Thursday, April 2, 2015

Awe and Wonder - Contemplation

"Don't underestimate the things in your life that will bring you happiness." 
-Pema Chodron

I want to talk about woo. Woo isn’t exactly a ‘real word’ and yet I’ve encountered it in many conversations and even in blogs written by medical professionals, so there does seem to be a growing universality to its use. 

Woo could also be known as ‘airy fairy’ stuff or ‘hippie clap-trap’ or anything along those lines. Practitioners of woo tend to come across as flakey. And woo itself is entirely at odds with science and practicality. 

As a Buddhist I encounter a lot of people who spout woo and I know that a lot of what I study and share is taken as woo. But there is a distinct difference between woo and awe, or woo and wonder, or woo and delight. 

Woo has always come across as fake to me. It’s generally quite harmless but it’s childish in a make-believe way. In the way little children will tell lies so outrageous that adults just laugh. Like ‘I saw a tiny dragon down by the river…actually it was a huge dragon. Oh, and there were two of them!’

In kids it’s cute. In adults it becomes a bit concerning. 

Buddhism is not woo. On the surface it can come across as such and I know it often does. Things like Karma and reincarnation are not properly understood by a lot of people, including Buddhist practitioners. Karma is simplified into some dualistic system or punishment and reward and all about ‘energy’ in a woo way. 

The actual teachings on Karma are in-line with physics - cause and effect. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Inertia. Karma is science. 

And reincarnation is not some mystical idea when the teachings on it are really examined. Again, reincarnation is more science. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Our bodies have a lot of energy, our consciousness has a lot of energy. If energy cannot be created nor destroyed then we’ve all already lived forever. 

I’ve never felt that Buddhism and science were at odds with one another and, in fact, the more I study both the more interwoven I find them to be. Because awe, wonder and amazement are crucial elements to scientific discovery. 

Neil Degrass-Tyson is trending right now and has been for several years - and he is full of wonder. I don’t know what, if any, spiritual leanings he has but he definitely sees the universe in a bigger, fuller way than most of us. He says things that match entirely with Buddhist teachings I’ve read. 

Same wisdom, different package. 
“When was the last time you caught a snowflake on your tongue?” he asked a six (and three quarters) year old boy. 

“A few weeks ago.” 

He turned to an adult in the audience and asked the same question. 

“I can’t remember.” 

I caught a snowflake on my tongue the last time it snowed in London. I stood outside and let them land on my face and I enjoyed every freezing touch of it. Because snow is magical. 

I’m about to turn 30 and I’m delighted by seemingly simple things. This comes from appreciation of the world around me, of my interdependence with it, and of the absolute magic to be found in the setting sun or the way a flower blooms or the buzzing of a bee or indeed, the falling of snow. And this is not woo or something flakey. This is appreciation I have for the wonder of life. 

And wonder is not just in the beautiful things we see like a sun-set or sun-rise. Wonder is in seeing the difficult stuff and appreciating it as part of the richness of being human. 

A person who can see the wonder in the most difficult of situations isn’t naive but awake to the fullness of their experience. They can appreciate that something like grief is an expression of love or the energy that accompanies anger. To have wonder is to see the benefit that comes from not rejecting any of our experience. 

And I totally recommend watching this video because what Neil has to say about the meaning of life is totally and utterly spot on. 

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