If music by the EELs (or is it Eels?) is your cup of tea, read on. Especially if you also like to dip your biscuits (your cookies, sheesh, where is your mind?) in a little bit of parallel worlds theory aka many worlds interpretation (MWI). The bittersweet beauty of Eels’ music seems a strange companion to this mind-bending theory, but reality is a trip: the Eels’ lead singer, Mark Oliver Everett, is the son of the late American physicist Hugh Everett. Hugh Everett coined MWI, and only after his death did Mark Oliver Everett understand his brilliant but aloof father. A couple of nights ago, I watched as Mark Oliver Everett simultaneously discovered MWI and his late father with help from NOVA. If you haven’t seen the BAFTA-award winning documentary “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives” yet, do it:
I mention the documentary not only because it’s riveting but because it reinforces something I’ve been marinating on for a while: between-ness. In the documentary, Everett junior delves into quantum mechanics; alongside Everett, I learned about the ubiquitous Double Split experiment. To simplify things entirely too much, scientists employ a wall with two slits; behind this is a solid wall. Then, they shoot a light wave (a single color, single wavelength) at the slits. Logic would suggest the waves (made of individual photons) hit in two places behind the gaps, like they would if tennis balls were shot through each one.
But no, quantum mechanics gives logic the finger; I’m going to boil it down even more here, but the wavelengths arrive in three places on the back wall, not two. In essence, this means the waves actually split (because they’re going so quantum-ly fast) and reconvene in that third spot. This means as a photon splits and flies through both gaps, it’s in two places at once… what!? This, my friends, is the wonderful wacky-ness of quantum mechanics and quantum laws (btw, if you’re as fascinated as I am, you can read what actually happens here: https://plus.maths.org/content/physics-minute-double-slit-experiment-0).
Those wavelengths follow quantum laws of behavior — and so do atoms. We are made of atoms; if we put two and six together here, theoretically we humans could also be in two different places simultaneously.
Now that was rocket science, more or less, but what I take from it isn’t. It’s so simple, in fact, it’s easier to miss than Donald Trump’s most recent 72 tweets. I’m talking about what’s easily observed around us, in the great outdoors. Nature often finds itself in a state of duality. In Colorado, it often feels like both winter and spring at once. Even now, as the sun tries its best to melt yesterday’s snow, everything is in transition.
tran·si·tion (tranˈziSH(ə)n,tranˈsiSH(ə)n/): the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
synonyms: change, passage, move, transformation, conversion, metamorphosis, alteration, handover, changeover
And then I go for several wanders out in the windy, not-quite-warm, not-quite-cold Colorado foothills. Here, old snow is melting, dripping down boulders to turn the dormant moss clinging there the most brilliant green. The water droplets turn the dry soil into mud, which pulverizes the remains of old plants. And it sprouts new, dainty shoots whose tenacious green hues might be nature’s expression of excitement. So why do humans struggle so much existing in between things, even if science suggests our basic substance can naturally be two places at once? Why does change sometimes feel less natural than stability? Perhaps we are too removed from natural cycles in general, faces turned to our devices. Maybe we’re going too quantum-ly fast to slow down and learn how to embrace uncertainty. I know when I walk around for a couple of hours without phone, computer, radio, car, just the wind, the mud, the sun (sometimes) and the trees I feel much, much better. I feel refreshed.
“Clouds draw the water up to become rain; the ocean takes the river back into itself. What this means is we often need to be refreshed.” — Rumi
I looked around as I hiked, in silent contemplation, impressed by the boulders that landed alongside the trail. They are dinosaurs, both in their size and their age; the lichen painting them like nature’s Monet is more established than the Marvel comic empire. Far away is the mountain top from which these massive entities sprung, long ago. Native American cultures view rocks as supremely wise because of all they have seen; they say we can learn wisdom from rocks.Over a snack break, I observe one solid monolith. Silently, it begins to teach me how the wind and rain carved it over the years — how many springs has this boulder seen? And how many more will it see? The artists wind and the rain are in harmony with this rock, the lichen grows thicker because of the rain, the seeds that sprout the grass around it are scattered by the wind. This is nothing revolutionary, this harmony; but with a sprinkle of mindfulness, I begin to see all the parallels between the natural patterns of spring and this stage of my life. All of it cultivates patience. It’s like the Italians say…
“Se son rose, fioriranno…” or, “if they’re roses, they will bloom…”
Yesterday, outside the window, as I wrote, the gray sky gathered itself for another show of winter. Temperatures dropped to 28 by three o’clock, winds eight to thirteen, with gusts to 25. Chance of precipitation 80 percent. I, personally, am more than ready for warmth, shorts weather, summer. But it doesn’t really matter what any of us wants because the seasons move according to their timing, not ours. The snow can’t melt without the sun; the flowers can’t bloom before the melt.
So, we come to the hardest part: wait and see. Let it be. Live right now. It all sounds so trite — but there is probably a reason many things are trite. They’re so true they sound silly. And the simplest things are often the hardest to master because they take presence and perseverance.
“Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh.
More than simply a concept, living calmly in chaos or transition take a little work. Ew, work! But actually, it can be quite enriching. Here are eleven ways to embrace what your atoms might already be doing (mine are quasi-here — the other half is in Italy getting ready to go for a hike in the Appenines with Lisa tomorrow):
Plant a little gratitude: Just as I imagine the flowers, in their own way, are thankful for the rain and sun, contentedness in waiting involves gratitude. What do I already have? Here is where I do my best to put aside what I wish for, even what I need. Every day I try to spend a few moments on what I have: for example, my freedom, my strong body, my creativity, all the wonderful humans whom I love and who love me.
Read: Dive into the news if you prefer or read a bit of poetry from Rumi each day, as I do. I find others’ art, expression and point of view a good way to get out of my own mind for a second or two — and probably learn something in the process. Try www.brainpickings.org, a creative, thought-provoking e-zine that appears in your e-mail weekly and tackles everything from the power of positive thought to the stars.
Drink tea before bed: If you’re like me in times of change, your brain keeps circling the night sky like a vulture, keeping the rest of you up, too. I find drinking a little herbal tea to be a good ritual that helps signal to my cranking cranium that it’s time to settle the f*ck down.
Write: Yes, this a writer writing about telling you to write, so obviously this activity really butters my toast. I do it not only because I enjoy it, but because it gets the thoughts careening around my head like the world’s longest spin cycle out of my brain and onto the page. Stream of consciousness style (just write, don’t think, punctuation is optional) might help, even if you’re no Jack Kerouac. If writing isn’t your poison, draw, create, sing badly or somehow translate all your thought-nado into something outside yourself.
Go outside: I really do believe not having any kind of roof over your head for even a short period time is beneficial. Looking up at the big, huge sky it’s hard not to remember that our problems, our lives are but a small part of something massive. Walking can also be a form of meditation when working things through.
Cultivate a little positivity: Nobody’s saying you have to be chipper all the time; that’s just annoying. However, if you believe the Huffington Post and a bunch of scientists, even dipping a toe into positivity can release the body’s version of healthy crack: dopamine. Dopamine motivates us to act and accomplish and when we do, it kicks in even more. Make sure to celebrate even your small victories and accomplishments (I like a bottle of wine and some shameless Netflix bingeing). Spend a moment or two visualizing what you want your future to look like; the silly human brain has a hard time distinguishing between the real and the imagined. A little visualizing can tap into another pleasurable chemical: serotonin. Twenty minutes in the great outdoors under the sun will get you “high,” too.
Make lists: If your brain is scattered like a candy wrapper in the wind after a rabid squirrel got to it, you’ll appreciate lists as much as I do. Lists help me stay organized and focused. And I’m pretty sure when I cross off something nearly impossible like “Call AT&T and actually accomplish something,” it releases some of that good dopamine. Lists also help with surrendering (see #10); gently reminding myself I’ve done all I can for the moment helps me let go.
Be with people: This one and the next go together like beer and pizza; being with the ones you love (even across the world via one of the world’s modern wonders like What’s App) reinforces the valuable connection humans need to experience. And…
Be alone: Enjoy your own company. Give yourself time to feel whatever it is you need to work through. Being alone can feel lonely and that’s okay too. As with many elements, finding balance between the social and inner self is vital.
Surrender: Inevitably, there are things we can’t control in life. Lots of them. The key, when encountering one, is to pretend it’s a mountain lion and wave your hands and yell and act really big and tough. Great. Now that’s out of your system, pretend it’s a bear: stop, evaluate, breath deeply and keep your eye on the situation. Relax, back away, slowly. You’ve done all you can do; once you surrender to whatever is next, you’ll find yourself blissfully alone, and a whole hell of a lot calmer.
Just be: At least for Americans, doing nothing seems completely foreign — like just eating a pastry for breakfast like the Italians do. A pastry!? You’ve got to be kidding me; that won’t accomplish anything in my giant American intestine. Then again, they are really good pastries… so pick out a sfogliatella drenched in powdered sugar and dig in. When you’re done, just sit, listen to the (inexplicable) conversations around you, feel the breeze on your skin. Remember you’re alive, with enough time and money to enjoy Italian pastries (or whatever your ideal, normal, run-of-the-mill life moment might be).
I’ll sign off with a little more Rumi, the master of beautiful lessons. This is called “The Guest House,” translated by Coleman Barks.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.