You film bats hanging upside down, flip the camera, and bam! Here we are on a Wednesday nigh in an 80s German nightclub:
The basic idea remains clever: filming bats upside down upside down. So, right side up. Until one of them tries to pour itself a drink.
An article on the front page of the U.S. edition of The New York Times this weekend, which would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago.
To summarize: the trust placed in the market and liberalization after the fall of the USSR - some spoke of the "End of History" - is increasingly showing its limits. Not only has globalization not brought peace, transformed dictatorships into democracies, or ended poverty, but we are living in one of the most unequal eras in history, and the forthcoming changes - energy, climate, and socio-political - are likely to exacerbate this in ways that are difficult to imagine.
So, nothing very new for those who stay informed.
The novelty is that it is on the front page of The New York Times.
Two pillars of Buddhism recently explored through the wonderful book "Seeing that Frees" by the late Rob Burbea, listening to the lectures of James Low that I discovered recently, and tirelessly through the recordings of Alan Watts, who never ceases to amaze me.
Emptiness does not mean there is nothing.
And rightfully so: we see, we hear, we feel. We think. We imagine. Regardless of the origin of these perceptions and the nature of the reality that produces them, we can agree on one thing: we do experience something. So no, there is not nothing.
However, as soon as we focus on a specific object - a tree, a chair, a passerby - we discover that it is extremely difficult to define anything independently of the rest.
The tree, for example. What makes a tree a tree?
Easy! Let's see... A trunk. Branches. Leaves. Roots... There you have it!
Question: does the soil around the roots belong to the tree? Answer: no, the soil is the soil. The tree is the tree. They are two separate things. Fair enough. However, have you ever seen a tree without soil? And if there is no tree without soil, is it reasonable to exclude one from the definition of the other? Along the same line, does the air belong to the tree? Before answering, remember that wood comes from the carbon in the air trapped through photosynthesis. ("Trees don't grow out of the earth" Feynman said, "they grow out of the air.") And, to follow the reasoning to its conclusion, since there is no tree without photosynthesis, and no photosynthesis without the sun, shouldn't the sun be included in the definition as well?
And the shape itself, the color of the leaves, the scents of wood and chlorophyll, the roughness of the trunk, do all of these have any meaning if there are no beings in the same world endowed with vision, smell, and touch to experience them? Therefore, are these characteristics inherent to the tree or inherent to those who perceive them? Is green a property of the leaves or a property of our visual cortex when we look at a leaf? And in that case, is it reasonable to exclude ourselves from the definition?
tree (n. m.): Piece of the universe made of soil, air, and sun, with green leaves when observed.
For Buddhists, nothing exists independently of the rest.
To think of the tree without the soil, the object without context, the part without the whole is to create concepts that mask the true nature of things. Of course, sometimes it's very practical. Our brains not being infinitely expandable, we need to simplify. When I choose my socks in the morning, I don't think every day about the cosmic connection that links each fiber of the fabric to the rest of the universe. I pick the striped ones because they smell less.
The problem arises when we forget that the concept is just a concept.
My sock, like the tree, has no inherent essence, no cardinal characteristic that can be isolated from the rest. That's what "emptiness" is: the impossibility of defining an object by itself. So when, for the sake of convenience, I consider it as a separate entity, I create a concept. And so far, so good: if it makes my life easier and helps me communicate, why not? But when I take this concept for reality, that's when the beans are spilled. I forget that the word "tree" is just an internal representation of a piece of the whole that, at all levels - physically, biologically, historically - cannot be separated from the rest. In doing so, I create an object that doesn't exist.From nothing, I have populated my reality with a new element that will transform my view of the world. That's what "fabrication" is.
The problem with fabrication? It isolates.
By constantly conceptualizing, everything seems disconnected from everything else. Objects from each other. People from each other. Self from others. The world from oneself. We forget that this separation between each thing is just an idea that we ourselves manufactured to grease the wheels of daily life. From it arises a certain solitude, competition, and a desire for control.
The goal of meditation, especially in the practice of non-duality, is to deconstruct these concepts one by one in order to perceive the world once again as it is. Whole. Unique. Present. And of which, just like trees and socks, we are an integral part.
I know but I can’t stop myself!
It’s the last one, I swear. Tomorrow, I go cold turkey.
Two videos watched several years apart, yet both left a similar lasting impression on me.
The first one, "Journey to the Andromeda Galaxy," made me truly grasp the vastness of the universe. As an engineer, I already knew it was immense... but not to this extent. Take a look, it's a fascinating mini-documentary that completely disrupts our perception of space and time scales.
For the infinitely small, a short video: a protein "walking" on a microtubule. As I speak to you, billions of proteins are calmly walking inside your cells.
As Pascal once said, we find ourselves lost between these two infinities. Good night.
We often forget the people who make our lives easier.
We dwell too long on those who cause us problems.
Those who smooth the path, give us a boost at the right moment, discreetly help when we need it the most, tend to fade from our attention in favor of others: those who create drama, complicate situations, pose a threat. They say a problem solved is one less thing to think about. In doing so, the helping hand can easily be forgotten along with the problem it resolves, while the devil thrives in the complications it creates.
"The brain fades in favor of the world," said Alan Watts. If I perceive the sound of the river and the sunlight, it's because I'm not constantly preoccupied with the existence of my nervous system and the activity of my neurons. The machine disappears in favor of the experience.
In many respects, maternal instinct works in the same way. By silently providing for all the vital needs, the mother allows the child to focus on the world rather than their hunger, thirst, or fear. She herself cannot remain the center of attention for too long, as it can create an attachment that hinders awakening. Her purpose is to fade into the background for the sake of everything else.
In the series "I found a treasure trove of lockdown drawings that I post when I'm in a hurry," here's a lockdown drawing that I'm posting because I'm in a hurry:
A memory of a time when there were still insects and fish. Hurry up, they're disappearing quickly.
Often, when I watch a documentary, I wonder how people who claim to be so afflicted, so depressed, sometimes so mean, can appear so open, so sincere, and have so much perspective when telling their stories. The hysterical one is perfectly calm. The compulsive liar tells the whole truth. Those presented as suffering from intellectual or emotional delays show extraordinary clarity and intelligence in their introspection.
It's not staging or manipulation. It's the camera effect.
One day, in the midst of the everyday routine, a filmmaker called them and became interested in them. He asked them questions, wanted to know more about their lives. There didn't seem to be a cost to this interest, no trap, nothing to give in return. Trust was born. Then, on the day of the interview, a whole team sprang into action: lights were set up, equipment arranged, furniture moved, and at the right moment, this machinery fell silent to capture their words. The director, the cinematographer, the sound engineer, the assistant, all these people were listening.
We all seek to prove that we exist.
We fear being invisible, not existing for others. On a small level – the annoyance of being bumped by a stranger on the street – or on a more essential level – the feeling of being ignored by parents, by friends.
During an interview, this fear fades away. The lights, the camera, the attention of the entire team are focused on oneself. There is time. One feels heard. The barriers we had put in place to protect ourselves, the reflexes we had created to prove that we are here, to attract attention, all of that can be put on pause.
We reveal the remarkable person we would be at every moment if the world paid attention.