The LivingPulse.org is a work in progress. Even its definition remains somewhat in limbo. I see it as an organization with a building and/or a sanctuary where individuals come together to share what they feel as spirituality in spite of having a disbelief in most traditional religions. That sense of spirituality comes from getting out of a focus on the individual 'self', and into a focus on the oneness of all living things thru different rituals. Those rituals can take many forms: meditation, music, percussion, dance, yoga, communing with the natural world thru running, hiking, and/or kayaking. There is more and more scientific evidence pointing to this oneness. The LivingPulse is the closest thing of which I am aware that offers a true spirituality (religion) grounded in science.
The below commentary offers a first effort to bring it to birth. I put it together as a means to help me bring many of my own disparate thoughts and ideas into a cohesive whole. I also wanted to offer an explanation of what LP is all about to any interested parties. Your thoughts and/or ideas are welcome.
If you are interested in exploring the LivingPulse with us, please enter your email address below. We're not sure what form this will take, but let's start a conversation.
From my earliest childhood, I have felt the need to have a connection with some essence of spirituality. Having concluded rather early that I could not sustain a belief in traditional religions, I was left with a void. Off and on, over the years, I kept returning to that need---to that void. The LivingPulse is the closest thing that I have come to filling that need.
Also, early in life I could feel, especially when alone and in the natural world, some sort or energy, pulsation or vibration. It seemed to be both around me and within me. At the time, I just thought of it as a curiousity. Off and on, over the years, I kept returning to that feeling—to that sensation. The LivingPulse is the closest thing I have come to describing and expressing that sensation.
To be clear, The LivingPulse is not intended or expected to be a money making venture for me, or anyone else. Quite the opposite, I expect to spend monies to support the endeavor.
There is one other thing I need to be clear about; I do not consider myself any kind of teacher or spiritual leader. I am simply a 'seeker' who feels that what I perceive as The LivingPulse can offer help to me on a spiritual journey, along with any others who care to join the journey.
There follows some commentary that I hope explains, and inspires one to consider adding your thoughts, ideas and voice to, The LivingPulse. The sections are divided into personal, philosophical, and scientific underpinnings. The scientific section is rather long, and can be difficult, but I did my best to bring it into one's grasp. It is still a little “out of reach” for me and I have spent hours ruminating over it.
I spent twelve years in Catholic school as a young person. Whether that experience imbued me with a need for spirituality, or I had that need temporarily fulfilled by the experience, I don't know. Ultimately I was without a belief in traditional religion, but I still maintained a sense that there was something with which I could connect that had a spirit, a soul, an energy. I just did not know what. I studied and read as part of a search, and found my way to eastern ways of connection to the 'one' and to Native American understandings of our connection to the natural world. Meditation became a frequent, if irregular, practice. At one point, while struggling to find a purpose to continue with life, I decided to go to the mountains, starting before sunrise, and returning after sunset, to spend the day alone, walking. Something happened. I decided to live and continue the search.
I took up running, and then trail running, and then ultra marathoning in the mountains. There is a point in any trail run where one can feel one's animal soul claw its way to the surface. I loved that feeling. Moving over the earth at a quick pace, moving in such a way that your body adjusts to all of the rocks and roots of the trail; it requires a sustained, but perhaps subconscious, focus. Your mind settles down into a meditative state, and I felt I became 'one' with the twenty or so feet of trail that I was going to move over in the next several seconds. As that twenty feet extended to another twenty feet, over and over throughout the day, one could in some ways stay in a permanent meditation.
Getting older, I knew that my body would not be able to sustain the endurance that it took to reach that state in trail running. So I decided to learn whitewater kayaking and playing a drum kit. I thought that both would offer what trail running did without the wear and tear on the body. They both do, but are much harder to learn than trail running. We humans were born to run ( See the book Born to Run by Cristopher McDougall ). We were not born to paddle. Perhaps we were born to drum, that is, to communicate thru rhythm, but starting later in life made it hard to learn, at least for me.
And finally, in recent years, I decided to ramp up my efforts. I have gone on three vision quests---spending four days and nights alone abstaining from all substances except for water, and sleeping in the open, without shelter. The first was in the Gila wilderness in New Mexico and the most recent two were in a remote valley at the northern end of Death Valley. They were powerful experiences, and facilitated a deeper awareness of the energy that moves thru all things.
The last thing to say from a personal standpoint is that while I was consistently maintaining a spiritual focus over the many years, I was also working in the investment management industry. I was good at it, and was paid very well. I would like to use the monies that I was paid to support spiritual seekers, and I believe that some aspect of the pulse of all life is what should be sought. Thus was born the idea of The LivingPulse.org
The thoughts of many philosophers have had an effect on the formation of LivingPulse, including Spinoza, Frank Waters, Edward O. Wilson, Alan Watts, Sam Harris and Andre Comte-Sponville. Spinoza's writings can be thought of as possibly the first expression of pantheism. Frank Waters, who most likely did not consider himself a philosopher, wrote about the connection that native americans had with the natural world----not just connecting to it, but being part of it. Edward O. Wilson, in his book Sociobiology, was certainly a pathfinder in expressing that we are all part of, and led by, our biology. His book, Consilience, the Unity of All Knowledge, reflects his belief that behind all disciplines as diverse as physics, anthropology and the arts, lies a small number of interlocking natural laws.
Alan Watts, a British philosopher best know as an interpreter of eastern spirituality for a western world, wrote many books. In what is likely his most famous work, The Book , he probably most clearly states what is the very essence of LivingPulse: “ We do not come into this world; we come OUT of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, the universe peoples. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense it or feel it, but contiune to be aware of themselves as isolated egos inside bags of skin.”
Sam Harris, both philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on this concept of an isolated ego or 'self' in his book Waking Up. He devotes two of the five chapters in the book to discussing the nature of consciousness and the riddle of the self, using recent experiments, and examples of individuals that have had split brain accidents as proof that there is no place in the human brain where the so-called self resides. For him, the self is an illusion.
The Little Book of Athiest Spirituality, written by Andre Comte-Sponville, also discusses the illusion of the self, describing the dissolution of the ego or self as the oceanic feeling. He refers to novelist Romain Rolland's description of the oceanic feeling as “ a sense of indissouluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal, very much as a wave or a drop of water belongs to the ocean”.
Doug Ammons carries onward with the idea of being a drop of water in the ocean in his book Whitewater Philosophy. He is not speaking of the ocean but of being a kayaker on a river, and suggesting that the ideal is “to adapt oneself to the river, to learn its language, follow its path, feel its pulse. Ideally one should feel that one belongs there; and when that is accomplished, the state of zanshin (connection or oneness) is reached”.
The scientific underpinnings of LivingPulse are much more difficult to verbalize and discuss. Mostly because there seems to be significant scientific discourse and literature on issues that can be considered to revolve around the subject, and many of these discussions can be very esoteric. It is hard to narrow ideas down to only those that seem relevant.
But secondly, I believe LivingPulse should focus exclusively on the life that exists here on this earth, rather than the vast universe. There are lots of ideas on the nature of the broader universe, and new theories about its astrophysical structure are presented every day. I have spent nights alone under the stars asking myself questions about the universe. I have no answers. My conclusion is that it seems one should try to be present in the here and now, connected to all of life on this tiny rock on which we all share an existence.
And finally, one should definitely avoid what I would call woo-woo science. Woo-woo refers to ideas that can be considered somewhat irrational, or based on extremely flimsy evidence, or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers, or some separate, stand-alone, loving entity---in essence, a little too New Agey.
The sections which follow may be a bit too, well, scientific, and difficult to grasp in one reading. They are, however, what appears to be at the leading edge of scientific thought. I decided to summarize the points here:
1. All life has a common ancestor which was formed by endosymbiosis perhaps 1.5 billion years ago whereby two or more simple, single-celled organisms came together and formed a multi-celled organism (a eukaryote), which has since become a complex multi-celled organism; 2.That organism (eukaryote) has evolved into all of the complex life we know today, both plant and animal; 3. Other single-celled organisms (microbes) joined up with the eukaryotes and have evolved together in a strongly symbiotic relationship such that half or more of the cells in what you think of as yourself are not really you, but microbial; 4. Those microbes play a major role in most everything you do; 5. All cells, yours and the microbes, are basically identical in the way they generate energy to grow and reproduce; 6. That process of energy generation, which is basically life, can be described in terms using either classical physics or quantum physics, but regardless of which, there appears to be a subtle pulse that takes place over and over and over during it. There follows an elaboration of these points.
Real science has been dancing around the issue of the connection of all life for quite some time. Perhaps one of the first proponents of the idea was Alexander von Humboldt, who lived from 1769-1859, and wrote a book titled Kosmos. He was an explorer, a naturalist and a thinker, who could be considered to have pioneered the idea that the natural world is a web of intricately entwined elements, each in constant dynamic dialogue with every other. At that time, what exactly those elements might be, and what that dialogue might be, were unknown.
In the 1970's and 1980's, with books by Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins, and many other evolutionary biologists, one began to sense how similar the genomes of different life forms could be. And one could begin to see how the genome led to the formation of, and the life of, an organism. While a lot of new information has come out in recent years, Richard Dawkins, in his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, was probaly the first popular exposition that what lives on in life is what can be replicated in reproduction, which is the gene. The individual organism may die, but if that individual reproduces, what is reproduced is their genomic material. And much of genomic material is identical amongst species. It has been estimated that humans share more than 95%, and maybe close to 99%, depending on how measured, of their genetic material with chimpanzees. And, as hard as it is to believe, there are estimates that we humans have a genetic code that matches up at a 50% level with a banana. Please do understand that how genes express themselves in their environment (epigenetics) leads to much differentiation between us and chimpanzees and bananas.
In the past couple of years, three books have come out that seem to have taken the interconnection of all life to a new understanding. Nick Lane in The Vital Question, copyright 2015, delves into the “Energy, Evolution and Origins of Complex Life” and proposes a theory for how all complex life began and is sustained. His answer is that there is a link between energy and cell biology which sustains life. The book is not an easy read.
The first chapter of the book, titled “What is Life”, proposes an hypothesis that all complex life began from a single ancestor which was the product of endosymbiosis. Endosymbiosis is basically symbiosis between organisms where one or more organisms live inside the other. As I understand it, previous endosymbiotic theory had suggested that the different forms of life had developed by different endosymbiotic events. Nick Lane proposes that there was one event, and later forms of life evolved from this single ancestor.
To put a little more meat on this theory, current thinking is that there are three domains of life. Two, the prokaryotes, are the bacteria and the archea, which are each composed of only one morphologically simple cell. Bacteria are much more multitudinous in scope than archea, at least at the current time in the earth's history. While these microbes (prokaryotes) display astonishing biochemical diversity, thriving on anything from concrete to battery acid, they’ve never evolved into anything more complicated than a simple single cell.The third domain are the eukaryotes, and they can be morphologically complex single-celled organisms, or multi-cellular organisms. In essence, two or more simple-celled organisms, the bacteria and/or the archea, somehow came together thru endosymbiosis and formed a complex organism, a eukaryote. The evolution of that eukaryote over millions of years is what has developed into the many forms of multi-cellular life on the earth---plants, animals and all other forms of life. That has also resulted in all cells---those of the prokaryotes and those of the eukaryotes (animals, plants, fungi, and algae)---being basically indistiguishable from each other. This is a different creation story, and it seems as much a miracle as one could imagine.
The second chapter of this book is titled “What is Living”. In its simplest definition, living could be considered the utilization of energy to grow and evolve. But living is also about the environment; how the living organism and its environment interrelate. The chapter contains a discussion of the second law of thermodynamics and a lot of organic chemistry and bioenergetics; only a little of which can I say I could repeat in an easily understood way. The bottom line, however, is that the cells of all prokaryotes and eukaryotes, all of life that we know, generate the energy to grow and reproduce in the same way. That way is explained by discussions of chemiosmosis, redox reactions and the ATP synthase.
Remember that eukaryotes were formed thru endosymbiosis, the result of one single-celled organism somehow finding its way into another cellular organism. In an animal or plant cell, the mitochondria are one of the inhabitants. Plants cells also have chloroplasts. It is thought that both mitochondria and chloroplasts were once individual single-celled organisms. In fact, they still contain within themselves some of their own genetic material which is different from the nucleus of the cell in which they reside. Mitochondria are what generate the energy for the eukaryotic cell to function, whether it is a plant or animal. And chloroplasts are what generate the glucose in a plant cell on which plants, and ultimately animals, live. Both chloroplasts and mitochondria utilize chemiosmosis, redox reactions and the ATP synthase in this process. These functions are also used for life by the other two domains, the bacteria and the archea, but I will focus mostly on the eukaryotes in the remainder of this discussion. It is important to think about the fact that forms of growth that at first glance seem to have little in common, such as photosynthesis in plants, and respiration in animals, turn out to be basically the same because they both use the above mentioned biochemical reactions; in this case, respiratory chains to facilitate the transfer of electrons.
Organisms require an immense amount of energy to live. The energy 'currency' used by all living cells is a molecule called ATP, (adenosonine triphosphate). According to Lane, ATP works like a coin in a slot machine by powering one turn of what is typically a protein from one stable state to another. Lane uses the term when referencing the moves from one stable state to another as “ like flipping a switch from up to down”. To switch it back requires another ATP molecule. The first ATP, upon exercising its mission, has been rendered into two different molecules---ADP and P, and to get back to ATP, it costs energy to reform those two molecules. What furnishes this energy is either respiration in animals, generally the reaction of food with oxygen, or photosynthesis in plants. This happens using the redox reaction and what is called the ATP synthase. Thus ATP performs an energy function, and in the process is transformed into ADP and P, but then it is reformed from those two molecules back into ATP and the energy process starts all over. All of this takes place in the mitochondria or chloroplasts of a cell.
It is unlikely that I will ever completely understand the biochemical reactions that are taking place in our cells. And I certainly won't try to explain them in the way Lane does. What I will do is use some of Lane's own words to try to show the connection to the LivingPulse. I have already mentioned the use of energy to being like a switch moving from up to down as the ATP molecule powers a protein status change, and in the process is itself transformed into two separate molecules.
Then, to get back to the ATP molecule being reformulated using the energy of the sun thru photosynthesis in the chloroplasts, or of food in the mitochondria, Lane says the following: “We still don't know exactly how it works—how each proton binds on to the C-ring within the membrane, how electrostatic interactions spin this ring in one direction only, how the spinning ring twists the crank shaft, forcing conformational changes in the catalytic head, how the clefts in the head clasp ADP and P, and force them together in a mechanical union, to press a new ATP. This is precise nanoengineering of the highest order, a magical device, and the more we learn about it the more marvelous it becomes.”
He goes on to say that the ATP synthase is found in basically all bacteria, all archea, and all eukaryotes, which are the three domains of life previously discussed. In essence, energy is the driving force of all life on this planet, and ATP starts the process by “flipping a switch up and down”, ATP is then broken apart, and then ATP is reformulated by electrostatic interactions spinning a ring to twist a crank shaft to force two molecules together. These are all pulses/vibrations taking place in the mitochondria or chloroplasts of every cell of every living being on the earth.
The man who developed much of the theory of chemiosmosis on which much of the above process depends is Peter Mitchell. Peter Mitchell is quoted as having said: “ I cannot consider the organism without its environment....From a formal point of view the two may be regarded as equivalent phases between which dynamic contact is maintained by the membranes that separate and link them”. This is more of a philosophical comment than a scientific one. I suggest you read his quote again, and maybe again, and then think deeply about it.
While we are on the subject of thinking deeply about something, I am going to mention something else that came out of the book discussed in the next paragraph. Issac Newton was given great props for discovering gravity by asking why the apple on the tree above his head fell to the ground instead of doing something else, like floating away. But perhaps the more important question is how the apple got there in the first place. We now know the answer; it happens because of photosynthesis within the chloroplasts: some air, some water and sunlight and---we have an apple. Included is a tiny bit of minerals from this rock called earth. It seems a miracle; a real miracle; a miracle that happens every day; and that to which we happen to be witness.
Moving on, and without getting into a discussion of quantum physics, Nick Lane's description of what happens in the mitochondria or chloroplasts could be described as classical physics. He also, however, uses the term 'quantum tunneling' very often in his analysis. Quantum tunneling and quantum physics are the focus of another book that came out in 2014: Life On The Edge, "The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology", by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili. They have been collaborating on this exciting new field, which brings together quantum physics, biochemistry and biology, for almost twenty years. This too, is not an easy read. Much of it is an attempt to explain quantum physics---as best they, or anyone, can. Quantum physics is all about the behavior of subatomic particles, as opposed to the particles or objects of which we are most aware. The first chapter of the book is titled “What is Life”. But there is another section in the book that seems particularly relevant to LivingPulse., and will be discussed.
We know that the biochemical processes that generate energy and ultimately growth in all cells, whether in the mitochondria or the chroloplasts, are basically the same. They have been discussed above, but mostly in a classical physics sort of way. Within quantum physics, there are behaviors which don't seem possible but which have mathematical foundations. One of these is wave-particle duality, where a particle or wave, can be both a wave and a particle at the same time. Another feature of the quantum world is called superpositioning whereby particles can do two, or a hundred , or a million things at once. What is important is that, for this to happen, the environment in which the particles exist, must be expressing coherence, as opposed to decoherence.
It has been thought that the environment within a cell was just too wet and warm and noisy for coherence to exist, and thus impossible for quantum behavior to be manifest. However, research on photosynthesis in a cell's chloroplasts is taking place as you and I are reading and studying. In a section of this book titled “Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations ( bop bop )”, the authors discuss research that suggests that both white noise (thermal molecular jostling) and colored noise (vibrations of large molecules within the chloroplasts) manage to keep decoherence at bay and enable the cell to maintain coherence resulting in the necessary movement of subatomic particles within the realm of what is considered quantum physics. Some of these particles are basically the photons of sunlight, thus enabling the cell to utilize these photons and the behaviors of other subatomic particles within the cell, bringing the cell, as the authors say “into sync to deliver the music of photosynthesis”, thus generating energy.
A third book has been published recently, titled I Contain Multitudes. It has a copyright of 2016 and its first chapter is titled “Living Islands”. It, too, discusses the origins of complex life as beginning with endosymbiosis between a bacteria and/or an archea to form a eukaryote. In addition, the author, Ed Yong, has done a great deal of research on the microbiome that lives on, and in, eukaryotes, including us. That microbiome, meaning bacteria, archea and viruses, inhabit our skin, gut, mouth, genitals; in essence, any part of us that comes into contact with the world outside of what we consider to be us. They help to digest our food; they produce vitamins and minerals that are missing from our diets; they break down toxins and hazardous chemicals in our environment; they protect us from more dangerous microbes and disease; they guide the construction of our bodies; they produce substances that affect the way we smell; they affect the development of our nervous system and perhaps even influence our behavior.
But then Yong asks the question: WHAT IS US? He points out that when we travel, they travel; when we eat, they eat; when we die, they consume us. Every one of us is in reality a zoo, formed by the symbiotic relationship between the organism we call us and the entirety of the microbiome, brought into existence over millions of years of evolution. We evolved from them, and we evolved with them; as did every other living organism on this planet. And the evolution of all organisms and the microbes followed the same natural laws. They all grow and reproduce from energy which produces pulses/vibrations in the process.
The microbes connect us to each other, and to the world. I cannot help but think back to the quote by Peter Mitchell above. It was “ I cannot consider the organism without its environment....From a formal point of view the two may be regarded as equivalent phases between which dynamic contact is maintained by the membranes that separate and link them”.
SO WHERE TO NOW
I guess a question here is whether LivingPulse could be thought of as a spirituality or a religion, and what is the difference in the two. Perhaps the difference was best distinguished by Rabbi Rami Shapiro who said: “Religion is about belonging, community, shared values, shared rituals, and mutual support. Spirituality is about living life without a net, forever surrendered to reality and meeting each moment with curiosity, wonder, gratitude, justice, humility, and love. The two are not antithetical. Religion is often a container in which spiritual practices are preserved and passed on. Some people find the container as helpful in what it contains and choose to belong to a specific religion. Others simply take what they need from the containers and fashion their own way.”
Given that definition, I would have to say that LivingPulse could be considered both a religion, and a form of spirituality. Another question might relate to whether a LivingPulse building could be considered a church? As I think about it, it seems to me that a church offers a community of individuals who share a belief in a common dogma and practice rituals that enforce both the community and the common belief system. I see LivingPulse as bringing together a community of individuals that share a common belief system, but who practice different rituals depending on the subset of the community to which they belong. That is, are they dancers, musicians, trail runners, meditation practitioners etc.?
Perhaps the main difference in religion and spirituality is in one of the main beliefs, and how one relates to that belief. Marcus Du Sautoy in his book The Great Unknown discusses the thoughts of the noted theologian and Dominican priest Herbert McCabe (1926-2001), and points out the McCabe seems to have hit on the major issue. He says McCabe “ warned that the fault of religion was always to make this God into a thing rather than a philosophical idea. The problem was that religion far too often commits idolatry by trying to engage too personally with the concept of God. The trouble is that an undefined, unknowable, transcendent concept is too abstract for many to engage with. It can't offer the sort of consolation that many seek. So perhaps it is inevitable that God's potency depends on becoming a little less transcendent, and more tangible.”
That appears to be a major issue. While LivingPulse is, I believe, tangible, and much science seems to support that it is, it is not personal. And perhaps when one thinks of a religion, it relates to a personal god, who generally has human features and who loves us, and to whom one can pray and request favors. A spiritual practice may or may not have that personal god. Clearly, a connection with the LivingPulse can be spiritual, and I think religious, but it does not have a personal god with a human form and prayers to LivingPulse would seem kind of ludicrous. After all, there is no LivingPulse separate from one's own being. There is only the pulse, the LivingPulse.
So if LivingPulse does not offer the love of a god, can those who desire to feel or have love in their life as part of a spiritual practice have any interest in LivingPulse? The ancient Greeks had at least four, and maybe eight, separate words to describe love. One of them, agape, can be described as “unconditional love”, generally speaking for all humans, but not necessarily. Many current religions would also use that word to describe god's unconditional love for us. And Buddhists could be thought of as being in touch with that word in their idea of metta or universal loving kindness.
Another Greek word is philia, which describes the brotherly love between comrades who had fought together on the battlefield and expressed the concepts of loyalty and sacrifice. It was used to describe love among equals. If all life comes from the same ancestor, and is equal, then perhaps this word can be used to describe the struggle that existence offers for all life. Anyone who has ever spent time in the wilderness during a major storm feels a certain comraderie with the other beings who are having the same experience.
A third word is philautia, which can be thought of as self love. Not the narcissistic kind, but in the concept that if you love and are secure in yourself, you are more likely to share that feeling with others. Supposedly Aristotle said: “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man's feelings for himself”.
So my own sense is that love does clearly belong in the LivingPulse. And that it does so in some combination of ideas as expressed by agape, philia, and philautia. I can attest to the fact that I have felt some combination of all three of them. But, to be clear, LivingPulse is not about some entity that is separate from us giving unconditional love back to us. It is about feeling yourself as part of an entity and there is love, both given and received, because you feel yourself in coherence.
When writing the above paragraph, I planned on ending the last sentence with the word 'connectedness', but because I had already used it many times, I decided to look for a synonym. When doing so, the word 'coherence' jumped forth from the options. It is a word that can be used to describe entities being part of a unified whole, but it is also used in quantum physics. I mentioned the term above in the science section. In quantum physics, it refers to a lot of things, one of which is the idea of wave-particle duality in sub-atomic particles. In its simplest terms, when a system is in coherence, particles are expressed as waves, and when the system is in decoherence, waves are expressed as particles. Or at least, the way we perceive them is as either particles or waves. It would be ridiculous of me to suggest that a goal of LivingPulse would be to enter into coherence in any sort of quantum physics state. But it remains an idea to be researched and explored.
The goal of LivingPulse is to create an organization that enables individuals to come together and practice rituals that enable them to understand and feel the oneness with all life. That connection has on occasion been felt by me personally, and has been discussed over many years by many philosophers. In recent years, it seems that scientific research is discovering the physical basis on which that connection exists. The above sections hopefully offered some insight into both the personal, philosophical, and scientific underpinnings.
But with science and philosophy, much of what one practices in this regard is in one's head --- in our thinking about coherence. Ideally, LivingPulse will offer discussions on the subject, but its real goal is to offer rituals that get one out of one's head, and to a place where they just feel the pulse.