Posted in General Interest, mystic

This Will Either Fascinate You or Drive You to Drink with Boredom

skepticLet’s find out which!

Once in a while, for better or for worse, the past comes back to haunt you. An instance of the “better” part of this assertion occurred with me recently when I saw a public TV documentary on mathematics. Much of the documentary revolved around what the physicist and mathematician Eugene Wigner described as the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics in the natural sciences in an essay of that title. Wigner’s famous essay was written around 1960. I first encountered it as an undergraduate math and physics – and, significantly, philosophy – major at Wichita State University in Wichita, KS, during the late 1960s. It stuck around in the back of my mind to haunt me at graduate school in physics about ten years after it was written. But, finding little or no sympathy for my philosophical perplexity in the physics department – cite a philosophical issue and most physicists respond with a deer-in-the-headlights stare – I did not so much become indifferent as preoccupied with other pursuits. Until last week, when I encountered it again in that documentary. Remembering how impressed I was with Wigner’s text 40-plus years ago, I Bing’ed it up, printed it off, read it … and found that it had lost none of its power to perplex and to provoke. In particular, I found that it had lost none of its power – not so much to challenge – as to chasten what has by now become my habitual attitude of skepticism.

Eugene Wigner (1902-1995), Hungarian physicist. Eugene Paul Wigner was most famous for his deep exploration into quantum physics, especially in establishing a core algebraic theory on the symmetries in quantum mechanics, known as the Wigner D-matrix. He came up with several other theorems while researching into atomic nuclei and also co-wrote the classic book The Physical Theory of Neutron Chain Reactors with Alvin Weinburg in 1958, which he holds in this portrait. Five years later he was awarded half of the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics for his symmetry principles, the other half being awarded to J. Hans D. Jensen and Maria Goeppert-Mayer for their discovery of nuclear shell structure.
Eugene Wigner

Wigner’s essay opens with a (possibly apocryphal, though that does not matter) story of a statistician explaining to a non-statistician friend the meaning of a bell-shaped-curve graph about population, and the graph’s associated terminology and symbology. The conversation proceeds: “And what is this symbol here?” “Oh,” said the statistician, “that is pi.” “What is that?” “The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.” “Well, now you’re pushing your joke too far,” said the classmate, “surely the population has nothing to do with the circumference of a circle”. Wigner’s point, which he illustrates with several other more abstruse and technical examples I will skip over, is that time and time and time again – in fact, with a frequency that by now verges on the customary and to-be-expected — mathematical entities like pi, long believed to be relevant only to abstractions confined within the skulls of mathematicians, turn out, it may be generations or even centuries later, to have critical, fundamental — even world-historical — relevance to understanding aspects of the Universe outside those skulls. Like population. In fact, such episodes of “unreasonable effectiveness” tantalizingly call into question that very dichotomy of “inside” vs. “outside”. Rather, it seems that, at least sometimes, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7), Decartes’ dualism is transcended, and res cogitans (“thinking substance”, the “inside-the-skull” world) and res extensa (“extended substance”, the “outside-the-skull” world) meet and embrace.

There are other examples that Wigner does not mention, that in some cases did not exist circa 1960, when Wigner wrote his essay. Wigner tends to concentrate on contemporary instances of “unreasonable effectiveness” in relativity and quantum theory. But there are many others.

o Non-Euclidean geometry

In the middle 1800s, mathematicians like Bolyai, Lobachevsky, and Riemann developed consistent systems of geometries that were founded on variations of Euclid’s famous Fifth (or Parallel) Postulate: given a line and a point not on the line, one and only one line can be drawn through the point parallel to the given line.

Bernhard Riemann
Bernhard Riemann

These systems of geometry were surprising to many because they turned out to be consistent, but remained playthings for mathematicians and geometers … until a century or so later, when Albert Einstein formulated his Theory of General Relativity, at which point it became necessary to conceive of space, not in Newtonian terms as a static, flat, unalterable Euclidean plane, but as a vast sheet of something like rubber – albeit a four-dimensional sheet – that gravity could warp and deform in ways that could not be understood apart from the application of non-Euclidean geometries. (This explains the ubiquity of “rubber-sheet geometry” in popular expositions of general relativity — though, technically, gravity is a tensor field, so the “rubber” is warped in ways not possible with a physical rubber sheet.) Non-Euclidean geometry makes General Relativity possible … and along with it, virtually all of 20th- / 21st-century cosmology and astronomy.

o “Chaos” theory

When I was taking graduate-level courses in applied math, it was admitted, in certain cases, that while the coefficients of the partial differential equations governing certain physical processes could be non-linear, that we would only concentrate on the cases where the coefficients were linear because (a) only linear coefficients were tractable by the methods we were using because the non-linear cases pertained to “chaotic” systems, and besides, (b) only those partial differential equations with linear coefficients had physical significance, anyway.

rf_detail_261_0Or so we believed at the time. (Like I said, these were courses in applied math: no point in trying to apply math to cases with no physical relevance.) To cut to the Reader’s-Digest-condensed version of the story, it later turned out that, contrary to being physically irrelevant, the non-linear cases previously believed to be only bloodless abstractions were the very cases most relevant to the physical Universe in terms of population growth, certain resonances in the physics of elementary particles – and even the behavior of markets and political systems. (Another crucial factor was the development of computers powerful enough to process numerical-analysis / finite-element models of non-linear processes.) Because of its “unreasonable effectiveness”, our math told us far more than we realized, e.g., the long-term behavior of global weather systems.

o Abstract algebra

 Until well into the 20th century, it was believed that the most hard-core “useless” mathematical discipline was the area of abstract algebra. Surely nothing as rarefied as non-commutative groups and Lie algebras could have any practical significance whatsoever, outside of providing job security to professors of mathematics. But it turned out that the relationships between and symmetries prevailing among elementary particles – and whole families of particles – were understandable only with reference to some cognate of something called “Lie algebras” and “non-Abelian gauge theories”. Don’t worry about the “tech talk”. The point is that even such abstract algebraic structures turned out to have deep physical relevance.


This just scratches the surface, and even then only barely so. I could also mention “useless” things like Hilbert spaces in quantum theory, Calabi-Yau manifolds and Klein bottles (and other differential-geometry entities) in superstrings, etc., etc., etc., etc. … the list is almost endless. (Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe contains a challenging but relatively accessible discussion of such entities vis a vis string theory.) In all such cases, the exotic critter eventually escapes from the space inside mathematicians’ skulls and becomes “unreasonab[ly] effective[]” in enabling physicists – and sociologists and market analysts – to make sense of the world.

What’s going on?

It is near-miraculous enough that the world is understandable through mathematics.  That it may so often be understood through the mediation of mathematical structures never designed to enable us to understand it pushes the envelope from near-miraculous into the territory of the … well … the numinous … often downright “spooky”. (As Wigner notes in his by-now-classic essay, most pure mathematical abstractions, by definition of the word “pure”, were initially developed with the intent of proving even more ‘way-cool theorems and developing even more ‘way-cool abstractions and making math even more ‘way cool, not with the intent of explaining anything going on “‘way out there”.) That is what tantalizes me about Wigner’s essay to this day:  the hint that — whatever is going on — it involves a potential way of transcending the dualism of Mind (in the sense of Descartes’ res cogitans) and World (Decartes’ res extensa). There are other hints, some buttressed by the “hard” science of data and experiment (the “measurement problem” in quantum theory, Feynman’s classic “two-slit” experiment, Bell’s Theorem) and others much more problematical (Jungian synchronicity). (I say “much more problematical” because it is far from clear how or whether anything like synchronicity could ever be scientifically investigated, even in principle, because of its non-causal nature, inasmuch as science deals in terms of cause and effect.) Even such disparate fields as deconstructionist literary critical theory, with its subversion of the distinction between text and author and its emphasis on the self-referential nature of the former, falls into the same pattern of calling into question the distinction between subject and object, of inner world and outer reality, of the observer and the observed — of what we think in our heads and what happens in the world.

Maybe we are not, after all, strangers in a strange land.  Maybe we are not Sisyphus eternally rolling his rock uphill.  Maybe we are home.

– James R. Cowles

© 2015, James R. Cowles, All rights reserved


Posted in Liliana Negoi, Meditation, meditative, Mortality, mystic, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

prologue to nothing

“Have you ever known a place where God would feel at home?”

Umberto Eco, The Name Of The Rose

there was dirt under his nails –
those uncared-for nails,
bitten and with stains of blood,
having known the nervousness of his teeth –
and his eyes were cloudy,
and gray,
perfect reflection
of the undecided sky above.
the bones of god’s word
would have fit perfectly in his palm,
if ever his palm had been free
of the memory of one house
on a nameless street
flooded with sunlight one summer morning.

everything was outrageously white,
as if somehow heaven had spilled
its entire bright purity
over those limed walls…
the only things preventing an explosion of light
were some cracked wooden panes,
striving to carefully protect
the inside from the outside…

only the ghosts of those sunbeams
were able to make the clouds in his gaze
move aside,
and in those rare cases
one could see a pair of
incredibly sapphirine irises,
harboring like a living vault
the secrets of mankind glazed with sorrow…

some said
that was the hideout of Samael,
after trading his wings
for Lilith’s resurrection.
others said
it was the place where souls
were waiting to ascend after meeting Azrael.
but nobody knew for sure
what purpose did that place serve,
and to whom it actually belonged.

nobody, except for him…
somehow he remembered
nothing prior to opening his eyes
upon that door.
he was standing in front of it,
feeling under his soles
the sun-heated cubic stones paving that street.
for him,
that was the second his life had begun,
and also the second when it had ended…
he had no idea
how much time he had spent inside that house,
wandering from one room to another,
marveling at the way
everything seemed to be perfect…
in the blink of an eye,
he just knew what it meant,
although he had no idea
how he knew that …

guided by the typical fear,
mothers forbid their offspring to talk to him
when he had emerged from that house.
people kept whispering at corners
that his shoulder blades bore
the marks of the fallen,
yet nobody wanted to listen to him
when explaining why each small crack had its reasons
and why his voice had become a prism,
translating for them
the rainbow hidden within the white…

after a while
he stopped talking.
he sat, silent, in the corner of some stairs,
in the middle of an ignorant world,
aware that people didn’t care
for the reason why he just wouldn’t
go back inside that perfect white house
and be happily forgotten…
because he just loved too much
the rainbow of their souls …

“Prologue to nothing” is the closing poem of Liliana’s volume “The hidden well”. For the audio version feel free to click below:

IMG_7667LILIANA NEGOI  (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) ~ is a member of our core team on Into the Bardo. She is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English, which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footsteps on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well.  The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE.  Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.

Posted in Christianity, Liliana Negoi, Meditation, meditative, Mortality, mystic, Spiritual Practice

On giving

DSC_0313My kids had a small festivity at kindergarten. They sang songs, and recited poems, and then Santa Claus came and gave gifts to all of them…overall it was nice. And obviously crowded, because for each of the kids in the festivity, there was at least one adult in the public in front of them, admiring them and cheering them and…doing whatever adults do when attending their children’s festivities.

After we left, when we got back home and the kids opened their presents and began to play, I couldn’t help thinking about the children of this world whose Christmas gift may not be big enough as to contain more than some fruit, let alone toys or other things. And that’s sad, because, above all, Christmas is a time of giving. Not because of Santa Claus, but because of its original meanings. Go beyond the birth of Christ, which was a gift in itself, given to the world (yes, I know that according to some new calculations Christ was actually born in spring, but it’s the symbol I’m talking about here), go back to those times of yore, when the only thing celebrated during this period of the year was the winter solstice – the joy that, after slowly shortening its gift of daily light for six months, the sun was beginning to turn the wheel around and days were starting to “grow” again. This was the gift people got back then – light. More light. Which, come to think about it, is such an awesome and priceless gift!

Anyway, the point of this pondering was that of reminding you all that, even if I don’t believe that giving should be the appanage of Christmas time alone but a way of life, I do believe that this is a good time to remember about all the gifts that we have ever been given, no matter by whom, and to try and imagine how our lives would have been had we not received those. Starting with the gift of life from our parents, and to the gift of blessings from our children.

And if you can, if you have the means, help those in need by filling their Christmas time with a little more light. You don’t have to give huge gifts – the simple fact that someone thought about them and gave them anything at all will be more than what they would expect. And their joy when receiving your present will be a priceless gift you give yourselves.

© 2013 Liliana Negoi

The photo attached was taken from

IMG_7667LILIANA NEGOI  (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) ~ is a member of our core team on Into the Bardo. She is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English, which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footsteps on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well.  The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE.  Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.

Posted in Art, Gretchen Del Rio, Jamie Dedes, mystic, Poems/Poetry

she leaps from the cleavage of time . . .

she’s present
returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus-god of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us as the silver intuition of grandmother moon
watching us as the warm vigilance of father sun ~
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time


– Jamie Dedes

Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio
Original water color by Gretchen Del Rio

©2013, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved 

Illustration ~ this lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals seemed the perfect illustration for my poem on the spiritual return of the feminine. The real back-story on the painting is just as interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a 14 year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a charming piece. I posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. J.D.

Photo on 2012-09-19 at 20.00JAMIE DEDES ~ My worldly tags are poet and writer. For nearly six years I’ve blogged at The Poet by Day,the journey in poem, formerly titled Musing by Moonlight.  Through the gift of poetry (mine and that of others), I enter sacred space.

Attn.: Poets and Writers

Victoria C. Slotto’s Writers’ Fourth Wednesday is tonight.

7 p.m. P.S.T. here on Into the Bardo

See you then …

Posted in Liliana Negoi, Meditation, meditative, mystic, Nature, Spiritual Practice

On miracles

peach-pitMy younger son found a peach pit today, and in his innocence decided to plant it. So he dug a hole, put the pit inside it, covered it and then watered it. He said “I put as much water as it needed to grow. And it will grow. I think tomorrow it will grow.” I smiled at his confident statement and as he moved further I found myself ardently hoping that his tree would indeed grow, not necessarily in order for us to have a peach tree in the yard (though it would be nice – note to self, plant a peach tree a.s.a.p.) but because I want my children to find reasons to believe in miracles in about everything – especially when they help creating them.

The word “miracle” originates from the Late Latin miraculum, meaning “wonder”, “marvel”, from mirari – “to wonder at”. Apparently, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains to us, the word’s first known use was in the 12th century. However, miracles happened before that time for sure, even if they were named differently. People used this word or others to point towards “events not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature and consequently attributed to a supernatural, especially divine, agency”. If you come to think of it, miracles birthed and killed gods through the means of man’s limited power of understanding, because in certain people they touched their fear, while in others they touched their curiosity. That’s how religion and science were born.

The best thing about miracles though is that they make us grow. All of us. One way or another they push us higher, farther, and even if officially they stop being miracles in the second when we discover their explanation, they still remain miracles in our hearts, because due to them we expanded our knowledge.

Maybe there will be no peach tree growing from that pit. But I do know that in my child’s heart, the peach tree rooted already – and THAT is more important than anything else.

© 2013 Liliana Negoi

The image used was taken from

IMG_7667LILIANA NEGOI  (Endless Journey and in Romanian curcubee în alb şi negru) ~ is a member of our core team on Into the Bardo. She is the author of three published volumes of poetry in English, which is not her mother tongue but one that she came to love especially because of writing: Sands and Shadows, Footsteps on the San – tanka collection and The Hidden Well.  The last one can also be heard in audio version, read by the author herself on her SoundCloud site HERE.  Many of her creations, both poetry and prose, have been published in various literary magazines.

Posted in Essay, Music, mystic, Peace & Justice, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer, Poems/Poetry, Poets Against War Week, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Peace Give I to Thee

Wow, the first in the series of Poets Against War or Poets for Peace. Hopefully I can do it justice! In riffing on peace and war, several things came together in my mind – or rather, many things came hopping through it! I hope the resulting series of images, words, and music will act as a meditation for you on this first day of Poets Against War. This will be synchro-posted at my blog, Feel free to reblog or synchropost elsewhere just link back to here.

First, a meme (my new favorite weird thing to do – make memes)…


Second, I have been noodling this around and the predominant thought I had was to sing a duet with my son, Colin Stewart. Colin is 17 and much more talented than I! But we held it together in order to sing an old church song, Peace Give I to Thee. Colin is playing the ukelele and singing. I confess that our sound system is not wonderful, so we both tempered ourselves to not blow out the microphones. It is accompanied by photos I took in the Bellevue Botanical Garden which bring me incredible peace.

Finally, the nature of the quest: Poets Against War or Poets for Peace. So black and white, it begs a reflection.


war destroys peace

hate destroys love

butterfly destroys chrysalis

child destroys dandelion

lion destroys lamb

lamb redeems lion

dandelion redeems child

chrysalis redeems butterfly

love redeems hate

peace redeems war



And another old favorite, “Breathe Deep” by the Lost Dogs which speaks to the unity of all-even when we are uncomfortable with that unity.

Peace Out!


© 2013, post and photos, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

terriREV. TERRI STEWART is Into the Bardo’s  Sunday chaplain, senior content editor, and site co-administrator. She comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual. (The 2014 issue just released!)

Her online presence is “Cloaked Monk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at,, and

Posted in Culture/History, mystic, Naomi Baltuck, Spiritual Practice

The Stairway (to Skellig Michael)

When we traveled to Ireland we visited Skellig Michael, a monastery founded by Christian monks in the 7th century.  Life there was remote and harsh, the weather often severe.   The monks collected rainwater to drink, raised a few animals and imported soil from the mainland nine miles away so they could grow vegetables on that barren little island.

If a monk made a rare crossing to the mainland for supplies, rough weather might strand him there for a week or a month.  To return to his spartan life in a cold stone beehive hut, he would have to climb 700 feet up these winding stairs, bearing whatever supplies he had fetched home.

On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions.  Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance.  What in your life do you care enough about to be willing to make this climb?

– Naomi Baltuck

All words and images (including the portrait below) copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck,All rights reserved

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppiNAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi