Now Again?

Here’s a fun fact:

Closer to an object with mass time moves more slowly compared to further away from the mass. That’s relativity. That’s why things fall (huh?). That is gravity. Which is cause and effect? Gravity slowing time, time slowing being gravity! Scientists also talk about bending space. Time dilates, space contracts. Same issues.

More details later.

But for now, let this sink in. so assuming you are on earth, if you are standing or sitting up, even slouching, your feet are in a different time zone (or if your prefer, space-time zone) from your gut, which is in a different zone from your head. Your chin from your brain.

That time difference, that space difference, that space-time difference, can actually be measured using modern technology.

So, where is now? When is here?

You can’t hold it.

My New Novel

Cover of my first novel. You can look at ralphlevinson.com for more

I am getting ready to self publish this novel for older kids (and grown ups!). It is the second novel about Aidan who travels through time and space in his dreams to solve cosmic mysteries. I’m waiting for my friend who is working on the cover then there’s always this and that to do. Self publishing means each hard copy is a bit expensive, but it will be on kindle and nook and if you know someone who cant afford a copy let me know. I just like hard copies! Anyway heres the first five chapters just for fun.

In this novel he has to solve the mystery of the golden feather; he goes to Tang China, Nalanda the Buddhist university in ancient India, meets a naga, Taxila where Alexander’s troops are ready to invade the Indus Valley, an Ancient Greek island and finally faces a cosmic battle in the realm of the dead in Ancient Egypt.

Busy boy!

One of his mentors is Wise-and-Able, Red Pine’s translation of the name of the 6th ancestor of Zen in China, Hui Neng.

Enjoy (note the spaces are a feature of the website; ignore) :

 

Aidan and the Mummy girl Save the Universe

 

Dedicated to those who try not to be trapped by their stories

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1.          That Mummy Case!

 

Aidan Alvarado was sure that this time he would open the door to his grandfather’s study.

This was the day.

Now was the time.

Aidan took the large, old-fashioned metal key out of his pocket and inserted it into the lock. All he had to do was turn the key. The key he got as a present four months earlier on his eleventh birthday.

Just turn the key, he told himself. It won’t turn by itself.

Or maybe it would, Aidan thought. He wouldn’t put it past the study to give him a nudge if the time was right.

Maybe the time wasn’t right.

The key wasn’t turning by itself.

And Aidan wasn’t turning the key either.

KoKo, his grandparents’ mostly black German shepherd, nuzzled Aidan’s arm.

“Don’t rush me, KoKo.”

Ever since Aidan and his friends saved the world and he became a dream detective, Aidan wanted to follow his grandfather’s advice and just be a kid again for a while. No special study that gave you clues. No traveling through time and space in his dreams. No need to worry about the greedy ancient Chinese General Ling or the powerful renegade dream detective Diamante Petrus trying to kidnap Lotus, a dragon princess, so they could force her father, the dragon king of the East Ocean, to use his awesome power to help them rule the world.

All Aidan really wanted to do was play soccer. Except now there was the matter of his report card. Awful. Really, it was worse than awful. How about dismal? Thing was, he just didn’t care all that much; homework and studying and grades seemed kind of lame after all he had been through. This attitude was not going over so well with his mother, not only because she was a teacher, but mostly because she was a mother, always looking for things to worry about. And now his report card was something for her to worry about. She might decide soccer was a distraction. That could mean no soccer, and that would be really awful and dismal!

Maybe the study would have an answer. Aidan just didn’t want it all to start up again, at least not yet. Being a dream detective and saving the world was exhausting.

“It’s okay, Aidan. You’ll know when to open the door,” Aidan’s grandfather, Emanuel Prosperowitz, called out from inside the study. “But I’m kind of bored. Why don’t you come in and keep me company?”

Aidan didn’t believe his grandfather for a minute. His grandfather was never bored. Still, somehow, Aidan’s hand was turning the key and the door slowly swung open.

The musty, dusty smell of old books swept over Aidan as soon as the door started to open, and musty and dusty smelled like adventure and mystery.

“Wow,” Aidan thought, “what was I waiting for?”

Aidan’s grandfather was sitting in one of the two large ratty old over-stuffed chairs in the study. His grandmother, Jane Prosperowitz, was sitting in the other one.

“Sleeping well?” his grandfather asked. “Any special dreams lately?”

“I thought you were bored and needed company?” Aidan challenged.

“Just kidding. Jane would never let me be bored,” his grandfather responded, laughing at his little joke as Aidan’s grandmother rolled her eyes. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

“No, Grandpa, just regular dreams.” Aidan was pretty sure his grandparents already knew that.

“I had an interesting dream about the Emperor Wu,” his grandmother offered.

Aidan flinched. At the end of his first case Emperor Wu told Aidan that she would need his help as a dream detective again.

“Does anything in the study grab you?” his grandmother asked.

Looking around his grandfather’s study was not simple. The shelves went up thirty feet and books and papers were piled up and scattered around everywhere. Aidan scanned the library quickly since thinking too much got in the way. The idea was to let the study help you. It would tell you somehow what was important. On top of the old wooden filing cabinet there was a large feather that he hadn’t noticed before. A feather, he decided, wasn’t nearly as interesting as the fossil dinosaur skull or the samurai sword, but those were old news.

Aidan shrugged. “Is this a test or something?”

“No, really, we’re stuck. We’d like your help. Look again,” his grandfather requested.

Aidan looked all the way up to the top shelves. Nothing glowed. Nothing shifted. Nothing did anything. He walked over to the ladder by the shelves and climbed up a few rungs. He closed his eyes and reached out. His hand touched a book. Aidan took the book off the shelf and climbed down, still without looking at it.

His grandparents were smiling.

“You’re really getting the hang of the study!” his grandmother beamed.

Aidan loved her smile. Few things in the world were that warm and sincere.

Aidan read the title of the book out loud. “‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead.’ Wow, that’s kind of creepy. But what does that have to do with dreams about Emperor Wu? I mean, she’s not from Egypt.”

His grandparents looked at each other and his grandmother nodded. “That’s right. She lived 1300 years ago and the ‘Egyptian Book of the Dead’ was first written about 3500 years ago—”

“That’s not exactly true,” his grandfather interrupted. “The first complete religious writings we still have in the world were spells for dead ancient Egyptian kings, the pharaohs, that were carved on the walls of some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids about 4200 years ago. They’re called the pyramid texts. A few hundred years later some of the spells from the pyramid texts, and some new ones, were written on coffins, so they’re called the coffin texts. They were important because they weren’t just for the pharaohs. A couple of hundred years after the coffin texts, about 3500 years ago, collections of spells and instructions for the dead were written on papyrus scrolls or tomb walls. That’s what we call ‘The Book of the Dead.’ The ancient Egyptians didn’t call it that. They called that collection of writings ‘Coming Forth by Day.’”

“You mean the dead came out in the day?” Aidan was getting interested. “Like zombies?”

Before his grandfather could answer, Aidan found himself looking at the mummy case standing in the corner.

That mummy case! When Aidan first met Diamante Petrus he almost convinced Aidan that there was a mummy in there. That was just mean. But it wasn’t the meanest thing Diamante Petrus did. He pulled a gun on Aidan and his friends (sure, it wasn’t loaded, but still!) and tried to kidnap his friend Denise Hu and steal the piece of the vase with the dragon spirit so he could rule the world. So, Aidan was not in the mood for anything to do with that mummy case.

Aidan looked away.

Then he looked back.

Then away.

But it was no good.

Aidan sighed. “This is gonna be about that mummy case and Mr. Petrus, isn’t it?”

His grandparents both nodded.

Aidan moaned. “This isn’t gonna be good for my grades or for soccer, is it?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” his grandmother said.

“I’m gonna have to see that Petrus guy again,” Aidan grumbled.

His grandfather shrugged. “You might. But so what? You can handle it. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy.”

“Not such a bad guy? The whole gun and rule the world thing seems bad guy enough for me.”

His grandmother laughed. “He got carried away, but we should give him a chance to redeem himself. He was really sorry. Believe it or not, he had his reasons, and they weren’t all bad. He wanted to fix things that are really broken in the world. He thought he could use the dragon’s power to make the world a better place. Sure, he got carried away and went a bit crazy—”

Aidan exploded. “Sometimes you two drive mecrazy! I know he’s your friend, and you think he’s okay, and he meant well and you like to be nice, but you can’t be thatblind, can you?”

His grandfather stood up. “Show your grandmother a little respect, young man. This is a big world and for dream detectives it’s vastlybigger than most people can imagine. You still have a lot to learn—”

“My goodness, really, both of you! What did I just say about not getting ahead of ourselves?” Aidan’s grandmother admonished.

“Sorry,” Aidan and his grandfather said at the same time.

Actually, Aidan was a bit surprised. He knew his grandmother was the top dream detective, but only because that’s what they told him. His grandfather was a brilliant scientist and physician before he retired, and this was his study. Aidan never saw his grandmother shut his grandfather down and take charge quite like that before.

“Back to business!” his grandmother ordered. “Aidan, I think you’re right, something is brewing and it likely has to do with that mummy case because the study clearly spoke to you just now.” She took the book from Aidan and put it aside. “But I’m also not sure what all this has to do with Emperor Wu.”

“Or Diamante Petrus?” Aidan asked.

“Or Diamante Petrus,” his grandmother agreed.

KoKo nudged Aidan. She had left while they were talking and now returned with a rubber ball in her mouth.

“Are we done? Can I play with KoKo now?” Aidan asked as he took the ball from KoKo.

“Are you sure you haven’t had any special dreams?” his grandfather asked.

“Nope. No special dreams.”

His grandparents nodded again, but they didn’t say anything. They were lost in thought. Aidan took that as an opening to leave and play with the dog.

Aidan thought about what just happened in the study as he kicked the ball in the back yard for KoKo to chase. He wasn’t sure an adventure would be so bad. He’d probably see Lotus, the girl who used to be the dragon named Princess Peace, again. That would be awesome. But he was telling the truth. He wasn’t having any special dreams.

And there was still the matter of his report card.

 

When Aidan got home he figured it was time to face the music. By “the music” Aidan meant the loud and high-pitched sound of his mother’s voice when she saw his report card.

He waited until after dinner to give her the report card. His mother, Anna Prosperowitz Alvarado, looked it over for all of five seconds, and then handed it back to him.

“There’s been some mistake,” she announced.

“No mistake,” he murmured.

“Oh, there’s been a mistake. My mistake. I believed you when you told me last month that you would bring your grades up. I thought I could trust you.”

Aidan started to protest, but stopped himself. Not only would it make things worse if he seemed to be arguing with her, but also, maybe she was right!

“I’ll do better. Really.”

“Please, Aidan. It wouldn’t take much. Is there something wrong? Are you depressed? It’s not drugs, is it? A bully? You can tell me. We’ll get help.”

Aidan felt like he had been punched in the stomach. It was easier when he thought she would be mad at him. Now, he wanted to be mad at her; how could she think that?

But he knew how she could think that. It’s what they tell parents. Look for the signs. And his grades being in the toilet was a sign of something. Just not the something she thought. It was only that school didn’t seem all that relevant after his dream detective adventures.

She looked so down, so defeated.

“No mom, it’s alright. I just haven’t been interested.”

“What would get you more interested? I mean it. What do we have to do?”

Aidan hugged her. “Give me time. I’ll try, really I will.”

“Hey, I have an idea. How about no more soccer? Will that motivate you to try?”

Ouch. “Please don’t make me stop soccer. That would be really depressing!”

His mother stared him down. “Okay, one more chance. I want to see a B or better on every test. One C and no more soccer this spring.”

Aidan had to agree. He had no choice. If that’s what it took to keep playing soccer, he would buckle down and make himself study.

Anyway, maybe the whole dream detective thing wouldn’t happen now. Maybe his grandparents got what they needed from him. Maybe there wouldn’t be any special dreams for a while.

Though he was pretty sure that was notgoing to happen!

 

Chapter 2. The Girl With a Plan

 

When Aidan woke up the next morning he was relieved to find that as far as he could remember he had no dreams at all. He was well rested and ready for school…

Then it hit him. He had a test in history! If only the test was about Emperor Wu he’d ace it, but no such luck. Aidan tried to talk himself down. One step at a time, just slow down, he told himself. Was that test today? Oh, please, no, not today! He stepped over his clothes on the floor from the night before, dove at his desk, and opened his notebook. Tomorrow! The test was tomorrow! What a lucky break. Aidan instructed his heart to slow down. His heart didn’t listen right away, and so he took a slow deep breath counting to five in and five out, like his grandfather taught him to do (well, what his grandfather said was: “if things get weird take a deep breath;” this wasn’t really weird, but close enough). His grandmother told him to breathe in and smell the soup, breathe out and cool the soup. They were really into this breathing thing.

Whatever. Aidan wasn’t sure breathing like that helped all that much. Sometimes if he used the “smell the soup” trick, all it did was make him hungry thinking about the soup, especially tomato soup, his favorite. At least breathing slowly was something he could do when he didn’t know what else to do, so he did a couple of minutes of smelling the soup breathing and his heart did slow down.

He had a day to prepare for the test. Tonight, he decided, he would actually study for the test. He used to study before the whole dream detective saving the world thing. Studying for tests was just something he didn’t want to do. Most things they wanted him to learn didn’t seem all that interesting or important. But he had to study if he wanted to play soccer, and he really wanted to play soccer, so he had to study.

Wait a minute! This afternoon was soccer practice. Dang! That was a bit twisted. He had to skip soccer to be able to play soccer. He didn’t like it, but that’s how it had to be.

The school day went by pretty quickly, mostly because Aidan doodled and daydreamed to pass the time when he wasn’t interested in what was going on. Aidan really liked drawing the wild, long flowing beard of the Old Sage. When he was sure no one could see what he was doing he’d sketch butterflies. In old China, Aidan’s name was Butterfly. That’s what the Teacher of the Way of Wisdom, Wise-and-Able, called him because in Aidan’s first dream as a student dream detective the Old Sage told Aidan that he, the Old Sage, dreamt he was a butterfly, then when the Old Sage woke up he wondered if he was a butterfly dreaming he was the Old Sage!

Aidan still wondered about that. Was the Old Sage for real? It seemed so dumb to think butterflies could dream. Did he really think he was a dream in some tiny butterfly head? How big could a butterfly brain be? Like, maybe as big as a grain or two of sand? Was that big enough to be able to dream about old sages? How big did a brain have to be to do that? Still, given all the crazy things Aidan had been through, it didn’t seem all that big a stretch to imagine that butterflies could dream, maybe even about being the Old Sage.

Thinking about this kind of thing made paying attention to schoolwork tough.

After school Aidan rushed off toward the soccer field, forgetting he was going to skip practice that afternoon so he could study. He wanted to get there early so he could work on the Okocha kick, named after the professional soccer player who first made it a thing, where he would flick-kick the soccer ball over his head and when it landed he could change direction or pass the ball. He could do it pretty well, but he never used that move in a game, of course. It was too risky.

Aidan practiced dribbling an imaginary soccer ball as he hurried to make it to practice when he remembered that he had to study for the history test. He stopped short, did an about-face, and found himself face to face with Denise Hu.

“Hey Aidan, where are you going? You seem all turned around!”

Denise was a year younger than Aidan. Her brother, Jeremiah, was in Aidan’s class and had been Aidan’s number one enemy, a bully who only bullied Aidan. Aidan had to admit it was his own fault. He started the feud by calling Jeremiah “Jerry Berry Brain.” The bullying stopped when Denise, who was out of school because she was very sick, told Jeremiah that she needed Aidan’s help to get better. It wasn’t a coincidence that Aidan needed their help in his first case as a student dream detective. Denise and Jeremiah completed the mission by braving the waves in the Santa Monica Bay, releasing the dragon girl’s spirit from a piece of the vase that their parents brought with them when they immigrated from China.

The effort had almost killed Denise.

“Hey Denise. I was gonna go to soccer practice, but I remembered I have to study,” Aidan said.

“That explains it.”

“Yeah. See you later, Denise.”

“Wait a minute,” Denise called out to Aidan as he started to walk past her. “I think Jeremiah’s, I dunno, maybe not doing so well in school.”

“Uh, I guess.” Aidan shrugged. “I mean, really, I’m not sure. He’s always been quiet in class.”

Aidan started to walk off again, thinking the conversation was over, but Denise walked with him.

“Our parents sent me to my room last night and it didn’t sound like they were exactly celebrating with Jeremiah.”

“Bad report card?” Aidan asked. Welcome to my world, he thought.

“Me? No, mine was great,” Denise said. Aidan started to object. “Oh, you mean his,not mine… oh yeah, I think so. Musta been real bad. My dad looked like he ate something rotten and needed to puke and my mom looked like she wanted to cry before they sent me to my room. I thought you guys were friends. How come you never hang out together? Jeremiah really liked the study.”

“Oh, yeah, we’re friends. But I got soccer—”

Denise tilted her head. “If soccer’s such a big deal why aren’t you walking that way?” she asked, pointing over his shoulder toward the soccer field. “Your report card wasn’t so good either, was it?”

Aidan shrugged. “No big deal.”

“What’s with you guys? You need to move on. Stop moping around. Maybe you should take Jeremiah to the study again.”

“Sure, great idea,” Aidan shot back.

“Don’t be sarcastic. It is a great idea.”

“Does Jeremiah think so?”

Denise was quiet for a few steps. “I haven’t asked him. He doesn’t like to talk about the whole thing.”

“Bet youdo.”

“Yes, I do, but who would I tell? Who besides you guys would I talk to about that stuff and not seem totally nuts? It was amazing. I felt her, you know. I felt Princess Peace, Lotus the dragon girl, all through me. I felt what it was to be a water spirit.”

“I felt cold and scared.” As soon as Aidan said the word “scared” he was sorry. “I mean, you don’t know what—”

“No, I don’t know what it was like for you, but I know what it was like for her. And me,” Denise interrupted. “And I know you and Jeremiah should be friends. You both need the study.”

“How do you know I haven’t been back?”

“Have you?”

“Yesterday.”

“For real?”

Aidan nodded and frowned. “I’m not a liar.”

“Good. It’s about time. Now bring Jeremiah. Like, form a club or something. Call it ‘The Club of The Secret Magic Study.’ No girls allowed, just a couple of boys or something. No, wait. Forget that! Bring me too!” Her face lit up, as if she never thought of that before and it was just the most fun thing she could ever imagine. “How about it? Me and you and Jeremiah, we all go to the study.”

“Do you really want to?”

“Gee, I thought you’d never ask,” Denise answered with a huge smile.

“You’re playing with me, aren’t you? You wanted me to invite you!”

“I really would love to see the study. And meet KoKo,” Denise added.

“Okay, maybe this weekend.”

Denise pulled on his arm. She was almost as tall as Aidan, and now that she was healthy she was strong like her brother. Aidan thought she could beat him easily in a wrestling match. “I’m doing much better now. I almost never miss school anymore. You saved my life, Butterfly.”

“Aidan. In Los Angeles my name is Aidan. And I don’t think I did. You did. And the medicine.”

“If that’s what you want to believe, go ahead. But you really are a hero anyway,” Denise said.

Aidan rolled his eyes.

“You can roll your eyes and make all the faces you want, but I’m the smart one with the good report card, and you know I’m right. So see you after the soccer game on Saturday and we’ll go to the study. I’ll make sure Jeremiah comes.” Denise spun around and saw some girls from her class and called out, “Hey, wait for me!” in what Aidan thought was a way too cheery voice, and then ran off to join them without even saying goodbye.

 

Once Aidan started studying it wasn’t so bad. When his mind drifted to pondering dreaming butterflies or wondering how in the world his grandparents could even think of trusting Diamante Petrus, he would take some deep breaths and get back to studying.

After studying, Aidan worked on a Lego Star Wars kit. When he was younger all he wanted to do was finish and play with whatever he was building. Now Aidan liked building mostly because concentrating on following the instructions step by step helped him settle down. It worked. He didn’t worry too much about the dreams. When he was done with the Lego project he went to bed and fell right to sleep.

And he fell right into a special dream.

 

Chapter 3. Do Alligators Smile?

 

 

Aidan knew right away that this was not an ordinary dream. He was in a long, wide, hallway dimly lit by Chinese paper lanterns. The hallway had red wooden ceiling beams with carved and painted dragons on them and Chinese scroll paintings hanging on the walls.

Okaaaaay… maybe he was back in Emperor Wu’s China.

Would that mean Lotus was around? When he last saw Lotus she was living as a human girl in Emperor Wu’s palace, her dragon spirit safely hidden by the Old Sage in the small white vase. He really wanted to see her again. Sure, the dimly lit hallway was spooky, but he could deal with that if it meant he would be with Lotus.

There was a large round shadow at the end of the hall. What, he wondered, could be casting that shadow? As his eyes adjusted to the flickering yellow light produced by the lanterns, Aidan was beginning to make out a shape in the shadow. Just as it was all coming into focus he heard Lotus’s voice behind him.

“Butterfly, don’t say anything. Don’t make a sound. We have to move slowly. Step away from that thing.” She didn’t sound surprised to see him. Then again, she didn’t exactly sound happy to see him, either. She sounded really, really scared.

Aidan didn’t have to ask what thing she meant. The shape at the end of the hallway was huge. It filled up almost the entire eight-foot height and ten-foot width of the hallway.

It looked like the butt of a huge hippopotamus with a little flicking tail and stubby hippo legs.

“Why is there a big hippo in your hallway, Lotus? And hi, great to see you, too.”

“I don’t have any idea why that beast is here. But it isn’t just a hippo. Please, just step back and be quiet.”

The big butt down the hall shifted back and forth as the tail wagged.

“I think it heard us,” Lotus whispered with increasing urgency.

“But it looks like such a happy butt.” Aidan started to laugh at his joke when the beast managed to pivot itself around, and Aidan was not looking at a happy hippo butt anymore.

Aidan was now looking at a huge alligator face and jaws surrounded by a thick, golden lion’s mane, a very powerful lion’s chest, and a lion’s strong front legs.

The alligator looked like it was smiling.

“Do alligators smile? Maybe it’s friendly—” Aidan whispered.

“That has to be one of the dumbest questions asked at the dumbest time to ask the dumbest question ever. I think we might think about running right now,” Lotus said as she turned and tried to run. She almost fell over since the long silk dress she wore was not made for running. Princesses in China didn’t run! She lifted the dress above her knees and she was gone before Aidan stopped laughing. Somehow this seemed unreal to Aidan, like a cartoon. He couldn’t take it seriously.

The hallway shook with the deep vibration of a voice that came from everywhere at once. Even though the alligator’s mouth was open, it obviously couldn’t be speaking, yet Aidan was sure the booming voice came from the freaky beast. Very weird, Aidan thought, even for a dream.

”I will eat your heart. I will eat your mind. You will cease to be now and forever, here and in the afterlife. I know you; I know your name! You are Butterfly, you are Aidan Alvarado, I had you in my power and you cheated me! I have come here to find you, to stop you, and now you are MINE!”

The alligator face was laughing, Aidan was sure of it. Aidan, on the other hand, was not laughing anymore. That thing may have been laughing at him, but it was notfriendly! The beast tried to lunge at Aidan, but its stubby hippo back legs couldn’t keep up with the lion’s long front legs, so it only lurched forward awkwardly with a clumsy waddle.

Aidan turned and ran right into twenty of Emperor Wu’s Imperial Guards. They looked mad and scared. They clearly had no idea what that thing was or what they could do about it.

“Aidan, you know what to do!”

Aidan knew that voice coming from behind the Imperial Guards.

Diamante Petrus!

The tall, angular figure lurking in the shadows sure looked like Diamante Petrus. The guards parted and there was no doubt about it when Mr. Petrus walked out of the darkness into the light of one of the lanterns. Aidan noticed that his long sandy colored hair had more grey than he remembered.

“No, I don’tknow what to do. I don’t have a clue!” Aidan protested. He really was not in the mood to deal with Mr. Petrus. “You know, between you and the alligator-lion-hippo thing, maybe I’m better off with that beast!”

“Really?” Mr. Petrus asked, pointing past Aidan, “You might want to rethink that.”

The bizarre creature was moving faster and faster as it built up steam. It let out something between a roar and a hiss that shook the walls.

“It wants you, Aidan. But the time’s not right. Tell it. Tell it you know its name. It is Ammut. It doesn’t belong here. It doesn’t belong now. Tell it so!”

Aidan didn’t have a better idea. He saw Lotus behind the guards, but he knew that if he didn’t act soon they would all be alligator-lion-hippo food. He turned to the beast, now only two clumsy hippo-lion steps away. Aidan could smell its hot, wet, stinking rotten meat and dead fish breath.

“Ammut! I know your name. Go back where you came from. No hearts or minds for a snack for you! Not here, not tonight!”

The beast screeched and howled and tried to leap forward but just as its six-foot-long, tooth-filled, snapping jaws were less than a foot away from Aidan’s head, it disappeared.

Gone. Just like that. It was completely not there.

 

Aidan woke up.

I might as well kiss soccer goodbye, Aidan thought; this is going to cut wayinto my studying.

 

 

 

Chapter 4.  The Feather and the Mummy Case

 

Aidan was wrong about the effect the dream would have on his schoolwork, at least for the time being. Despite the dream, he got an A on his test the next day. For now, his world was safe for soccer.

In fact, he refused to even think about the dream.

Dream detective? Not today, thanks. I’m just a kid in school trying to keep my grades up.

Go to the study at his grandparents’ house and try to learn about the weirdo freak of nature that eats hearts and minds? Nah, I’m good.

What was Mr. Petrus doing in my dream? Whatever.

Aidan had a soccer game in two days. He wouldn’t sleep if that was what he had to do to avoid the special dreams.

Although, not sleeping wouldn’t help his soccer skills.

Fortunately, he did sleep the next two nights and he didn’t have any dreams. Maybe that was how it worked. Maybe he really could simply refuse to have the special dreams.

 

Saturday morning, Aidan was thrilled. No dreams, a great grade on the test, and he was ready for action. Before the game, he warmed up with his teammate Shirin. Shirin was athletic, graceful and sure of herself. She was very serious, one of those people who worked hard at being great at everything. Aidan figured she barely knew his name. Would she be impressed, he wondered, if she knew he was a dream detective?

Aidan was in the zone from the start of the game. His eyes knew just where to look across the sunny field to see where the action was. His feet knew just how to pivot on the slick grass when he needed to and how to handle the ball in every situation. The ball did what he wanted it to do without him having to think about how to make it happen, whether he was deftly dribbling, kicking the ball hard when passing and shooting, or putting a bit of spin on it when a bit of spin would put it exactly where he wanted it to be.

Aidan scored a goal in the first quarter, and in the second quarter he took the ball from Milano, the other team’s best player, just as Milano was about to take a shot that certainly would have scored because the goalie on Aidan’s team wasn’t in position.

With less than a minute left in the game, Aidan had the ball and he was on fire. The score was tied at two all. He just knewhe could pull this off. The ball responded perfectly to each tap from Aidan’s foot. He easily passed two players when, out of nowhere, looming large right in front of him, was Milano. Milano had that look on his face, the look that said “payback time.” To Aidan’s right, his teammate Brian, “I’m so great” Brian, was waving his long tan arms at him. Even though Aidan didn’t like to admit it, Brian was the best player on their team and everybody knew it. The other team didn’t have Brian covered for the first time in the whole game, but he wouldn’t stay open for long. To Aidan’s left and a little in front was Shirin, with a player from the opposing team guarding her closely. Shirin was gesturing and shouting to Aidan to pass the ball to Brian. Aidan knew he should pass to Brian, but he wanted to see if there was any way he could pass to Shirin and give her a shot at being the hero.

When Aidan decided he’d better pass to somebody, he was stunned. Where was the ball? In the maybe two seconds that Aidan was watching Shirin, Milano took the ball right from under his nose. Aidan ran after him, but Milano and the ball were already far out of his reach.

It was over in less than ten seconds. Aidan’s team lost, three to two.

They lined up to congratulate the other team. When Aidan got to Milano, Milano just shrugged and smiled as if to say, “You tried. You’re really pretty good, but you aren’t as good as me. It’s not your fault. Mess with me and that’s what happens.” Milano wasn’t really gloating. At least that’s what Aidan thought Milano’s shrug and smile said. Aidan didn’t mind so much, because it was probably true.

It was his own teammates that Aidan was worried about. Shirin was looking at him hard and without mercy. She then turned away and he thought he saw her wipe her eyes. Was she crying? He couldn’t tell if she had really started to cry, but she was pointedly not looking at him anymore.

Brian then “accidently” shoulder blocked him hard enough that Aidan fell on his butt. Brian offered his hand to help him stand up.

“Need help walking? I guess passing to an open player is too hard, but I thought at least you still knew how to walk.”

Aidan didn’t take Brian’s hand. He tried to think of a witty comeback, but while he was thinking Brian walked off. There was nothing he could say anyway. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he thought Brian was right.

He messed up. He let them all down, big time. He was on his butt on the ground. He felt like he was going to cry.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry…

Aidan managed not to cry. Barely.

After a few moments on the ground he stood up and tried to look like none of it mattered. It was all in good fun (not!).

Aidan only remembered that he agreed to go to the study with Denise and Jeremiah when he saw them standing by a tree watching him just a few yards away. Denise waved and Jeremiah stood there, arms folded over his chest, shaking his head.

“Great game, Aidan!” Denise said.

“What are you talking about? I blew it,” Aidan grumbled.

“Don’t feel so sorry for yourself. That guy Milano’s good. Stuff happens. You played great. You shouldn’t let Brian push you around,” Denise said.

“Thanks, Denise, I didn’t think of that. I feel muchbetter.”

“You like Shirin, I can tell,” Denise teased, ignoring his snarky response.

“No I don’t. I mean, sure, yeah I do, but not likelike her.”

“Oh yeah you do,” Jeremiah jumped in. “You like likelike her.”

Aidan blushed.

Denise punched Jeremiah on the arm. “The study, remember?”

 

Aidan unlocked the door to his grandparents’ house and KoKo came running up to them. After they petted her, KoKo ran for a toy and Jeremiah started playing with her.

“Grandma? Grandpa?” Aidan called out, but his grandparents weren’t home.

Denise tugged Aidan’s sleeve. “The study.”

KoKo looked at Denise, dropped the toy, loped down the hall, and sat in front of the study door. Aidan and Jeremiah looked at each other.

“Girls stick together,” Aidan said. Jeremiah nodded.

Aidan unlocked the study door and made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm, inviting Denise to enter first.

Denise didn’t look around. She went straight to the feather on the filing cabinet. Huh, Aidan thought, he did notice that feather when he was in the study the other day and he kind of blew it off. Not a good idea in the study.

“Oh, an ostrich feather, I think. It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, taking the feather and rubbing it across her face. “So soft.” She held it up to the side of her head. “It would be lovely to wear.” She saw some string around a stack of papers, untied it, and then tied it around her head. She stuck the feather in the string. As soon as she had the feather in place she turned toward the mummy case and pointed.

“That… is that real? Is all this real?” she asked.

Aidan and Jeremiah looked at each other and smiled. That was one of the first questions Jeremiah had asked when he was introduced to the study.

“People ask that in here a lot,” Aidan replied. “Yeah, it’s real. I think it’s like over 3000 years old. And no, there’s no mummy inside.”

Denise looked a little disappointed. She gently touched the mummy case, looked carefully at the face of a young girl carved on the lid, and then slowly examined the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. “Do you know what this means? Can you read what the pictures say?”

“No.”

Denise stooped to look more closely at the writing. “Wonder what it says. Look at this picture. It looks like a sitting woman with a feather in a band around her hair.”

All three of them looked at the small picture on the mummy case, then at Denise, and then at the picture again.

No one spoke.

No one moved.

Denise’s hand reached up to the feather she was wearing, but she didn’t touch it.

Jeremiah broke the silence. “You must have seen it out of the corner of your eye, or in a book or something. It’s probably just a coincidence.”

Aidan didn’t believe that for a minute. He just kept looking at the picture then at Denise.

Denise shot Jeremiah a sharp look.

So did KoKo.

Jeremiah shrugged. “Or maybe not.”

Denise gently took off the feather and string and put them back where she found them. “Are you having dreams again?”

Aidan nodded. He sat down in one of the two large old over-stuffed chairs. KoKo came over and put her head in his lap.

“I had one a couple of nights ago. I saw Lotus. And Diamante Petrus.”

Denise brightened up. “How did Lotus look? Was she dressed like a princess? Was she happy?”

“She looked like a princess. I guess she was happy, but it was…” Aidan didn’t want to get into it.

“It was what?” Jeremiah asked impatiently.

“It was a short dream.”

Jeremiah sat across from Aidan in the other large chair. “Diamante Petrus was there?” Jeremiah asked.

“Yeah. He helped me.”

“Helped you do what? Spit it out,” Jeremiah said. Denise nodded in agreement.

“A monster was after me. It said I tried to cheat it. But I never saw it before! I don’t know what it was talking about. Mr. Petrus told me how to make it disappear.”

Silence.

KoKo barked and put a paw on Aidan’s lap. She almost never did that.

“I don’t know anything for sure yet. It was all very fast and weird.”

More silence.

“Tell us if you need us,” Denise finally offered.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with you guys.”

Jeremiah stood up. “Nah, why should it? What could wepossibly have to do with it? We’renot dream detectives and all. Oh, wait, there was that whole thing at the beach, where I tackled the guy with the gun, and Denise knew what to do for Lotus and the dragon spirit, and now Denise with the feather in her hair…”

“No, I just mean, yeah, sorry, you’re right. I’ll let you know what I find out,” Aidan said.

Denise picked up the feather again. “You think this is important?”

“There was nothing about a feather in anybody’s hair in my dream.”

Jeremiah shook his head. “Don’t be dumb. Of course it’s important. I was wrong. That feather and the picture on the mummy case isn’t a coincidence. They’re clues. That’s how the study works, isn’t it?”

“I guess. Though you went for the samurai sword and the dinosaur skull when you first came in here, and those weren’t clues,” Aidan said.

“Okay, but they were things we both thought were cool. So it got us to be friends. Even if it’s not a clue, it can still be important,” Jeremiah said.

“This is awesome, but maybe I’ve had enough for now,” Denise sighed. She left the study without looking back, KoKo at her side. Jeremiah and Aidan hesitated for just a moment and then silently followed them out of the study.

Aidan locked the door behind them.

 

Aidan was sure that the feather had to be a clue. It caught his eye and Denise just had to pick it up and wear it. Then there was the picture on the mummy case…

That night Aidan surprised himself; he wanted to have another dream. He was, he decided, a dream detective. There was no fighting it. Might as well get into it.

 

 

Chapter 5. Be Careful Who You Pull a Knife On

 

Almost immediately after he closed his eyes to go to sleep Aidan found himself standing in a large open-air market. He was sure he was back in China, but this was nothing like anywhere he had been in his dreams before. The sun was high and bright, illuminating the vibrant colors all around him. To his left there were stalls selling spices and fruits and vegetables, and to his right merchants were offering bolts of silky material that shimmered. There was movement everywhere, sometimes slow, sometimes hurried, but constant. Strange new sounds reached Aidan from all around. There were the singsong calls from merchants announcing what they had to sell, people haggling and bargaining at almost every stall, and the braying of a donkey here and a camel there. The smell of spices mixed with the murky odors of animals and people seemed to vie for his attention, now lovely and fragrant, then a moment later, with a shift of the breeze or a large, hairy animal passing by and pooping, kind of yucky.

Standing beside him was Diamante Petrus.

Aidan had to appreciate what Mr. Petrus did for him in his last dream, but he still didn’t like him or trust him. He figured Mr. Petrus was after something, looking out for himself.

“What do youwant?” Aidan asked, not really wanting an answer. “I don’t see any monsters around,” he added before Mr. Petrus had a chance to reply.

“No, neither do I, but you should look at that man over there,” Diamante Petrus said, pointing with his chin to a large man who was definitely not Chinese. “I’ve had my eye on him.”

“Why?”

“I think he knows something we need to know. We have to follow him.”

“Why?”

Mr. Petrus scowled at Aidan. “Stop asking ‘why.’ It is unbecoming of a dream detective. You sound like a three-year-old.”

“You don’t know why, do you?” Aidan challenged.

“I don’t need to know why. He just seems to be around almost whenever and wherever I am here in Chang’an City. There’s some sort of connection. You have to notice these things if you’re going to be a dream detective, Aidan. You can’t just take in the sights and smells like an idle tourist. You have to sense when something, or someone, is important.”

“Yeah, I mean you can’t walk around like you’re asleep or dreaming or something,” Aidan replied in the snarkiest tone he had.

Mr. Petrus didn’t take his eyes off the man. “Exactly. Well said.”

Aidan figured that Mr. Petrus missed his sarcasm because he was just so full of himself that he was clueless. Aidan was about to say something when Mr. Petrus gave him a sharp look that clearly said, “I don’t miss anything.”

Aidan kept quiet and observed the large man that Mr. Petrus pointed out. He wore a dusty loose-fitting shirt and pants that had once been white but were now stained splotchy gray and brown. He stood near a fruit stall without looking at the fruit; he was watching the people passing by.

One of the people walking by just then was Ben Ming! Ben Ming, the soldier who became a student of the Way of Wisdom and saved Aidan and Lotus from General Ling in Aidan’s first dream detective case. Even in the crowded, dusty marketplace, the three long scars on Ben Ming’s face, his shaved head and dark patchwork robe were unmistakable. Aidan was thrilled to see him. He started to open his mouth to call out and lift his arm to wave, but Mr. Petrus touched his arm gently. “Hold on, Aidan. As the great detective Sherlock Holmes used to say, ‘the game’s afoot.’”

“You know Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a real person, right?”

“You know this is a dream, right?” Mr. Petrus shot back.

“Yeah, I mean, well, yeah, sure, but…” Aidan sputtered.

“Don’t get flustered, Aidan. You’re a dream detective. Have some dignity.” Then he added, more to himself than to Aidan, “Ah, yes, watch them carefully. Be patient. We are about to learn something about the connections.”

“Ah,” Aidan mimicked Mr. Petrus, hoping to annoy him, “the connections of what to what?”

“The connections of what to what? Really? Isn’t it clear? The connections between you and that monster, and that man and Ben Ming showing up here in Chang’an, all at pretty much the same time. Watch. That man will follow Ben Ming.”

Sure enough, as Ben Ming passed, the large man turned toward the fruit stall, his head down and face hidden. When Ben Ming was about twenty feet away, the man tossed a coin at the fruit merchant, picked up an orange, and started to peel it as he followed Ben Ming, his head still down.

As soon as Ben Ming got to the end of the row of merchants’ stalls, he ducked into a nearby alley.

Mr. Petrus nodded in approval. “Smart man, that Ben Ming. Time to move. Don’t run, Aidan. We don’t want to attract attention.”

The large man went inside a building on one side of the alley.

When Mr. Petrus saw the man disappear into the building, he started walking more briskly. Aidan fell behind and had to scurry to catch up. When they got to the alley, Aidan could see Ben Ming at the far end. He was just standing there. Suddenly the large man burst out of a doorway, swinging a large knife in a backhanded motion, slashing at Ben Ming’s throat. Ben Ming swirled around, grabbing the larger man’s wrist. Taking advantage of the man’s momentum Ben Ming pulled the knife-wielding arm across his own chest, putting pressure on his attacker’s elbow. The man tried to yank his arm back and Ben Ming flowed the other way, using his right leg to deftly sweep the man’s feet from under him. The large man hit the ground hard. Ben Ming put pressure on the man’s wrist, causing the fingers holding the knife to open, allowing him to disarm his assailant.

Ben Ming stepped back, holding the knife at the ready in his right hand.

“Wow, that was gangsta,” Aidan gasped.

“Yes, it was,” Mr. Petrus agreed. “Notice how Ben Ming backed away, staying alert. You might think to go down and hold the knife at the man’s throat or punch or kick him,” Mr. Petrus said with admiration. “That would be satisfying perhaps, but unless you needed to kill the man, it would be unnecessary and dangerous. You never know, the person you just took down may not be as down and out as you think, and he could easily have another weapon, or a friend lurking, waiting for a good time to assist him. Let’s go see who we have here.”

Ben Ming was watching the man on the ground carefully, glancing around in short spurts. Ben Ming saw Aidan and smiled.

“Butterfly, how wonderful,” Ben Ming called out, still alternately glancing around and keeping an eye on the man on the ground. “You’re just in time. I have someone here you might want to meet.” Ben Ming pointed to the man on the ground, who was moaning in pain. “Gupta, you slimy thief, say hello to my friend.”

“You know him?” Aidan asked.

“Gupta and his friends were responsible for this back in India,” Ben Ming said, pointing with his free hand to the three scars on his face.

Mr. Petrus nodded as if that was obvious.

“Thieves. I was done with my service in the army and I was looking for something to do when I met some pilgrims who were going on the long journey west to India to collect ancient books of teachings of The Way Of Wisdom to bring back to China. I signed on to protect them. After we got the books and started the trip back to China we were attacked by this man and his gang.”

Gupta bellowed, “My men will be here soon and you will die, unless you tell me where it is.”

“That’s not quite true,” Mr. Petrus said slowly and calmly. “This is what will happen. We will turn you over to the Emperor’s Ministry of Justice if you don’t tell us what we need to know. And they won’t be kind and soft-hearted like Ben Ming is.”

Gupta tried not to look frightened. From what Aidan had read, the Emperor’s Ministry of Justice was not a pleasant place. As a matter of fact, it could be real torture. Literally.

“You know what I want. Why I let you go. Why I followed you here. I couldn’t find it, but I know you have it,” Gupta managed to say between whimpers of pain.

“You followed me for over a year, across the desert caravan routes, here to the Chinese capital Chang’an… for what? For some old books?” Ben Ming asked.

Gupta tilted his head and stared at Ben Ming. “Books?” Gupta tried to laugh, but it came out like a sound an angry kitten might make. “Why would I care about old books? Don’t be a fool.” Gupta groaned, squeezing his eyes shut in pain. Then he opened his eyes wide as if seeing something new, something for the first time. “Wait a minute. You really don’tknow, do you?”

Mr. Petrus couldn’t hold himself back. He walked over to Gupta and said quietly, “I will give you one chance to answer. Don’t know what? What is it you couldn’t find? What did you hope Ben Ming would lead you to?”

“You’ll let me go?” Gupta asked suspiciously.

Ben Ming looked hard at Mr. Petrus. Mr. Petrus ignored him.

“We are reasonable people,” Mr. Petrus said with a smile. The smile quickly faded. “What are you after? Tell me now or we will call the Emperor’s security force and let them deal with you. I assure you Ben Ming here is really struggling with himself not to thank you for those scars on his face by giving you a few of your own. He is peaceful now, a student of the Way of Wisdom, you see. But then, Iam not…”

“The Golden Feather from Nalanda, you idiots. Now, we have a deal, right? I can go?”

Ben Ming looked confused. “What golden feather?”

Gupta laughed, then moaned again, then laughed some more. “Don’t pretend you don’t know!”

Diamante Petrus looked at Ben Ming, then at Gupta. “You really don’t know, do you?” Mr. Petrus asked Ben Ming.

Ben Ming shrugged. “I don’t know anything about a golden feather.”

 

Aidan woke up.

Golden feather? Nalanda?

Dang, Aidan thought, the game isafoot!

 

Quantum Big Time

Entanglement is certainly one of the most out there and interesting observations in quantum mechanics.

I have written here about it in more detail before, but just briefly: In the basic experiment, if two particles are born together, say a particle goes through a crystal and is “broken” into two each with half the energy of the first, they are entangled. Not because they share inherent properties, which to some degree they do (like the amount of energy that must be conserved), but because they are entangled. When you measure one of the quantum properties that measurement result can vary within those results that are allowed according to quantum laws (say magnetic spin or polarization) in that one particle, and the corresponding property the in the other, sister particle is immediately determined. Anywhere in space, instantaneously, not obeying the speed of light limit (and some experiments, called delayed choice, even suggest a time component i.e. it is determined before you did the measurement, which is even more mind boggling!!)

Many think this suggests Mind plays a role, or is evidence we are all one, non-duality. It certainly does suggest that, but it is all so inconceivable, so beyond what I can grasp with my brain (and I am not alone; the great physicist Feynman famously said, and I paraphrase, you can’t understand this),  I shy away from interpretations because it is so beyond intellectual thought for me it is like a deep koan and I keep my conclusions to:

Whatever you think, based on your 4-d (space and time) experience and scale of sense perceptions is true is wrong in some basic and ultimate way. The universe, Truth, is deeper and more omnipresent than your brain functions.

I do think the deepest view, to the degree views can approach Truth, is Mind and non-duality as the core of Truth, and sure entanglement is about non-locality in space and time and so is consistent with that (as we say in medicine and science), but I admit after all these years still I balk a bit where others I respect, those I have suggested you look into in these blogs, do not fear to tread. I just know we don’t really understand quantum mechanics so I wont bet my Mind on it, as we measure it  it in our experiments.

And it certainly doesn’t mean whatever fantasy you have about non-locality and its implications is right, of course. Good luck on jumping off a roof and trying to manifest a soft landing by thinking quantum states of the ground. As Bob Lanza said, there is cause and effect. You have karma. Don’t get arrogant and indulgent. Is your little brain in that itty-bitty boney box really that pure and powerful? Be careful about confusing your brain with Mind, non-Duality as meaning your ego, your perspective and delusions, your hopes and fears, is the universe. After all, that’s wisdom, that’s spiritual practice, not aggrandizing the ego with uber-spirituality and just adding more delusion by interpreting the truth through what you’d like to believe. (It’s also science. Ha did the science spirituality thing again!)

One scientific criticism has been that this is limited to single of a few particles or atoms. Well, now it has been none at the level you can see with a magnifying glass or certainly a $50 toy microscope, the level of small cells (i.e. life). Look up:

Einstein’s ‘spooky action’ goes massive: The elusive … – ScienceDaily

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180425131858.htm

The criticism to extrapolating to your day to day life is that is was done near –273 degrees centigrade, absolute zero where all but the most basic quantum effects determined by Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle stop (cant stop completely; that is very deep and Buddhist also; can’t stop change), about 3 degrees colder than the universe in deep space.

Well, quantum effects have been seen in warm wet living beings, they may just be harder to demonstrate.

Remember, the ancients, our spiritual and philosophical ancestors, came to this without quantum mechanics! And practice (and science!) is about authenticity I think, not proving some a priori claim however cool and whether I agree with it.

But even if it doesn’t mean you are likely to (or should feel a delusional need to) try to quantum change the ground if you challenge time and space by jumping off a roof, or that it PROOVES we are all one, Mind and non-duality and all that, at least, at a minimum, we can revel in the deep mystery, the underlying unity it suggests beyond our concepts and experience.

You Are Multitudes Unfolding

When I started writing this Zengut blog I thought I would share more of the “gee whiz” of science. I also thought I would join the ranks of popularizers of math and science and the intersection of science with Zen, spirituality, Mind and meditation. One of the blogs I enjoyed writing the most was my meditation on Circle, Triangle and Square, a Zen painting. It’s really good and deep and if you haven’t read it, check it out, especially the revised version (also on Hazymoon.com). But over the years since I have started writing and have pursued my practice and my life (same thing), I find for the most part I have less and less interest in doing so in a methodical fashion.

There are plenty of sources for science that aren’t geared to scientists: magazines such as Scientific American and Discover, websites such as sciencedaily.com, and I am sure many others.  There are great writers and thinkers who really want to make clear the implications of quantum mechanics for a Mind Only view of how it is (e.g. Lanza and Berman Biocentrism and Beyond Biocentrism) and the philosophical underpinnings of non-duality and  idealism (e.g. Bernardo Kastrup).

Robert Lanza talking at Hazy Moon Zen center; me listening for a change.

I am not a Zen teacher. I share as a student, a practitioner. Certainly there are qualified Zen teachers (e.g. many books of ancient masters, Hazymoon.com has selections of Nyogen Roshi’s dharma talks, Maezen sensei’s books and blogs and websites are also good to check out, and of course other sources of Zen and spiritual teachings by those who are spiritual leaders and teachers).

I have finished my second novel for older kids, and I think it is a more unique contribution, more reflective of my mandala. More on that later ( I will post some chapters soon; maybe even the whole thing if people want. I will also self publish for those like me who like hard copy or who don’t read this blog).

I haven’t pursued the Zengut blog as planned. Well, that’s how it goes. I still see life as the universe unfolding as I wrote in the first blog I posted. Evolution is at its core. Life is change, all is continuous change, a basic tenant of Buddhism and science (there, mission accomplished! Political irony intended). So maybe I will unfold back into so pursuing a theme of science and Zen, or more of the inspiration of math, or whatever. I have continued to write when something catches my attention, whether something I can share of my Zen practice and life (again, same thing) or, like now, in the scientific world.

I do want to share what blew me away this week. It is definitely a “gee whiz” thing. It isn’t any new information. I have seen images of that are a bit like this for 45 years, that is cells interacting with cells, and there have been movies of cells in motion for maybe 10 years, but this image just hit home like a thunderclap. It may not hit you the same way, but give it a try:

Cutting-edge microscope spies on living cells inside the body – Nature

https://www.nature.com › nature › news

You have the same types of cells, and many other similar cells. Watch this and think about how in your bone marrow you give birth thousands and thousands of times a day to these cells, these organisms, that are you yet not you. Independent, with lives you have no idea of and don’t consciously control. Can you watch this and not see sense intention? Intention, you may ask? Absolutely. They have purpose. They are sentinels, guardians, noble and selfless. They do a job, a very complex and important job.  Watch how they seek. How they feel their environment. How they have no sense of you or your world outside of their impulses and needs, their immediate mandalas, their lives unfolding. Given the right environment, they can be removed from the living body that gave rise to them and still be who they are.

Clearly mind.

I am not suggesting conscious thought. Not brain stuff.  These are not beings with concepts as we have, of course. Still, a kind of sentience independent of you and your concepts, your desires, your hopes and fears and intellect. Mind, life, at work and play.

Life in life. You are multitudes.

 

 

 

All Now, No Now

Is “now” really only an illusion?

Certainly a universal now that you can perceive as a universal now is impossible. As I mentioned in a recent blog, whatever we are responding to as occurring “right now” is a conglomeration of recent energy states that we integrated into a story based on our conditioning (physical, biological, intellectual, psychological). As the Lankavatara sutra says, we project our delusions and illusions and then we take them as out there in reality.

Quantum mechanics demands that there can’t be a zero time, there is Planck time, which is exceedingly short, way shorter than anything anyone can comprehend or any technology can even get hope to get anywhere near. This is in part related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: if something could be stopped in time and space, a frozen now that we could capture and measure,  we would know both its momentum and position at that time, and that isn’t allowed.

Also, a time called “now” where all things that are simultaneous to one person’s experience are simultaneous in the experience of all observers, regardless of movement and orientation, is an illusion. Relativity theory quantifies that!

A photon travelling at the speed of light is not in time. The photon’s clock slows to infinitely slow (time dilation; or if time were smooth it would, that is, but as in quantum mechanics maybe it just “approaches” infinitely slow…). The photon also gets infinitely thin, flattened out (space contraction; or it would if space were infinitely smooth, so again, it approaches infinitely flat…). That is, until it hits your eye. Then it is a point particle interacting with your photoreceptor after having travelled perhaps millions of years and trillions upon trillions of miles from a distant star, maybe even a distant galaxy far, far away).

So is there no now? Just the illusion?

Or is it ALL now? As Nyogen Roshi said in his talk today, the infinite now, no beginning no end.

 

How long is now?

A building I saw in what was formerly East Berlin a few years back

Now as no time and all time may be much the same, I think. So short it can’t be measured and so vast and universal it can’t be measured. Bigger than big, shorter than short.

 

Related is the identity of relative and absolute, as a poem we chant is called. This is on a tee shirt I got from Nara, a Buddhist Temple in Japan a bit outside Kyoto. It says, in essence, in the many, One, in One the many. They translated it as in a drop of blood the whole universe. I have also heard it as in a drop of water (or in an atom or particle, or string) the whole universe, but that’s not the pattern you see there on the tee shirt. It is in pattern and spirit I think more like the Heart Sutra (we also chant): form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Or the identity of the relative  and absolute.

Here and Now? You Think So?

I just finished my Christmas blog and opened up Lawrence Krauss’s book “The Greatest Story Ever Told-So Far.” (Yes, I still like reading these books, seeing what scientists are selling. I enjoy it almost as much as interpreting ancient Egyptian ideas about the cosmos, as I do in my next Aidan Dream Detective novel, “Aidan and The Mummy Girl Save the Universe,” which I am finishing up).

Dr. Krauss is one of the more militant skeptic-atheist-materialists. I find him a bit arrogant, but he seems otherwise a pretty nice guy. He’s certainly very smart. Anyway, I came across this sentence, where I was, on page 56:

“So too, Einstein explicitly argued, for the first time as far as I know in the history of physics , that “here” and “now” are observer dependent concepts and not universal ones.”

Bravo! Of course Buddhists knew that for at least two millennia. Check out the Lankavatara sutra, among others.

Live in the here and now? Sounds good. The future is a guess, the past is irretrievable far as we can tell, and science assures us we are prone to false memories, dressing up our reality to make it more comprehensible, more palatable. We edit everything to fit our concepts of who we are and what is meaningful, even as we go along, and more so as we keep memories alive by telling and terelling ourselves our stories.

And that’s at best.

Or as the great mathematician and scientist, Laplace, the man who told Napoleon Bonaparte that he had no need for the hypothesis of god in his book on cosmology, said two hundred years ago on his deathbed, when someone tried to make him feel good by lauding his great accomplishments:

“Ah, but we do chase phantoms.”

The word translated into English as ‘phantoms’ was chimera in French. Chimera are mythic beasts hobbled together from different animals. We hobble together phantoms and spend our lives chasing them. Good things, bad things.

Here and now is such a chimera.

If there is any here and now it is Planck time and space, trillions of trillionths of a second or a millimeter. So  so fast a time and so tiny a distance that they are truly inconceivable, nothing our technology can even hope to come in the ballpark of approaching to measure, let alone our senses or our monkey minds. We can write these numbers down mathematically and drool slack jawed in amazement at how clever we are to have come up with such a brazen idea that might even be true, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can grasp such a space and time.

Even on a mundane level, when you experience a sensory change, a difference in your universe of sight and sound (and smell, taste, touch, phenomena, including mental phenomena, as the sutras say), it is the past. It has been modified. It went from here to there, from an object to your sense organ then to your brain then other parts of your brain where you interpret the changes and tell yourself a story about them.

I used to think a lot about this in surgery, certain one of my more “here and now” experiences. Things move so fast in cataract microsurgery you cant be here and now in a literal way. By time the image of something zigging rather than zagging reaches your brain then you react to it, you’d be too late! You have to be prepared for zig and zag.

By time you react to it, it is gone.

Gone, gone beyond, way beyond.

Gate gate paragate, parasamgate, as the heart sutra says.

So, living in the here and now? Sure. What else do you have? But then, do you even have that? And if not, what do you have?

Merry Christmas from a Non-Materialist Atheist (really, no irony intended! )

 

Being into Zen doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a materialist in the metaphysical sense. Zen does suggest being a materialist in the sense of being greedy and wanting things, with the hope that having stuff (including just the right ideas and rituals) will assuage anxieties and delusions and make up for ignorance and fear, is a bad idea, though with enough rationalization anybody can be a materialist, even a Zen practitioner. It is modern science that makes it difficult to be a metaphysical materialist. After all, what is “material”? What is matter? What makes things “thingy”? All that seems solid dissolves into a state of energy differences that follow rules and constraints (quantum mechanics and relativity, for example). Material, matter, exists only as those energy states are put together into being “something” by our senses and colored our hopes and fears, our conditioning and our scale of biological existence, themselves just energy states determined by energy states:

turtles all the way down.

Peel the onion until there is nothing.

In this cartoon each circle defines a square, which defines a circle. It is an iteration much like how magnetic fields change, defining a changing electric field, creating a propagating magnetic field, etc. This is electromagnetism, the first unified theory, developed in the mid-19th century by Maxwell based on work by an autodidact, Faraday. But where does that first circle come from?

 

Science confirms that these energy states are not the same as the stories our senses project to create our world. Sure, those senses evolved in the context of the rules of energy transformations, and so must relate to them in some way. In Zen there is the foundational poem called (in the translation I know) “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute “(the Sandokai). Zen accepts the challenge.

 

 

Science has a hard time with this. How does my life, my mind, relate to phenomena like quantum entanglement and quantum fields? Very indirectly, it seems, and only with big leaps of faith going from one level of scientific inquiry to another.

 

We may be energy fields, but we are also information, information of a certain contingent form, congealed on one level as DNA, as other levels as chemical  metabolism, interacting, communicating cells and organs and bodies, honed by energy states (our environment), in an iterative way similar to the circle and squares.

 

Scientists tells us science won’t be able to answer some basic questions in our lifetimes, and other questions not likely ever, (is the universe infinite or only 90 billion light years across? Is there one universe or “multiverses”? What is time? Can we verify strings or supersymmetric particles or quantum loop gravity experimentally?), but scientists do tell us that the universe is not what our limited senses describe.

 

 

That is fine with me, because while I can appreciate great beauty and love I have so often in my life, my senses also reveal a pretty dim picture of lies, delusion, death and suffering a lot of the time, not a world where some omniscient creator god just adores its creation…

Cue in Buddhism.

 

One guy came up to Buddha and said I will follow you if you’ll answer my big questions, like is the universe eternal?

Buddha told him he was wasting his time. It’s like being shot by a poison arrow and asking what wood the shaft of the arrow is made of, and similar irrelevant questions, rather than taking out the arrow. In some places Buddha said he came to end suffering. Others he said hey, your heads on fire, man, stop asking dumb questions.

So peel back the stories, and, as the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po suggested, watch out for concepts you project on to your life. What are you left with?

 

 

Now, since this is Christmas and I am not going to leave it there. I am not going to allow the arrogance of some scientists and professional atheists make it difficult to hear and appreciate the marvelous absurdity of manifest reality at its deepest scientific description. On the other hand, I am not going to be the atheist who just dishes on a dualistic creator god outside his creation of adoring puppets, that so loves the sparrow in the field, you know, the sparrow that is going to be eaten by the hawk leaving its chicks squawking in desperation, if they are lucky attracting a predator (the same hawk?) to end their misery quickly, rather than dying slowly by dehydration and starvation, without a clue as to what happened.

I am going to get into the Christmas spirit instead! Yay!

My Christmas present is sharing that my favorite book right now is “Barking to the Choir” by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who walks the walk Jesus had in mind.

Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboys industries, a job program for ex-gangbangers, but so much more.

“Barking to the Choir” is a spiritual tome abput the here and now reality of suffering and redemption. As an aside, it is respectful of Buddhism, but more to the point it is real, it is spiritual in the deepest sense, in a way I can respect and admire, and brought me to tears several times. The book is challenging in its radial compassion, vision of no separation, and belief in redemption. I am glad that this priest found in his religion something of value. And there are others, intelligent, thinking, caring people I know who have found deep meaning in religion as well. But I equally love that the values in this book do not need religion to inform them. Atheists I know (and I include myself in the technical sense of not believing in a dualistic creator god with separate mind and intention from its creation) share the core values that Father Boyle expresses in his life and work as a vision of natural ethics, an expression of who we are at our best, not as a command from on high.

The Dali Lama, who Father Doyle has met and quotes in his book (among other Buddhists), said that we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists. I agree. I don’t care if anybody goes to a Zen center or not. Father Boyle also is not trying to convert people to his religion. He does want to share his vision, and I love that vision; it is deep and sincere.

Father Gregory’s religion isn’t exactly Zen, but in buddhism all teachings are a raft to be let go of when true understanding is experienced. And Father Boyle offers one magnificent raft for so many.

So, as I sit here on call on Christmas (I volunteer to let the goyim have their day with their families; I have for a quarter of a century) I am not looking to science for ultimate truth or religion for redemption. I do not appreciate my arrogant co-scientists who belittle those who find their materialistic metaphysics and philosophic stances (some deny they indulge in metaphysics and philosophy, itself a metaphysical, philosophical stance) to be limited and caustic, unable to answer deep questions, any more than I appreciate my spiritual brethren who use their religion to shore up their delusions and create more distance and suffering.

Too bad about all the haters.

 

 

I appreciate both science and Zen for the depth of seeing and peace, however shallow and tentative, however diminished by my own limitations, that they have brought me. My dreams come true!

And to the extent that science and religion brings their practitioners, and those they reach out to, into a state of wonder and inspires them to compassion and to make the world a better place, I am thrilled.

There is, after all, Father Boyle, walking the walk. And dedicated scientists and physicians and atheists and agnostics and artists and religious people and others I know trying to heal the world and make us all a bit smarter as well.

Mazel tov. A mitzvah.

Have a merry Christmas and happy whatever.

And don’t forget to keep dancing.

 

 

A Graphic Book Conversation About Physics

If you are interested in taking a peek into what a theoretical physicist who seems to be more interested in being honest than making a splash (or name for himself as an arrogant hard core crusader) would like you to know about his views on fundamental physics and metaphysics try “The Dialogues; Conversations about the Nature of the Universe” by Clifford V. Johnson. He’s at USC  but I forgive him (UCLA joke). I use the word metaphysics in the sense of the interpretation of physics, not spiritualism or the like. It is a graphic book (novel? Kind of? In his preface Clifford seems fine with comic or any terminology). The art is good, some panels even more than needed (a lot of work went into this!), but the reason I am highlighting the book isn’t the graphic art, as much as I appreciate it. I enjoyed the frank, honest talk about the limits and joys of science, particularly math and physics.

It is hard to convey that feeling. I’m not a physicist, but I “do” medical science research, and I know the feeling of discovery and wonder. I have tried to give a taste of that in some of my earlier blogs. I may have been partially successful; my “circle triangle square” blog gets the most hits of any I have written. I spiffed it up and re-posted last year ago or so but I think it is still the original that gets looked at. The hits sometimes come in bursts so I wonder if someone uses it for a class or discussion group. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether Clifford does it for you, but I think he makes a good effort. I recognized much of what I love about basic science and math in his graphic book.

Consider spending a couple of hours with this book. That’s all it takes to read it. You’ll learn some physics and how at least one theoretical physicist thinks about what he does as a theoretical physicist.

Spoiler alert: regarding physics: it ain’t over, and for that matter the fat lady may never sing. Physics is a process with no definitive end in sight. Theories of everything are a dicey proposition and at best may be untestable conceptual frameworks with a series of equations empirically describing what we can measure regarding energy flows. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box (a metaphor he uses) and all the pieces may not be able to be grasped or measured by our finite brains and resources.

We knew that, didn’t we? Still, if you like the scientific conversation, read Clifford’s book.

If, on the other hand, you want to know more about science and implications of consciousness on the nature of reality, stick with the books on Biocentrism by Lanza and Berman for a more quantum based approach or Bernardo Kastrup’s works for a more philosophical approach. I haven’t run into anything new on that front. I suspect that’s not a coincidence. Those authors do a great job, physics is physics some new interesting stuff but so what, and Zen is Zen.

And samsara is samsara. Arrrrrgh. Keep the faith, don’t let them get you down as they hurt and destroy to feed their beast, their greed and anger and ignorance. Do whatever you can to do good and to stay strong.

My love and hopes for a better world to all.

 

Why I Have Been Posting Less Recently

I have been writing less on this blog of late for several reasons.

I am finishing up a second novel about Aidan Alvarado, dream detective. It’s an adventure about life death and redemption, compassion and courage, for 9-12 year olds (of all ages! This age range is just because that’s what they want even when you self publish. What is the target audience? People love classifications. I agree guidance is helpful in some ways; it sometimes saves time. I actually think of it as just fiction; however, fiction that is appropriate for kids if they want to read it.).

It is time and energy consuming to pay attention and try to understand how to make a difference given the destructive horror show that is occurring in our government. And no, contrary to what I seem to hear from some Buddhists, you don’t need Buddhist insights to grasp this. I am not too enamored with socially engaged religious activities, though of course they could have a place. Mostly it seems to me to be more like advertising and self-aggrandizement. I agree with the Dalai Lama: we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists (or Jews, or Christians, or Moslems, or Hindus or whatever). You want to do something with your sangha, church, synagogue, mosque, etc., fine, but don’t crow about it or stamp your beliefs on it, like that makes it special. I know fine people who are atheists, materialists, agnostics, deists, theists, religious, spiritual but non-religious etc. who care and band together to help or get involved with organizations and give to those who can make a difference without branding the help they are giving, or for that matter, themselves.

As much as I love science, I am reading less of it except for some of the fun stuff, mostly nature and biology (also there are great nature shows), or for what I do at work. I do appreciate the fact that physics can and should slap you upside the head saying no matter how you see the world, this cosmos, with your senses, the deeper you look the less “understandable” and solid it is. You can describe quantum physics and conceive some picture of what is going on, but it won’t be quite right. Can’t be. Words and concepts don’t cut it, even if they can approach it. You can come up with some idea of what might be going on: it is all energy fields (at best), ever changing with no inherently clear beginning or end, as it may be multi dimensional with multi universes. Entanglement suggests time and space is an illusion, or at least the way we experience space-time clearly is (as does relativity in a less fundamental way). The world of phenomena seems smooth and continuous and yet what seem like individual particles are described by waves, but come in discreet quanta. See my previous blogs on quantum mechanics (and now there are loads of good YouTube videos; I just watched a couple on 3Blue1Brown I liked about math and science, for example). I love that math designed and conceived abstractly as an intellectual endeavor sometimes comes to be the best way to describe the most subtle natural phenomena (like quantum mechanics).

I believe science, where it runs into the utter overwhelming fact of existence, the mind-boggling manifestations of life, of the universe itself, the nature of observation in quantum mechanics, the deep mystery of consciousness (mystery, that is, from an intellectual perspective), implies Mind is primary, is not a random epiphenomenon (though consciousness in terms of specific evolved brain functions may be so considered from a certain limited perspective. I do believe in evolution). There are great books by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (Biocentrism and Beyond biocentrism) that explore that (see Honmei’s review of the latter book on the HazyMoon.com website) and there are several by Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has been writing a lot of academic articles; if you want academic arguments for what in Buddhism is called Mind Only, what he calls idealism, look him up.

So I don’t feel like writing about science and spirituality as much anymore. Others are doing just fine.

In my original post on this blog I wrote what I had heard from others that I considered the best description of what is true and that is what I still see:

 

You are the universe unfolding

No separation

No beginning no end.

 

I might add:

Mind is primary

The natural working of mind is compassion when not reacting from ignorance (ignorance: the sense of separation, thinking that ego and the words that pop into our head, our brain as it has evolved for us apes to survive, is mind, that our stories are real rather than short hand for what can’t be said)

Greed and anger are manifestations of our ignorance and cause pain, both for others and ourselves.

 

The best advice I have run into:

Don’t wish for a better past (or present or future, for that matter; it doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make you crazy; this is an abbreviation of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past)

No self-deception

Pay attention

Don’t put a head on your head

 

I do my Zen practice. I try to act in the world with responsibility and whatever compassion as I can muster. I am lucky to have some great karma, though I see pain all around me, sometimes very close, sometimes big, sometimes small. I write fiction for adults that can be read by kids that I hope will provide a fun way to pass the time while being insightful and helpful. Writing fiction is a way to tell truths that non-fiction and didactic approaches can’t. It is an expression of my Zen practice.

I may write more about math and science and spirituality in the future. I’ll let you know more about my new fiction soon. So far this is the summary I am working on for the back of the book; it’s still rough (I have information about the first book on ralphlevinson.com and will put more about this one there and maybe here in a few weeks or so):

Eleven-year-old Aidan Alvarado had enough of saving the world; all he wanted to do was play soccer. That wasn’t going to happen! Aidan embarks on his second case as a dream detective when Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor who lived 1300 years ago) needs his help again. There is a war going on in the realm of the water spirit dragons and the balance of the universe is upset, threatening disaster for Wu’s empire and even the universe itself. The key is a golden feather. To solve the mystery Aidan has to travel in his dreams to ancient China, India, and Egypt. Along the way Aidan meets a few monsters and ancient deities, a boy who can morph into a cobra, a girl who talks to elephants, a poet philosopher who accompanied Alexander the Great, a beekeeper in Ancient Egypt and a mummy girl’s spirit.

 

Maat with her feather. She embodies Truth, the Way, the Balance of the Cosmos, the Dharma. You heart (like in China, in Ancient Egypt heart and mind are the same) is measured against her feather in what we know as the Egyptian book of the Dead (really the Book of Coming Forth by Day)

Acorns

A Zen teacher pointed out that you don’t know what makes the acorn become an oak tree. Of course, I thought when I first heard him say that, you could describe the mechanisms, that is, the DNA/genetic programs that sequentially activate to crate a tree form an acorn. That’s developmental biology, and understanding that has lead to important insights that have fueled the attempts at using stem cells for medical purposes.

But is that what the Zen teacher meant? I can describe muscle fiber and energy interactions when a limb moves, but that doesn’t tell me in and of itself if the movement generated is that of a predator after a meal or prey trying not to be dinner, whether a slap or a caress.

And where does that all come from, that predator and prey, that caress or slap?

Going a bit deeper into that acorn, it clearly is a representation of the incredible diversity and activity of life. Where did that set of programs come from? How did it evolve? Is it really different from all else in the universe, that which we consider living and that which we don’t?

Which brings us to carbon.

Carbon is the backbone, foundational, element of what we know of as life, and once you know about carbon, it seems obvious that it should be in our particular cosmos with the laws of physics and chemistry as we experience them. Carbon atoms can bond symmetrically with four other atoms and itself making complex molecules and long chains. Carbon is the right size to combine to make pockets for other atoms we use in living processes, being the smallest of any atom that can form four bonds. Carbon can also make double and triple bonds that increase the flexibility of the atom and it’s chains in form and function. Carbon also doesn’t tend to lose electrons or gain them and so tends toward an electrochemical neutrality that can be altered when it links up with other atoms that aren’t so mellow, another way it makes for a good backbone for complex molecules with important flexibility of electrochemical energy states.

Carbon is so simple and elegant that it is likely that the first “solid” substance in our universe were microscopic diamonds, the regular crystalline form of carbon. And we too are in some ways crystalline forms of carbon (crystals being regularly repeated patterns of atoms), and certainly we can make crystalline forms of many of our essential molecules like proteins and DNA.

The first diamonds would have been small, just a few atoms

Easy to appreciate the beautiful symmetry of this diamond crystal

 

Fun fact: diamonds are super hard, but another crystalline structure of carbon, graphite, is super soft. All on how the layers link up or not.

How carbon crystals are in the world is how the carbons combine in 3 dimensions. Graphite layers slide on each other, or have cleavage areas and so aren’t as hard as diamonds where the links are in 3 dimensions

So our physical manifestation started as diamonds and we are dependent on crystalline structures of the simplest atom that can make 4 symmetric bonds as well as double bonds.

DNA is not a completely regular crystal (aperiodic). It is this lack of absolute symmetry that makes it a carrier of information. Compare to the diamond structure above. It is in the glass bubble like structures in this highly stylized image of DNA that change, asymmetry, information,occurs. Well and in the cell the associated meta structure and the added chemical groups and associated proteins…

This artistic image of DNA stresses the regularity, symmetry and elegance of the molecule.

 

How did all of that happen?

It goes back to quantum mechanics and the fundamental laws of physics. Energy transformations. That’s how all atomic and subatomic reactions are best described.

As Stephen Hawking asked (I paraphrase): what fire, what energy, do the equations (whether quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory) describe? What brings this fire, what breathes life into the equations?

Some say a god or gods. That seems to fit their experience and work for them.

The Zen answer is easy by rote: Mind.

This is similar to Lanza’s and Berman’s Biocentrism, or Kastrup’s idealism.

Not so easy to experience directly, to the core.

Some say there is no answer, it just is, and in a certain sense I agree. After all, any “answer,” in our usual sense of the word “answer”, depends on concepts in our monkey mind, derived from our monkey senses, relating to our parochial realm of limited 4-d experience, explanation and intellectual understanding. We seek answers that can be digested when there is nothing to chew on. Take a bite, it disappears, dissolves like a mouthful of cotton candy, into a haze of quantum probability of different energy levels at best.

That acorn sure does go deep. It cuts like a diamond.