Meaningful Chance

[In one of our dialogues, Steven reminded me of a talk by Alan Watts, “The Crisis in Religion,” the I had transcribed and later included in my book Image, Reflections On Language (1973). The college had had Watts as a guest lecturer when I was a new teacher there. In our dialogues Steven had described Whitman’s vision of an emerging spiritual democracy and about what religions in the future would be like.  Here was Watts speaking to the faculty of community college over a hundred years later describing the shifting center of gravity in late 20th century religion.   But the fun part is the number of coincidences that popped up when I began digging into the Watts talk. 

I’ve circled back numerous times to the astonishing usefulness of things that just happen to fall off the shelf.   The following interchange of emails is as delightful example that.  I think you might want to be on the lookout for meaningful chance in your own going and coming.

Here are some the emails.]

Saturday at 8 January 23, 2014 I wrote:

“OK: Watts said in the new religions God would be that circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. The poem about the center and the circumference is on page 127 in Image. It’s by Alfred Noyes:

"Where?" said the king,
O, where? I have not found it!"
"Here," said the dwarf, and music echoed "Here."
"This infinite circle hath no line to bound it;
Behold its strange, deep center everywhere.

(Steven, I know nothing about Noyes, but I think I’ll Google him!)

Later that day I emailed this to Steven:

“Get this! This is the result of my Google search on Noyes:

The lines of Alfred Noyes the Watts cited are in the last stanza of “The Song of Jeppe” in a long poem called “Watchers of the Sky.” Wow! Talk about coincidence! Noyes, English, lived from 1880—1958, and spent years in the US. Watchersoftheskies.com is the name of my website, and it’s from the Keats poem! I found the following description of Noyes’s visit to the Mount Wilson Observatory.”

“Noyes adds that the theme of the trilogy had long been in his mind, but the first volume, dealing with “Watchers of the Sky”, began to take definite shape only on the night of November 12, 1917, when the 100-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory was first tested by starlight. George Ellery Hale, the man who conceived and founded the observatory, had invited Noyes, who was then in California, to be his guest on this momentous occasion, and the prologue, subtitled “The Observatory”, gives Noyes’ detailed description of that “unforgettable,. night”. In his review of “Watchers of the Sky,” the scholar and historian of science Frederick E. Brasch writes that Noyes’ ‘journey up to the mountain’s top, the observatory, the monastery, telescopes and mirrors, clockwork, switchboard, the lighted city below, planets and stars, atoms and electrons all are woven into, beautiful narrative poetry. It seems almost incredible that technical terms and concepts could lend themselves for that purpose.”

Then Steven emailed back to me:

“The coincidence regarding Noyes and Mount Wilson is an astonishing one in light of our chats on the American poet-shamans and my book on spiritual democracy, as well as yours on Realms of Gold. This is fascinating! I don’t see how others could possibly comprehend its significance for us. Robinson Jeffers had graduated from Occidental College, then a small Presbyterian school in Los Angeles, in 1905, at the age of 18. He had studied biblical literature, Greek, rhetoric, and astronomy, which included visits to Mount Wilson and Echo Mountain Observatories.

Behold its strange, deep center
Everywhere!

In 1906, at the age of 19, his family relocated to Switzerland, where he studied philosophy at the University of Zurich. The big 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson Observatory, built in 1917, the following year, so enlarged his understanding of the scale of the universe that it simply ignited Jeffers’ mind ablaze and forced him to press further into the psychic and cosmic depths of spirit and matter for a living symbol that could describe what he felt and intuited and sensed to be the vast limitlessness of space. By gazing into the black crystal, Jeffers gave birth to a new religious symbol, pregnant with meaning: a God of endless Violence, Shiva as the cosmic Destroyer of the Universe, over Christ. Jeffers carefully turned Whitman’s visions of spiritual democracy in on themselves and in many ways his visions of center and circumference are very much like Dickinson’s, which are centered, as I said, on Volcano symbolism, cosmic force, and boundless Night.

My point is that with the American poet-shamans the notion of center and circumference that Shelly glimpsed on the Mont Blanc were eclipsed by the new discoveries in science. California played a major role in this. The coincidence of all of this is mind boggling!

Pregnant with meaning

The location of the “Doorways” photo that I sent to you many moons ago was taken at none other than Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, an ancient Anasazi astronomical observatory. On June 29, 1977, a year after I took your course, English 123, and a week after the summer solstice, a young female artist made her way up Fajida Bute, at the southern edge of Chaco Canyon, and discovered a unique solar-lunar calendar there hidden amongst the rocks! After passing a narrow chimney populated only by rattlesnakes, up the west side of the butte, she spotted two engravings of spirals with a center and circumference carved into the rock face, where light refracts through vertical slabs to strike the center and the circumference on each of the two Solstices, summer (center) and winter (circumference)! This butte is about a mile from the famous “doorways,” or what I suggested were doors to the realms of Gold. You have to see it to believe it! Google it and let me know what you think. Synchronicity abounds in these chats. These acausal coincidences are pregnant with meaning. The two spirals illuminate exactly what we are talking about.

[It should be noted that these emails had been forgotten and fell into my  hands “by chance” when I was looking for something else, a grid of a “magic” square, the Lo Shou—which Steven introduces in our 15th dialogue—in which the digits 1 one through 9 are so arranged that they always add up to 15, with digit 5 in the middle. Magic or not, there are certainly more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. It’s wonder-full even if it isn’t magic.]

Author: Clark McKowen

I taught English at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area for over thirty years and probably taught over 20,000 students during that time. II'm still interested in how beings of any species learn and why, and I write books and articles about these things. My 2000 book of haiku, Ligonier Sightings, is an appreciation of the Chestnut Ridge area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. All of my books can be purchased on the internet. Most teachers say they love teaching, but I don't know what they mean by that. I loved being in a group -- under my guidance, to be sure -- and getting so absorbed in exploring an idea that we didn't care whether school kept or not. That's the kind of teaching I love. I love seeing a bunch of people's eyes light up. I love the feeling of discovery of any sort. I love enlightenment. That's what more or less gets me up in the morning, -- and I suppose is involved, one way or another, in everyhing you will find on this website and in just about everything I do, including building redwood decks or going to the dog park with our Boston terrier Gracie.

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