where she was born and raised.
“In the days that follow, the heat of summer lifts, and the sun becomes less concentrated. September. The trees fluoresce, as if in a final bid to stay green. There is already a tint of autumn, leaves beginning to gather and flutter along the verges . . . In the sky, a more complicated portfolio of colours: lilacs, yellows, like a warning—bad weather brewing in the Atlantic.”
Hall is famous for her precise depictions of landscape, and this book does not disappoint. And that’s just the surface of the novel. There are layers of metaphor and meaning surrounding our deepest associations with abstract concepts of “wolf” and “border.” Cleverly entwined strands of the real and surreal, and conscious and subconscious mind states.
Hall challenges us to plunge deeply into our psyches to uncover, with Rachel Caine, the novel’s protagonist as our guide, understandings of what these words represent. This metaphysical jousting proves a welcome challenge to readers; an unusual phenomenon today, among the vast majority of books published in our one-byte, popular culture.
Rachel Caine is a brilliant loner; she has spent a decade as an expert wolf zoologist on a remote reservation in Idaho attending to a pack of wolves re-introduced into their natural habitat. A surprise invitation from the Earl of Annerdale in Cumbria draws her back home to England. Lord Pennington, the Earl, and owner of this vast estate near the Scottish border, proposes a “rewilding” scheme of his own. After 500 years he wants to reintroduce the northern gray wolf to the estate.
In conservation circles “rewilding,” a term created by conservation activist, David Foreman, describes a relatively new phenomenon. The aim of rewilding is conservation on a significant scale to restore ecological resources, including connectivity between protected areas, and reintroduce apex predators. The hope is to restore natural balance to unbalanced landscapes. According to biologists this conservation method is based on “cores, corridors, and carnivores.”
Near Lord Pennington’s estate resides Rachel’s “difficult” family, from whom she feels she successfully escaped across a physical border to the United States. Ensconced in Cumbria are her selfish, manipulative mother and a dysfunctional brother. Additionally, to her annoyance, Rachel finds she must deal with an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy after an ill-judged one night stand with a fellow ranger during the winter festive season on the reservation.
By moving to Cumbria, Rachel must somehow navigate the shoals of family relationships whose under-currents threaten the boundaries of independence and selfhood—mother, brother, baby, burgeoning love interest, and her enigmatic boss. As complicated as these tracks and trails through the thickets of ties that bind her within family and other borders, her interactions with these (and other) characters are not Rachel’s primary territory; this terrains is inhabited by her relationship with wolves.
Early in the novel we find a clue to her innermost psyche; Rachel presents herself for sex, as would a female wolf. After the push-pull tease in sleazy bars on the outer border of the reservation she finds a succession of males, the hunters, “close-shaven, militaristic, or long-haired with greasy, white marks from sunglasses along their temples.”
Subtle eye signals announce she is ready for sex. She plays the game of shared rounds of drinks then lures them to her truck, where they follow her in their vehicles to the darkness of a reservation forest cleaning. Once in their vehicles she moves “to the metal truck bed . . . damp, smells of oil and blood from occasional deer carcass.”
After initial contact, and making sure a condom is in place, to the appreciation of the men, she presents herself “on all fours, not for his benefit, but the presentation is not lost on him . . . this is different, sudden, abandoned.”
On some profound associative level in these encounters Rachel emanates herself as a female wolf. In another almost hidden abstraction to this mating game, she (the conservationist) dominates the despised hunters (with their guns and swagger) by playing the role of the pack’s alpha female.
Wolves are the iconic emblems of this novel, and borders are multifaceted and complex.
Rachel agrees, albeit dubiously, to head the operation to reintroduce a pair of wolves to the Earl’s estate. They arrive, adapt to their new environment, mate and produce four cubs; while Rachel who has not told the father of her child she is pregnant, gives birth alone. But she has her own family pack, primarily her brother, and the estate vet who becomes her lover. Yet always the wolves are the compass needles within her psyche’s threshold.
“Spring gives way early to summer, the foliage thickening, the light over the western mountains shedding its dullness. Six wolves are silhouetted against the Cumbrian fells. They are no longer aliens: they never were. She is nameless to them. They have everything they need.”
On the first pages of the novel, while on the Idaho reservation, Rachel has a dream of a childhood encounter with a caged wolf contained by a fence in part of a forest near where she lived. Freed by her mother’s permission to do so, preschool Rachel reaches the fence and starts to climb over when she notices a wolf emerge from shadows and “in her dream, the wolf stands looking at her.”
This is her “first communion” with a wolf. A reservation mystic asks her what the encounter felt like. “How does it feel? Pre-erotic fear. The heart beneath her chest jumps, feels bloody. The wolf’s head lowers: eyes level, keen as gold, sorrowless. ” She climbs down and walks along the fence, while the wolf lopes alongside her but separated from her by the fence border.
“In her brain an evolutionary signal fires. What a mouth like that means . . . She stops walking, and it stops. She turns slowly and walks the other way. It crosses paws, turns and follows. An echo, or a mirror. She stops, ‘What are you doing?’” She races along the side of the fence but the wolf runs with her, faithfully mimicking her movements. “To the very corner of the cage, where she stops, breathing hard, and it stands looking at her. What are you doing? she says.” As Rachel emerges from her dream, Hall writes the answer, “She knows.”
Rachel’s totemic wolf is forever cornered in her brain and she must liberate its evolutionary physical form from the confines of fences and humankind’s ancient, archetypal lupine fear: to be free across all borders.
Eventually the wolf family breaks out of the estate’s fortified fences and manages to progress across northern England to roam the truly wild, unfenced places of Scotland. The Earl’s rewilding scheme succeeds and he has indeed created a “corridor” for the apex predator (as outlined above.)
Now no longer working for the Earl (who heartbreakingly disillusions her with his double-dealing and political scheming) but as a consultant to the Scottish government on the “rewilding” of wolves, Rachel, too, breaks out of certain of her psychological restraints and ultimately revisits the Idaho reservation to introduce their son to his father.
In the novel, Scotland (a physical boundary, as well as one of Rachel’s metaphysical borders) votes for independence and becomes autonomous: and as envisaged by Hall, a utopian place of freedom and governmental functionality.
Throughout the novel we read of Rachel’s (and Hall’s) disenchanted, dystopian social judgments on the entrenched oligarchic structure of English politics and classist society. These observations echo strands of Sarah Hall’s previous fiction where dystopian sentiment flourishes.
Sarah Hall is young, in her early forties, and this is her fifth novel. She is an honored, prize-winning, and renowned writer. The Wolf Border was published to positive critical acclaim in Great Britain in March 2015 and sold in many European countries as well.
Janet Levine is a journalist and author of four books including the novel Leela’s Gift
– See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/wolf#sthash.l0O49liH.dpuf
This week of Christmas/New Year I want to honor a friend who is undergoing an unfortunate decline in health and who is often in my mind. I visited her one Christmas week several years ago and the shared experience of celebrating Christmas and New Year in New Mexico remains memorable.
She lived in Las Placitas, a newer development on a mesa between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We walked every morning across the mesa. The rimy frost was still frozen under the shaded scrubby bushes. Sunlight splashed on the semi-desert plants and we observed the occasional hawk and hare. Her dog ran free returning to check on us, tongue lolling, fur flying. The crystalline blue dome, a huge sky, reminded me of the high veld in South Africa where I was born. Johannesburg, like Las Placitas is situated at six and half thousand feet. Indeed, with déjà vu a constant presence, I could have been anywhere on the high veld. Big Sky panoramas; powerful all encompassing feeling.
A mutual friend invited us to celebrate Christmas Eve in the nearby old village of Placitas. (See below.) She was carefully restoring a centuries old adobe house into an ecologically sustainable building. Her vegetarian meal made from produce she grew in her garden, delectable.
After dinner, at the appointed hour, we joined the throng of villagers (and some tourists) to walk around the unpaved streets of the village, singing carols at almost every house, a time-honored tradition, until we arrived at the house that served as the inn in the Christmas story. Each year a different home is chosen and a tightly kept secret among the village leaders. There we were invited to a feast around a diorama of the nativity.
But what I remember vividly are the faralitos or luminarias, brown paper bags anchored by a layer of sand into which candles are set to form striking paper lanterns. These line the adobe roof lines and village roads and paths.
Images from Wikipedia
On New Year’s Day we visited a nearby pueblo. The villagers performed a reindeer/yak/buffalo dance, and I could swear I was back in Nepal or northern India witnessing Buddhist festivities with dancers in giant masks and beaded costumes. The drumbeat soon became mesmerizing echoing the steady metronome of my heart. It was difficult to take our leave.
The land bridge from eastern Siberia across the Bering Straits to the New World was suddenly real; in millennia past people made this crossing with some semblance of these dances and these rituals. Buddhists believe that a vortex of spiritual energy runs from Mt. Kailash in Tibet through our planet and emerges at a sacred mountain near Sedona, Arizona, emanating spiritual energy from east to west.
So, my friend, as you proceed on your crossing, the spiritual energy you emanate pulses through all the lives you touched and still touch in your remarkable life’s journey. I am grateful to know you.
History of Placitas
“When Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, Mexican authorities advised the settlers to move their families down to their relatives in the Pueblos and villages of the Rio Grande Valley because there was no protection from raiding tribes. By the late 1830s the raiding had subsided and the settlers returned. There were greater numbers and many new areas within the Land Grant were opened up to accommodate the growing families. Around 1840 the present Village of Placitas was established with its own spring-fed acequia system which still supplies irrigation and domestic water to the Village. Here, arroyos were filled in and sloping land was terraced to provide new fields to cultivate. Springs as far away as Tunnel Springs were accessed for Village area irrigation.
“Placitas has flourished; during the 1960’s and 1970’s it was popular among the counter-culture movement in New Mexico, and now it thrives with more upscale residents seeking a scenic non-urban setting close to Albuquerque. Placitas is still home to descendants of the land grant who continue to respect the land, water and culture of the area.”
Place Names of New Mexico by Bob Julyan
A Brief History of the San Antonio de Las Huertas Land Grant by Tony Lucero, President of the Land Grant
The above quote from newmexicohistory.org
This is me, this past week, teaching a Philosophy class, in the same classroom, at the same school, as I have done for these past 29 years. I look happy, I am happy, I love teaching. If all there is to teaching is teaching, then, on most days I feel I can teach for ever. But there are meetings, and duties, and obligations, and grades to compute and comments to write, and students to see, and parents to see, and visits to the college office, and plays and other performances and sports events to attend, and (did I mention meetings), new technology to master and more and more pressure on faculty and students alike as the college application process year-by-year encroaches on every corner of high school life. You grow older among a sea of perpetual youth so gradually that you hardly notice your own well of bountiful energy starts to dry up. If your time in the classroom invigorates you, all that time away from the class room drains your internal reservoirs. I am tired. This has been an unusually trying year of ups and downs and I feel it now. So this is no time to make decisions. But for me the transition away from teaching in this pressured environment has already begun. One more year I have said, a heads up, so as to graciously exit (as a older friend once called it) “the little stage” of the class room.
Transitions abound in my life as in your own. Elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school (usually) to college, college to (maybe) grad school, and then usually a job. Along the way transitions to and from relationships, transitions through the individuating process in adolescence into new understandings of parents and family life, experiments with and questions around gender roles and sexuality. Transitions in serious relationships, surviving break up, heart ache, more commitment, then (maybe) marriage, children, divorce, second time around a better fit, illness, death. Children, and the unfolding of unconditional love. Big bumps suddenly in life’s smooth path; divorce or death of a (partner) spouse. How do we recover from those transitions? But we do, although gradually life’s bumps and bruises whittle away at our core.
When I had a recent significant birthday I treated myself to a session with a world famous astrologer (Lawrence Hillman) and he is as good as his reputation. At the end of the session he said you have to find a place you can call home. This statement made me ponder, didn’t my Buddhist teachings say home is where the heart is? Well, yes and no. Metaphorically, yes, but physically no; physically I’ve never much cared for the New England landscape although I love the shore villages in the summer and the tranquil Berkshire Hills, and the mountains of Vermont but New England can never replace my complete at-one-ness with the South African landscape I love. Never home. It is too cold and barren and dead for too much of the year. I crave flowers, color, bird song, scents, warmth and light, sunlight, I am a person of the light. My life is in the USA now. I am an African-American. And I’ve found “home” in south west Florida surrounded by the one-of-a-kind and magnificent Everglades that teeming estuarine environment of great white clouds and blue sky, birds, saw grass and fish. And light and warmth.
This week my counselor suggested I write about transitions because she has so many clients (especially women) experiencing all of the above (and many more), all the time. So perhaps I will. I appreciate your feedback.
Note: The top photograph © Milton Academy 2014; and the other © Janet Levine 2013.
, high school
, human rights
, south africa
Pundits I’ve read recently on common mistakes bloggers make, my guilt is like an egg on my face in some of my latest blogs. If I have bored you in the past, forgive me. The most egregious error; my complaints about the state of publishing and the new avenues of dissemination of the written word in our burgeoning Information age, even, if as I believe, it is sadly adrift. So I apologize to my readers for trying (in my blog) to make sense of why I am so frustrated about all of this. Too personal (I have learned), no one wants to read about someone else’s gripes. According to the pundits again, readers, like mine, enjoy blogs on parenting, spirituality, books and other recommendations, nature, gardening, meditation and Buddhism, and one of my areas of expertise, the psychology of personality. (I wrote two books on this and have lead many international workshops.)
According to the E-model (the personality paradigm that I use) facing our avoidances is a huge step towards cultivating psychological well being. If you are faced with an unexpected dire illness or accident, extended family issues that involve your spouse, abusive behavior by a boss, or any other intense experience, how do you react? We each have a strategy of avoidance.
Let’s examine three common avoidances. One is to experience intense stress as pain, not physical pain but emotional and psychological pain. Do you or someone you know avoid dealing with pain? Ways to avoid pain are to push down on it whenever your thoughts enter that territory. Or push away from it, not wanting to engage with the emotions around the source of the pain. You say to whomever wants to talk to you about the stress, “Do you have to go there?” You hide behind emails and avoid conversations. The panacea for pain avoiders is to always have another plan or option in mind that takes them away from the pain and into a pleasant activity or to turn conversations to less stressful encounters.
Another avoidance is failure. The cause of stress is processed as your failure. You are ill because you failed to do enough to stay healthy. Your extended family is in turmoil because you didn’t juggle the pieces well enough to keep relationships running smoothly. Your boss is rude and harassing because (s)he found out something about you that you are unaware of about yourself. The panacea for failure avoiders is to only operate in arenas where they can feel successful and win approval. Therefore their resumes shine, they have avoided failure.
A third avoidance is vulnerability. Engaging in stressful situations is dangerous it leaves you vulnerable. You don’t let such situations arise. You exercise control from the get-go. “It’s my way or the highway, baby.” You walk away from stress before it can jump you. Illness? You power your way through with every resource you have, and never trust medical help until you have established control of procedures. The panacea for vulnerability avoiders is confrontation and control, “the bull in the china shop” approach. If everyone is wary of your energy and confrontational anger you are no longer vulnerable.
A methodology I teach for us to be able to enter our avoidances and include them in our emotional development is to write a letter to Dear Pain, or Dear Failure, or Dear Vulnerability. Ask what you are avoiding and why. Write a reply to yourself from these mind states. Continue the correspondence until you begin to engage with the avoidance. This is hard inner work but one way to ensure our psychological well being.
In my next blog I’ll look at three more common personality avoidances.
, mind structure
, Triads Personality Inventory
Apologies to my loyal readers for my lack of blogging activity in past months. Something has to give. Several months ago I began working with an editor on my latest fiction manuscript “Love Affair in the Shadow of Apartheid.” I have worked with many editors after decades of publishing, both as a journalist and book writer, and, thankfully, my current editor is an editor’s editor, in other words — a perfectionist. This means that the first round of reviews is an almost complete rewrite of the novel, paragraph by painstaking paragraph. Possibly if I had known how hard I would be working I may not have taken this on . . . However here we are in the penultimate and then hopefully ultimate go-around and as my editor says, “It looks like a book now.”
A good editor makes a good writer; what a debt we owe editors. Maxwell Perkins, of Scribners, made the American “greats” of the 1920s and 1930s, well, great. Daphne duMaurier, the hugely popular British novelist of the 1940s and 1950s apparently turned in atrociously written drafts, but they encompassed unsurpassed modern Gothic story lines that her regular editor then turned into gold. There are many other examples of famous writer-editor duos.
With the ever-increasing pressure on writer’s to send agents publishing-ready quality manuscripts or for most writers to have ebook ready manuscripts, the editing business is booming. Daily editors thank Amazon and Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and all other indie publishing and self-publishing ventures.
But for writers, for the hours and hours — day by day, week after week, month following month, and, often, for the years that go by — writing is a preposterous vocation, avocation, hobby, past-time. I have published four books but I have no idea what will happen to this latest creation. As I have written on this blog previously, publishing is undergoing a seismic shift.
It used to be that a well-written, competent novel would find the mid-list of most of the “big” publishers who wanted the cachet of publishing literary fiction. But now the “literary” tag is almost extinct among the vampires, romances, horrors, mysteries, young adults, chicks’ lit, and other genres. Literary is no longer a genre that is “in”, viable or relevant. And the world of ideas is poorer for this.
In this writer-editor go-around something has surprised me, how patient I have become. I am a Type-A personality, it all has to be done yesterday. But somehow now, possibly knowing that this lovingly nurtured creation so many months and years in gestation, may be still-born, has made the process as precious to me as the product. And that, in itself, perhaps, is truly a good thing.
, human rights
, Leela's Gift
Several times a year, with permission, I use this blog space to share student responses to what they are learning in my classroom. This is the response of a high school senior to an introduction to meditation practice.
1. The Universal Breath
The diamond mind of sharp, concentrated focus and the profound physical state of relaxation create a terrifyingly brilliant experience. Meditation, deeply and intricately connected to Eastern philosophical cultures, allows an individual to follow one’s own breath to find an inner state of harmony and to develop an awareness of one’s basic goodness. Compassion for one’s self and others is crucial in a harmonious society. Through meditation, guided by the breath, one can leave the chaos and distractions of the external world for inner tranquility. Few things are universal. However, the gentle inhale and exhale of breath, bringing oxygen to the bloodstream and thus enabling life is a common, shared experience throughout the human species. In accordance with Eastern teachings, inner goodness—or the innate and natural tendency toward good—exists within every person, just like the breath. With attention to the breath, one can journey to find ones inner goodness and gain the experiential knowledge that comes from meditating.
2. Confusion or Liberation
Many teachings of philosophy incorporate a metaphor indicative of the closed minded nature of the majority of human beings, whether it is the metaphor of the cave in Plato’s The Republic—where all the people watching the shadows on the walls of the cave are in utter disbelief of the world outside and shun the man who has seen beyond—or, as depicted in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, the people who cannot look within themselves to find their own inner goodness and instead live in fear of themselves and the world around them. Our consciousness manifests within the universe in two distinctive states: confusion or liberation. Liberation is the state of enlightenment and meditation is the means by which one can access such a state of internal clarity, peace, and harmony. As outlined in Shambhala, basic goodness is the innate good of “being alive” regardless of more material things such as “accomplishments or fulfilling our desires.” To acknowledge basic goodness is to recognize our “actual connection to reality that can wake us up and make us feel basically, fundamentally good.” Through meditation, one can become awake, acknowledge the superficiality of society while maintaining an unshakable understanding of true, basic goodness. Meditation has given me a refuge as I have seen a glimpse of the universe within myself.
3. The Essence of Now-ness
A spiritual warrior is “one who is brave” and such bravery must manifest in “the tradition of fearlessness”; “ultimately…the definition of bravery [is] not being afraid of yourself.” I often feel disconnected and almost alienated from the world around me when my mind and body are pulled in different directions and even divisions of my mind—my heart, my soul, my conscious attention, my focus, etc—are at odds with one another. In a chaotic world, it is easy to fall victim to compelling and yet opposing forces. If one allows this to happen, the luxury of introspection is lost, as is the awareness of basic goodness. As “synchronizing mind and body is looking and seeing directly beyond language”, I find meditation weds my deepest, most profound inner conflict: how to understand science and religion in relation to one another. The answer, lies within the gentle, peaceful harmony that is buried within each of our chests and can be traced to the gentle rise and fall of the chest with each deep inhale and each beautiful exhale.
Poet Li-Young Lee speaks about the power of the breath and how, when one pays attention to it and trains oneself to go beyond the shallow, superficial few seconds we have usually allot each breath, one can change their perspective. With deep breath comes deep thought. Reality transforms as we ground ourselves to be present in each moment as our lungs fill to their full capacity. Meditation is a perpetual state of introspective focus, the union of body and mind, and comes to find peace within reality. To be afraid of nothing is to be “experiencing that very moment of your state of mind, which is the essence of ‘now-ness’.”
4. Meditation—Access to Clarity and Alleviation of Fear
Throughout our guided meditations, I have become deeply invested in the experiential aspects of learning. My personal experiences have been profound. In the first meditation, I focused intently on the breath. I felt my lungs open as my posture improved, my shoulders rolled back and my head aligned with my spine. As breath pushed my diaphragm out, and my focused dropped from the tension of worldly thoughts, I felt the bright warmth of light radiate within my chest cavity. To articulate my experience in the most juvenile of manners, I felt a tingle, an excitement that radiated from my concentration and my breath that I experienced as a child when waiting for Santa Claus to come, with his mystical reindeer and brightly wrapped presents, on Christmas Eve. In coming out of the first mediation, I found it curious to equate the two experiences, but as I internalized the innate sensation, I realized that I found hope, pure joy, or, ultimately, unadulterated goodness through meditation. As a child, this sensation is easily accessible, as we are not so grounded in the superficial realities we engage in later. However, as we grow up, we fall into our roles in society, becoming fearful of the back corners of our minds. Meditation is our access to clarity and alleviation of fear.
My second experience meditating came to me when I heard our teacher say, “Good, the energy in the room is much better now” as everyone’s focus had dropped from their heads to their bodies. In a focused trance I had forgotten those around me. As I heard the vibrations of her voice, reminding me of their presence, I shifted my focus to the energies in the room. Immediately, from the blank, dark of my mind, a spiraling gold light materialized, twisting towards me. Shocked, I abandoned the image and dropped down to the breath once again.
Back in class, we spoke about transformational figures and monks who had devoted their entire lives to meditation.; we spoke of how those individuals have an incredible presence and that their goodness emanates from them at all times. On some level, I believe that everyone has an energy that radiates from within. Without the clutter of language and the trivialities of words exchanged, we can sense others’ presences as I intensely experienced in my meditation. Through meditation, we can find the true, good energy within ourselves and channel it. The Dalai Lama responded in the movie “Kundun” when asked if he was the Lord Buddha, “I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” In this manner, each person has unknown, universal goodness within themselves that can be reflected in the eyes of others.
5. Harmony Between Mind and Body
In abandoning fear, in diving within myself, in finding harmony between body and mind, I have unearthed a compassion for those around me, as well as for myself. Fear inhibits our potential beyond belief and above my desk, I have the quote “Be fearless: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” as a constant reminder that so often, the bars of our cages—cages that define our social and cultural experiences in life—are fashioned from our own thoughts of fear and apprehension. To release oneself from such negativity is to sit gently on the earth and allow the soul to reunite with the sky, to find harmony between body and mind is to access basic goodness. To meditate is to find “drala”: “the unconditioned wisdom and power of the world that [go] beyond any dualism.” Meditation allows me to understand my ego and the societal cultivation of empty materialism so as to align myself with the metaphysical or the universal spirit of goodness. Through meditation, I see myself, and those around me in relation to the earth and the sky.
, high school
, human rights
, mind structure