May 21, 2007

Would Einstein Have Dug The Work?

Albert Einstein is said to have told a reporter, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?' This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.

"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly—and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.

"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.

"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives."

(Sourceless quote from http://www.nlpu.com/Articles/Sept_11.html)

Byron Katie, riffing on the good physicist/philosopher, has lately been asking as part of the "turnaround" portion of The Work, "If the universe is friendly, then why is _______(insert apparently detestable reality-based turnaround here)______ a good thing?" How is it that the very thing we most fear or object to could be for our highest good, best for our loved ones, or serving the planet? It's a marvelous exercise for opening the mind and preparing it to embrace all that is.

I think Einstein himself would have liked The Work, as a "technology" for understanding our universe through understanding ourselves.


©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

4 comments:

dharmaman said...

The idea that the universe is a friendly place is an oversimplification. That's why it sounds so unreal when people insist that it is - as you did in your post after the Virginia Tech shooting.

During the last moments of their lives, these people felt great fear - and unless they were killed instantly, pain too. Fear and pain are dominant motifs in many parts of the world, each and every day.

The Buddha - someone who REALLY knew - said that this world we lived in was Samsara - a realm that is a mixture of both joy and sorrow. He also talked about there being other realms - some truly friendly - and others totally unfriendly.

The Work has it's uses as a tool of inquiry - but it also has it's limitations. When you overlay it with philosophical axioms like "the universe is a friendly place" it becomes less useful, and more unwieldy, as a tool for deconstructing cognitive constructs.

The fact that Katie (or you) can look at suffering and say she doesn't really see a problem, except for people being trapped in their story, doesn't make her perspective right, or useful - much less true.

Others with realization equal to or greater than hers were able to penetrate more deeply into the truth than that. They could see both suffering and the end of suffering.

Suffering doesn't go away just because you try to deconstruct it...except when it does. For those other times, more wisdom, more compassion and more empathy than the work provides are needed.

Spend some time reading the words of The Buddha, Carol - and you'll see exactly what I'm pointing to here. As a fully realized being, not just a Bodhisattva like Ramana, but a full Buddha, his perspective was broader and deeper than Katie's. And when he spoke, there was no self-structure to get in the way of full clarity whatsoever.

As for Einstein - he fled Europe because the universe wasn't a particularly friendly place for Jews like him at the time. Those who remained found out just how unfriendly it was for them, tragically. So this is one of those statements that's more wishful thinking - childish thinking - like the thinking behind some of the proponents of "The Secret".

There IS truth - both here and in the metaphysics behind the Law of Attraction. But these aren't truths for children, but rather truths for adults - who can see and acknowledge what IS with clear and open eyes.

While accepting what is makes all the sense in the world - loving what is can sound like an obscenity in the face of atrocities, child molestation, etc.

Just like asserting (as some LOA folks do) that starving folks in Dafur "chose" their reality and can change it if they chose to use the power of creative thought.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Dharmaman's considered comments deserve a considered response. See below.

D. wrote: >>The idea that the universe is a friendly place is an oversimplification. That's why it sounds so unreal when people insist that it is - as you did in your post after the Virginia Tech shooting.<<

There's no insisting on it from where I sit...and yes, to say the universe is friendly is an oversimplification if not tested, which is why Einstein said it was the essential question to ask. I don't ask anyone to believe what I say, or what Katie says, only to test it out if it serves.

>>During the last moments of their lives, these people felt great fear - and unless they were killed instantly, pain too.<<

How would you know...other than to project your own imagined suffering on them?

>>Fear and pain are dominant motifs in many parts of the world, each and every day.<<

I'd venture to say that they are dominant motifs in every part of the world, in every human life, according to what I hear from other people and what I have experienced myself.

>>The Buddha - someone who REALLY knew - said that this world we lived in was Samsara - a realm that is a mixture of both joy and sorrow. He also talked about there being other realms - some truly friendly - and others totally unfriendly.<<

Can you know what he "really" knew or if he even existed? The things you say the Buddha "really knew"...that's what you really know, and when you hear it from outside of you, it resonates. So this is your truth. Your world is a combination of joy and sorrow, friendly and unfriendly, and you embrace the teacher who reinforces that belief for you.

>>The Work has it's uses as a tool of inquiry - but it also has it's limitations.<<

It does have its limitations when you make it into a dogma that you don't happen to believe in. And The Work isn't that; it's nothing but four questions and a turnaround. It's a way to open the mind. What I write here are insights I glean from The Work; they're not The Work itself. Even "Katie-isms" are not The Work, as she'll readily tell you.

>>When you overlay it with philosophical axioms like "the universe is a friendly place" it becomes less useful, and more unwieldy, as a tool for deconstructing cognitive constructs.<<

I haven't made an axiom of "the universe is a friendly place." I offer it as a starting point for consideration. The jury is still out, as far as I'm concerned.

>>The fact that Katie (or you) can look at suffering and say she doesn't really see a problem, except for people being trapped in their story, doesn't make her perspective right, or useful - much less true.<<

Not for you, it doesn't, and no one is saying you ought to buy her perspective. She says she doesn't see a problem, never that we shouldn't. I'm not there yet, myself; I often (initially, anyway) see things as problematical. TW helps me live with those things more peacefully, more efficiently, in deeper service, by seeing though thought to the truer nature behind it (notice I say "truer" because I can't know the absolute truth of anything)...and it's not for everyone.

>>Others with realization equal to or greater than hers were able to penetrate more deeply into the truth than that. They could see both suffering and the end of suffering.<<

I gather that Katie sees that people experience suffering, which is why she bothers to spend her life helping people find their own way to the end of it.

>>Suffering doesn't go away just because you try to deconstruct it...except when it does.<<

Exactly.

>>For those other times, more wisdom, more compassion and more empathy than the work provides are needed.<<

I find that a clear mind is wiser, more compassionate and more empathetic than one that suffers. If I'm suffering because I believe the world is a terrible place, I'm not much good to anybody.

>>Spend some time reading the words of The Buddha, Carol - and you'll see exactly what I'm pointing to here. As a fully realized being, not just a Bodhisattva like Ramana, but a full Buddha, his perspective was broader and deeper than Katie's. And when he spoke, there was no self-structure to get in the way of full clarity whatsoever.<<

Interesting, then, that there are many Buddhist teachers—some well-known ones, many more who are not famous—who find great value in The Work, use it themselves and teach it to their students.

Katie speaks from a self-structure so that we can hear it. It's a kindness. After awhile it falls away.

>>As for Einstein - he fled Europe because the universe wasn't a particularly friendly place for Jews like him at the time. Those who remained found out just how unfriendly it was for them, tragically. So this is one of those statements that's more wishful thinking - childish thinking - like the thinking behind some of the proponents of "The Secret".<<

Victor Frankl was not so lucky as to get out, and he came to many of the same conclusions. There are many others, quiet sages. I wonder if you, personally, have known any Holocaust survivors. Those of my acquaintance are by and large grateful for life, and are by and large peaceful, compassionate beings even after sometimes having watched their own families tortured and slaughtered. They do not condone what happened in Europe; some are dedicated to educating others about it; all are dedicated to uplifting the planet by example. As for those who died in the camps, I wonder if the Buddha could have walked into the gas chambers chanting the Ani Ma'amim: "no matter what happens, I believe in God and Messiah."

>>There IS truth - both here and in the metaphysics behind the Law of Attraction. But these aren't truths for children, but rather truths for adults - who can see and acknowledge what IS with clear and open eyes.<<

Agreed.

>>While accepting what is makes all the sense in the world - loving what is can sound like an obscenity in the face of atrocities, child molestation, etc.<<

Check out some recordings, if you can, of Katie doing The Work with survivors of child abuse (she is one herself), the Holocaust, rape, torture, war, acts of God, those with terminal illness, etc. The people in the chair next to her, apparently, were available to the "obscenity" of The Work. Hating God and their perpetrators, and bemoaning their lousy lives, feeling the pain over and over again, didn't work for them.

>>Just like asserting (as some LOA folks do) that starving folks in Dafur "chose" their reality and can change it if they chose to use the power of creative thought.<<

I don't believe we choose our reality. It's ridiculous to say that someone with terminal cancer would sign up for that, or that anyone in Darfur purposely incarnated there so that they could experience starvation and injustice and thus be a kinder person in the next life.

And it's useful for me to question why illness, starvation, violence and injustice could happen in a friendly universe. Maybe, if I'm an observer of this, it puts me in a better position to help, or at least, to not require others spend a lot of time and energy taking care of me. (For example, I doubt that Father Mychal—as a New Yorker, one of my heroes—went into the burning, crumbling World Trade Center tower with the intent to rescue people while thinking that there should not be terrorism in the world. He also didn't serve the Gay Catholic community by being an enemy of the Catholic church or of the heterosexual majority.) Maybe, if I'm the "victim" of these circumstances, it gives me a crack at a peaceful life while I'm dying (which, after all, we all are...and right on time, too). Maybe there's a point to all this remaining a mystery. I don't pretend to know. I'm just being open to possibilities.

It's so easy to sit back and say, "It's terrible." (And also not so easy, at least for me it wasn't. That world view was killing me.) As Katie says, The Work isn't called The Work for nothing. There has to be willingness to live in a world where we don't get to have our way all the time.

I thank you for taking the time to voice your viewpoint; it helps me to clarify my own, for myself.

Jon Willis said...

Hi dharmaman and Carol,

Great comments.

I'm reminded of something I heard last week on an audio recording by Adyashanti, to the effect of:

Problems don't go away when you awaken, they are just seen differently - as situations, rather than problems.


There is a fundamental piece for me in all of this - if I can accept and love what is, I am empowered to take action from an 'embracing' place, as opposed to believing that things shouldn't happen or are obscene.

Speaking personally, if I believe something is obscene, one of two things occur - I deny it / ignore it or I try to change it from a 'this shouldn't be happening' place.

When I let go of that, I can act from a position of 'this is how it is right now and this is what I can do' - a very different feeling and energy.

With love and thanks to you both,

Jon

Stuart said...

Einstein said...
If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.

I can look for meaning and purpose from outside, from a "universe" or a "God" that's separate from myself. That search can be frustrating and depressing, as nothing out there seems to provide the meaning and purpose I want.

Maybe it's my job to choose what meaning and purpose to make in each moment. Maybe I can decide it's my job to perceive whatever suffering's in front of me, and do my best to help right now. Maybe that's better than any meaning and purpose I could pretend to get from "God" or the "universe."

The scientific method is invaluable for cutting through all sorts of bullshit. But I'm not sure that it's of any use when it comes to the biggest questions: What am I? Why am I alive? Maybe each of us can only look into the questions for ourselves moment to moment. Maybe when it comes to these questions, even Einstein was no Einstein.

Carol wrote...
Your world is a combination of joy and sorrow, friendly and unfriendly, and you embrace the teacher who reinforces that belief for you.

I really like this. Whatever teachers I choose to "follow" or believe in or respect... are a reflection of the beliefs I'm holding, knowingly or otherwise. In following or depending on a teacher, I may fail to appreciate the primary importance of what I'm holding in my own mind.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/