Zen and the Skunk Muse

Just for Fun.

It was about a year ago springtime… Around 5:30 AM; the sun was not quite above the horizon and the clouds were an orange tint of red to the east.  The scent struck me as I was hitting my eight minute mile pace about fourteen minutes into my morning run.  The smell of a skunk was nothing new to me.  It brought back memories of early spring mornings on my way to cut asparagus before school, and late nights coming home after working in the bowling alley.  I knew a skunk had been struck by a car somewhere ahead the night before.

It lay on a bridge that went over an irrigation canal.  The canal was full and the orchards were budding nearby.  On the left side of the bridge was an eighteen inch wide sidewalk that was raised about eight inches.  To the right, it was about two inches to the white stripe and there was no real shoulder.  Its innards were out and its head was turned sideways, exposing most of one side of its teeth.  When I come across a dead skunk in a car it seems the only notable presence is the bushy tail and the unique odor.  Today, I was more drawn to its face—perhaps because I was on foot.

Pondering trivial issues is often a part of my run as well, and the skunk brought to the forefront the finiteness we all face but tend to deny.  I’m often inclined to think about the here and now more than the ever-after.  I guess the relevant question is whether we really have anything more than the here and now.  This seems to be a question that has thrown many a physicist and philosopher into the throes of thought for weeks, months, and years on end.

I think nobody can deny, in fact, that we live only in this instance.  Not to say past events haven’t happened, or that future events won’t happen, but we live in one event, the one that is happening right now.  The rest is just a memory, a plan, or a surprise.  That gives me a sense of urgency for the here and now.  An interesting experiment is to try to move back a little to the previous instance in time, or perhaps forward a little into the next one.  It seems the only reality we have as humans is the present one.  That makes me wonder how long an instance of time is.  This is not a simple question, and another one that philosophers and physicists have pondered to great depths with no clear answer.

There was a large sign at the end of the bridge near the skunk.  One necessarily had to jump off the eight inch sidewalk, over the skunk, and onto the highway to avoid the sign.  This played havoc with my mind in the face of oncoming traffic.  With this much uproar thrown into my morning run, the only choice was to deal with it or move the skunk.  Moving a skunk with guts all over is not my idea of fun.  I remembered turning dead dogs over when I was a kid on a bicycle and finding large writhing maggot colonies under them.

I’m not sure why, but to me, disturbing the skunk seemed somewhat disrespectful to the maggots, the driver who had struck the skunk, and nature in general.  I decided to let this skunk decompose with no human interference.  Long runs do strange things to a body and mind, and as time went on, observing the decomposition of the skunk became an integral part of my run.

In between runs, I re-read Einstein’s theory of relativity and my sense of the here and now was even more thrown out of whack.  The idea that every time I speed up, my clock slows down compared to someone not moving threw me off, but I think it was the idea that  a moving car is actually shorter than a car at rest that convinced me that my human perceptions of space and time have little bearing on any reality other than my own.  I can understand that time stops on a light-wave.  If I consider a star that’s 10,000 light years away, I understand that it took 10,000 years for the light to arrive at earth and I am thus seeing what happened 10,000 years ago.  I can see that if I rode the light-­­­­­­­­­wave from the star to here I would be carrying a message that was froz­­­­­­­­­­­­­­en in time.  For example if I rode the lightwave that reflected off a clock that said 11:00 am it would still say 11:00 am when it arrived at earth 10,000 years later.  It’s true that scientists have proved that when astronauts travel in space, their clocks move at a slower speed and they age slower than the rest of us.  Does that mean your reality is different than mine?  Possibly.

What does this really mean?  I don’t know.  Recently a Quantum Physicist, Amit Goswami published a book titled “God is Not Dead”.  In this book he suggested that Quantum Physics offers proof of the existence of God.  The argument further suggests that quantum physics provides a very accurate description of reality and agrees for the most part with Einstein’s relativity.  In Quantum theory “reality” is defined as a world of probability functions known as wave function, not actual events.  An observer is required to constitute an event, and an observation of reality actually changes it.  Goswami goes further and suggests that consciousness is required to collapse a universe of probabilities into an observable physical event.  The implications of this notion are enormous and experiments seem to confirm it.   He further­ suggests that to believe there is consciousness without physical reality or vice versa creates a paradox that can never be explained in physics­­­.  In essence, consciousness, or the sense of self we all have, albeit unexplained, is the confirmation of GOD’s existence.  Goswami’s ideas and proofs cannot be summed up in a paragraph, but are quite compelling to the curious mind.

After a winter of running on my treadmill spring is here again and that darn skunk isn’t giving up.  He’s still there, on the bridge.  The fur is evident as is the tail, and I noticed in particular that the feet have been well preserved.  One can still differentiate each paw, and the nails.   I’ve never given this creature a close inspection, as I feel what I can take in as I jog by is sufficient.  At this point though, he is my friend.

Something else Einstein came up with is bothering me.  We all think of the world as round, but in Einstein’s world, space is curved, and time only seems constant because of our limited senses.  I guess the earth appears round because our consciousness only allows us to view it in short bursts in this instance.  We can’t see it over a time span.  Every view we get is a snapshot of an instance and that’s a distortion.  The same holds true for space.  Given our perceptive limitations, I go back to the importance of appreciating this particular instance of time in our lives.  We really don’t have anything else.  Quantum physics suggest many dimensions, and while we nod our heads when we hear the notion, it’s very difficult to perceive what this means with respect to our potential.

A few weeks into spring and my friend the skunk has had a sad ending.  The road crews decided to re-tar and gravel the road.  After nearly a year of studying his decomposition for brief instances of time, one pass of a road sweeper made him disappear from my reality.  Funny that I would be sad; I had hoped to watch him go until even his feet were gone.  I was a bit thrown off for the rest of the day, but knew I’d recuperate.  I think the loss of a friend and one enjoyable routine in a chaotic life reminded me that nothing lasts forever.



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