William Edelen: Physics and Mystics…

The Contrary Minister
Toward the Mystery

“I believe in mystery and that also we experience some of the most beautiful things in life in a very primitive form. In relation to these mysteries I consider myself to be a spiritual man. He who cannot stand in wonder and awe before the Mystery is as good as dead.” -Albert Einstein

What few realize is that the most brilliant of our Nobel Prize winning physicists were also mystics. Their writings on this subject are the most beautiful I have ever read. Mysticism and Physics are fraternal twins.

Students of both believe in a mystical world view that embodies the world as spiritual and material; classifications of organic and inorganic, animate and inanimate are archaic and invalid.

One of the most treasured books in my library is Quantum Questions edited by Ken Wilber, “the mystical writings of the worlds greatest physicists”.

In Sir Arthur Eddington’s Defense of Mysticism he writes: “A defense of the mystic would run something like this. We have acknowledged that entities of physics can from their nature form only a partial aspect of reality. How are we to deal with the other part? It cannot be said that the other part concerns us less than the physical entities. Feelings, purpose and values make up our consciousness as much as sense impressions. We mystics are the music makers, and we are the dreamer of dreams wandering by the lone sea breakers and sitting by the desolate streams, world foresakers, on whom the pale moon gleams; yet we are the movers and shakers of the world forever, it seems.”

Max Planck, Nobel Physicist, writes in The Mystery of our Being, “The mystical element in human nature must be recognized and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. The greatest thinkers, of all ages, have been deeply mystical souls. Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature and we are therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. Music and art also attempt to solve, or express, the mystery.”

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Louise de Broglie in his The Mechanism Demands a Mysticism states: “The increased body of machines awaits a supplement of soul and the mechanism demands a mysticism. Humanity groans half crushed under the weight of the “advances” it has made. Man has need of a mystical supplement of the soul, and he must force himself to acquire it promptly before it is too late.”

From The Mystic Vision Erwin Schroedinger, Nobel in Physics, writes: “To say ‘I am god’ sounds blasphemous to the orthodox Christian. But the insight of this truth is not new. The earliest records date back some 2500 years or more, from the early great Upanishads. The recognition that the personal self equals the omnipresent, all comprehending, eternal self was in Indian thought considered to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into happenings of the world. The strivings of all the scholars of the Vedanta was to assimilate in their minds the grandest of all thoughts.

All mystics, of many centuries, independently, yet in perfect harmony with each other, have described the unique experience in his or her own life.

My own is as follows: Several years ago I made my fourth and last backpacking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of Arizona. I went alone. It was the scene of one of the most moving spiritual experiences of my life.

I was sitting on the sand beside the Colorado river. A slight breeze rustled cottonwood leaves, like an aeolian harp. Evening light faded into darkness and was soon replaced by a full moon, hovering, so near and immediate that I put out my hand and touched its face… the source of all that is… the energy, the Mystery… that, for want of a better name, we use the word symbol “god”, yet knowing that only silence has the true name.

There was only time and the river singing and flowing. I could not possibly sleep. I was experiencing the origin. Rocks close by were over three billion years old. I was the only human, and I was One with the river, the cottonwoods, rocks, full moon and breeze.

There is no way I can share the depth of that experience with words. And here we are at the heart of Zen and Taoism. They say, rightly, that “experience transcends the reach of any language,” and truth is always found through experience, and never from any outside authority.

A new awareness reached my consciousness, not from any known source, book or speaker, but through channels unknown… an experience that led to the recognition within me of the oneness of all that is in time or space. I had experienced more of that mystery we call Life..a brief interlude between two greater mysteries that are yet One.

As I identify more deeply with a mystical view of life, I find myself opened to a constant awareness that “in here” and “out there” no longer exist. My unity, my oneness with all creation is clear and becomes evident in my everyday experiences, and the “Mystery” unfolds through every significant event.

The celebrated Zen Master Suzuki once was asked what was the point of mysticism. He said that before he understood he saw mountains as mountains and water are water. When he made some progress he no longer saw mountains as mountains and water as water. But after more progress he again saw mountains as mountains and water as water. The student asked, well, what was the difference between the first and last time, when he saw mountains as mountains and water as water. Suzuki said “well no difference at all, except the second time you are walking about two feet off the ground.”