Chris Gaffney has been a PZI member for a rather long time now. He’s a professor of Physics at CSU Chico and is a co-leader of Dharma Buffet in Chico, too. His sometimes scientifically rigorous approach to ideas makes Zen conversations more interesting, and also more wild, since modern physics is pretty “out there.” Chris is funny and wise and warm-hearted, too. On PZI’s online discussion forum recently, Chris was reflecting on the value of conversation and companionship at PZI, and we asked him if we could include his thoughts here, since they have a lot to do with the question of why membership and community matter. He said yes, so here you are:
I’ve been thinking about conversations and gratitude. The universe can be mind-blowing, but what strikes me most is how natural the process of “mind blowing” is. In many cases it seems my mind is “blown” when it is brought to full stop, if even for a moment. There does (for me) seem to be a correlation between the abruptness of the slowing and the depth of the stop – no time to construct the radar to defend against the penetration. It does seem that the “natural” world, the part not designed by us human people (vs. the other people, like the coyote people), easily calls up in us the “mind-blown” state: nobody home.
The reason “conversation” brought this thought up was that I get to hear coyote conversations on a regular basis, since where I live is in quite rugged, open country and coyotes have a right fine time with it. Their flow of conversation is different from that of human people, and I’ve yet to hear a monologue – the call is always responded to. Sometimes there is a lone singer in one location, and a chorus removed by a quarter of a mile (really bad guess of distance there). Sometimes all the voices are together – I think of John saying “A good day is when all the voices are in the room” – and it seems the richest conversations are these. There will be dead silence, for hours, then one coyote will start and within five seconds many have joined. The range of voices is tremendous – and while I can’t really follow individual song lines, it has the variety of any conversation between ten people. And then it will stop just as abruptly as it began. This cycle might repeat once, twice, more, never. Can’t say for sure.
What has emerged consistently is that I will drop whatever suffering I am busy attending to and listen. I guess I don’t drop the suffering, otherwise it’s loss wouldn’t be as predictable. The coyote conversation steals it away. It is an animal delight I possess, and some sense that it is important to listen. It is important to not miss it. Now why would that be? Why would I have such a feeling? A vast conspiracy, spoken and unspoken, is at work. And it does feel like a blessing that has been given me, and like all good blessings it comes without the least smidgen of merit on my part.
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Chris is a Contributing Editor of PZI’s online magazine, Uncertainty Club. To read more of his work, click here.
You can also watch a recent talk he gave about Zen and science here.