We’re Supposed to be Conflicted

Edward O. Wilson’s newest book, a light little tome entitled The Meaning of Human Existence, states that humans are supposed to be conflicted. It is actually in our DNA. Wilson, a professor emeritus at Harvard and a biologist, says that as humans were evolving, an individual human would have the biological advantage of survival if he acted selfishly, but a group of humans would have the biological advantage of survival if the members of that group acted altruistically. Since banding into groups was actually necessary for the survival of the species, altruistic group behavior needed to develop. But individual selfish behavior resulted in an advantage within the group (bigger share of the kill, more procreation) so that those selfish individuals themselves thrived. Ergo, conflict in our very DNA. Help the group so the species survives; help yourself so that you thrive within the group.

There’s a lot more in his book about why humans are fascinated with gossip, why we need such large memory banks (which is partly why our brains are so big) why the idea of belonging to a tribe (think of tribe broadly—religion, sports, race, economic status, etc.) is so strong and dictates so much of our behavior.

I was fascinated. Makes us seem less complicated, somehow. More cause and effect. I highly recommend giving it a read.

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Waiting for Amaryllis

I’ve been watching my amaryllis grow flower stalks for, jeez, it seems like a month now. They emerged from the awakening bulbs after a month of dormancy and slowly, slowly inched upwards. They are about two feet tall now and the blossom ends are teasing me with the promise of spectacular blooms—someday. Perhaps the sixty degree nights in my house are making them prevaricate. Perhaps I’ve got languid bulbs. Perhaps I am just desperate for the juicy life of spring. But whatever it is and no matter how much I want them to bloom faster, instant gratification in this particular matter is not going to happen. They’ll bloom when they’re ready.

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail. It was a missive from my neighbor responding to a note I had sent her. In my note, I had given her my phone number so she could answer my invitation in a timelier manner. But she chose to write another note back instead. It was wonderful! I felt like I was in Downton Abbey. This languid pace of correspondence rejuvenates me. It gives a body time to reflect, to re-read, to exhale.

So I watch my pokey amaryllis, I re-read the note, brushing my fingers over the paper and I marvel at the civility and space each has created for me in this hurry-up world. The waiting, I find, has a nourishment all its own.

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Color Therapy

If you’re like me, you’re craving color about now. Big, bold, shameless color. What’s my fix? Going to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams to see the three floors of Sol LeWitt installations–it’s a veritable bubble bath of color. Last week, the hubby and I travelled there, over the scary mountain (hairpin turns galore!) and stayed at a very cool place called The Porches Inn, right across the street from Mass MoCA. IMG_2033Highly recommend The Porches, not just for its rooming house chic and heated outdoor pool and hot tub, but also for the breakfast delivered each morning in a metal lunchbox, complete with thermos of coffee and OJ.

At Mass MoCA, we arrived ten minutes before opening and were surprised to find the place packed. “Wow, lots of Seasonal Affective Disorder people,” we thought. But that was not the case (or maybe it was) but at any rate, turns out the new governor, Charlie Baker, was there to give a little speech, no doubt about how western Mass is still Massachusetts, ihho, and he’s going to bring us into the twenty-first century with things like cell phone reception and fiber internet (which would be very nice, btw.)

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Seizing our opportunity, we bought our tickets and galloped to the Sol LeWitt, knowing that we would have all those luscious rooms to ourselves.

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Lovely, lovely, I’m getting happier by the second.

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Wait! What’s that? Is that the governor again?IMG_1986

Yup. We went to the next floor.

Whoops! That governor sure does get around. Is he following us? Should I tell him about my tiny town that has no cell phone reception?

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Nah, I’d rather soak in more color.

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It Is What It Is

What if the world of life on Earth is just a lucky accident brought about by a confluence of lucky coincidences: just the right distance from the Sun, just the right amount of gravitational force, just the right combination of elements to create water, just the right amount of star dust to initiate the complex molecules necessary to create life. What if all this came about because there are billions of universes, so the chance of a planet existing with all the criteria to create life is tiny, but possible.

What if, indeed.

This is what I have been reading in Accidental Universe, by Alan Lightman—who is not a science fiction author, but a physicist (and creative writer) at MIT, outlining the latest theories in quantum physics.

For all of my life, I have wondered about the meaning of our brief existence. I’ve meditated, converted to Zen Buddhism, paid attention and thought, thought, thought. But now if, as Lightman postulates, life may be not a divine occurrence fraught with baffling meaning, but is instead a random coming together of chance—well then heck, I’m off the hook. Life and its meaning, the universe and its meaning, our Earth and its meaning—the meaning part becomes optional.

I went for a walk down my dirt road after I finished the book to digest this revolutionary idea. As I looked at the familiar trees and stone wall, rather giddy thoughts were racing through my brain: Just an accident! led to Don’t have to figure it out! which became the inevitable, I can just experience it! A weight I didn’t know existed lifted and in the new freedom of just experiencing I saw the trees with clarity, as if for the first time.

And it was then that all my Buddhist beliefs and training slipped alongside this new physics: When you take away the meaning, life becomes profound.

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