#IAmLOVE

I am not afraid.

I do not fear my brother or my neighbor or those who are different from me whether in my hometown or halfway around the world.

I’m told that I trust too much, too easily, too freely. I’m told I’m naïve because there are people in the world who will hurt me for no reason other than that I’m not them. But I’m not naïve. I know the world isn’t all sunshine and unicorns. I know that not everyone who populates it is Mother Teresa. I know the world can be harsh and the people in it cruel.

But I’m not afraid.

I’m not afraid because, when I was dying in the mangled remains of a wrecked car, a stranger stopped and held my hand until the ambulance and fire crew arrived to cut me free. I’m not afraid because random people I’ve never met in person reached out through the magic of social media to show me love, compassion, and support when my father died. I’m not afraid because a Muslim family who didn’t know me offered me comfort and support at a time in my life when I was hurting and needed it most.

On a larger scale, I’m not afraid because I see people rushing in instead of away in the face of tragedy. People helping instead of leaving others to suffer.

Every.

Single.

Time.

And I see people doing so despite danger to themselves and without regard for their own comfort. I see people helping each other and looking out for each other, even when there will be no reward or recognition.

I am so sad after hearing about what happened in Paris. It is horrible in a way that it would be impossible to convey with something as inadequate as words. It can only be felt, and I think we all feel it. I can’t speak for you, but I feel it when I think about the attacks on Friday and when I hear about shootings in Oregon or Kenya. I feel it as strongly when I hear reports about bombings of mosques as I do reports of church bombings. I feel it so strongly in so many other things that I hear every day that I have to limit my exposure to the news. I am blessedly sheltered from the experience of what the world can be, but the media is very sure that I know what the world is like.

But I am not afraid. Fear is not my default setting.

My default setting is love. It’s my nature, yes, but I also choose it, especially in the face of what looks like proof that I should choose otherwise.

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On Facebook since Friday, I have seen a lot of people changing their profile pictures to display the blue, white, and red of the French flag. It is a beautiful way to show support for a grieving nation. But the problem is so much bigger than Paris alone.

I saw a poem, today, by Warsan Shire that brought me to tears. It said, “later that night, I held an atlas on my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world, and whispered, ‘where does it hurt?’ It answered, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”

All I can think when I read that is that we are doing this to ourselves.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating over and over and over again until we all understand it and know it all the way through our souls: There is no “us” or “them.” That is the road that has led us to where we are right now. That thinking has led us to closed minds and hate and acts intended to punish and terrify for no other purpose than to punish and terrify those who are not “us.”

So this time I’m shouting it and hoping I will be heard.

THERE IS NO US AND THEM! THERE IS ONLY US!

It’s just us. We are all connected and we are all related. So I’m proposing a new picture and some new hashtags:

IAmLOVE

 

#JeSuislAmour because I am Paris.

#AnaAlhubb (#أناالحب) because I am Beirut and Baghdad.

#MainHoonPyaar (#मैंहूँप्यार) because I am India.

#MimiNiUpendo because I am Kenya.

#WatashiWaAiDesu (#私は愛です) because I am Japan.

#SoyAmor because I am Mexico.

#IAmLOVE because I am everybody, and I am everywhere, whether they get mentioned in the news or not. I am Muslim and Jewish and Christian and Pagan. #IAmLOVE because love is the only thing that can can change fear and hate. #IAmLOVE because I choose it, and I am not afraid.

#NoUsNoThem

You are love, if you will choose to be.

IAmLOVE

Downloadable image proportioned for use as a Facebook profile photo. (On a computer, right click, and select “Save image as…” On a phone, touch and hold, then choose “Save Image”)

I Love You, Too

Dad

I know a lot of people who have lost loved ones often question whether the person who has passed knew how much they were loved or how much the person who passed loved the ones left behind. It’s been one year (as of yesterday) since my dad passed away. Those are questions I have never had to ask.

The last year has been difficult, of course. How could it be anything but? I’ve had questions about how I’m “supposed to” feel or what I “should be” doing, and I know that everybody in my family has been going through the same. Am I grieving too much or not enough? Should I think about him more than I do, or do I dwell more than I should? And on and on… But I’ve never had to ask myself how much my dad loved me or whether he knew that I loved him.

My dad always did this thing from the time my sister and I were little. Usually, when people are leaving each other’s presence or hanging up the phone, they say, “I love you,” and the other person responds, “I love you, too.” My dad never did it that way.

“Bye, Stace. I love you, too.”

Every time, and he almost always said it before any of us could say, “I love you,” first. Whether I was leaving for school in the morning or after I was married and leaving after a visit when we wouldn’t see each other for a while, or if we were hanging up the phone when we talked about nothing more than why I couldn’t get my computer to run a game or something. I think he said it to me as I left from my wedding reception for my honeymoon. I know he said it to me the last time I saw him. In that phrase, by the addition of that one little word–too–he was saying that I loved him, and he knew it, and he made sure I knew he loved me, too.

I was out of town when my father passed. My mom tells me that he would have been glad. He wouldn’t have wanted either of us girls there for that. She would know, so I accept that and feel no guilt for being away. Because of that, the last memory I have of my dad is a hug and those four words.

I love you, too.

I’m sure he would be much happier knowing that that is my last memory of his life.

It’s funny what little things you don’t really think much about until later. I never realized everything that was wrapped up in that little phrase. When I was little, it was something that was silly and made my sister and me laugh. As we got older, it was just what we did. Once in a while, we’d beat him to it. “I love you, too, Dad.” (Giggle. Laugh.) It’s only now I realize how big it is, when you look at it closer. I said goodbye to him for the last time at the funeral home. He was to be cremated, so they just laid him out with a blanket over him in the chapel where they usually hold visitations. There was no casket to get in the way. There was no makeup to make him look like him-but-not-him. I held his hand and said goodbye. Then I leaned down, kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, “I love you, too.”

Rules are Made to be Broken … Sometimes

Today, I came across a blog post over at Hunter’s Writings that contained a very handy infographic on writing rules. Of course, all writers know that the “rules” are made to be broken. The thing to remember, though, is that some rules are more breakable than others, and even the more breakable rules are there for a reason.

The Infographic : The Writer’s Rule Book or Writing Maxims

The things to remember before you break the “rules”:

1) You need to know the rules and why they are there before you break them.

I’m sorry. I know it’s tedious and boring and that we all want to do things in our own way. No one want’s their work to look cookie-cutter or like anyone else’s. We each want our work to be unique. The thing is, my way of showing rather than telling or of using active rather than passive voice will look nothing like your way of doing those things. The rules are there because they have been proven over time to work, but there are as many different ways of following the rules as there are unique author voices in the world.

2) you need to know why you are breaking the rules and what the outcome is likely to be or what effect the rule-breaking is likely to have on your work (or at least what you hope the outcome or effect will be).

It isn’t always possible to know what the outcome or effect is going to be, and I am all for experimentation and trying new things. Just do it with a critical eye. Ask yourself every so often, “Is this working? Why/why not? Can I tweak something to make it work better?” and most importantly, “Is it helping or hurting the telling of my story?” and “Is it distracting?”

Get good beta readers you can trust to tell you when something is or isn’t working. Point out your wanton rule-breaking and ask them what they think of it. There is no shame in admitting that something doesn’t work the way you hoped it would. Sometimes it works better! Sometimes you can tweak it and make it work. And sometimes you have to go back and change things. That’s why it’s called the creative process.

Some people break the rules without those two things, and it works out. Erin Morgenstern did it brilliantly in The Night Circus​, and I recall reading something she said about not knowing that writing in present tense was (at the time) considered “against the rules.” That rule has, of course, changed since then, and writing in the present tense has become fairly common. I would point out, however, that it is not always done well (it is frequently done very badly), and should, therefore, be done carefully. I would place, “Don’t write in the present tense,” in that Level 3 section of the infographic.

So I’ll add a third thing to remember about breaking the rules:

The “rules” can and do change.

Guidelines

For the record, I don’t agree with all of the rules presented in the infographic. I know how to break every single one of them in Level 3. But I also know how, when, and why it is or is not a good idea in my own work or writing process. I flat out disagree with the one that says, “If you want to sell, write to current trends” (if you do that, you’ll always be behind). And of course, it’s impossible to put all the “rules” on one infographic. There are whole books dedicated to the topic.

The trick is to break the rules in the best way possible to enhance your work. Be flexible in both following and breaking the rules. The goal is to always to tell your story as effectively as possible.

via #atozchallenge W is for The Writing Rule Book [Infographic].

The Value of the Whole Story

I don’t usually do this stuff on my blog, but this one I have to mention. What I have to say doesn’t have anything to do with the police or who was right or wrong in a given situation or circumstances surrounding incidents or riots.

What I have to say is about journalism and media in this country.

I was a journalism major in college, and I had a great teacher who taught me about things like the absolute necessity of learning all sides of any story no matter what your personal feelings are about that story. I was taught about the ways an incomplete story fuels misunderstanding and division and the ways in which incomplete stories can be used to divide and weaken everyone. I was also taught how much power the whole story can have to change viewpoints and encourage empathy and understanding.

I am horrified every single day at the way the power of the modern media is used to divide and weaken us when it could be showing us things that have the power to bring us together and empower us. It could be showing us the whole story–all sides–and encouraging us to see past the ends of our own noses and understand that ours is not the only perspective.

And the worst part is that we don’t just let our media do this. We ask for it.

We ask for this in our news reporting by choosing to ignore any side of a news story that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our own views. We don’t want to have to accept that maybe we are wrong about something. Or worse, accept that maybe someone else is right. We don’t want to be reminded that the “other side” is made up of people, just like us, with families and feelings and valid opinions with valid reasoning of their own.

Ask yourself how many pictures you’ve seen recently of riots and looting. How many images of destruction and fighting. And not just about recent events in Baltimore. Think about world events, too. Did you pick up the paper? Click the link? Watch the video? And what about those papers and links and videos that show another perspective–maybe one that doesn’t quite fit with what you think you already know or believe?

We ask for sensationalism every day by choosing to only pay attention to the stories that focus on destruction and death. We demand excitement before we will spend our limited attention spans on anything as frivolous as the news, right? And we ask for a one-sided view of events by choosing only those sources that fit with our established thoughts and beliefs.

The unfortunate side effect of this is the feeling that is generated among people with something to say that violence and destruction are the only ways to get noticed. The only way to get attention for issues that need dealt with and problems that need solved. “If it bleeds, it leads,” as the saying goes, and people are conditioned by the way news is handled to believe it.

The viral image below shows citizens coming together. They are standing together as a community instead of tearing their community apart. They are doing so peacefully, and I did not get it from the usual, “official” media sources. I saw this on social media, not on any news outlet. Why? Because that news doesn’t get ratings or sell copies. Because we, as a society, have decreed that we save our attention for violence and spectacular exhibition. And nudity. Don’t forget the nudity.

There’s none of that in this picture.

This is a picture of people making a simple and powerful statement by doing what they think is right. It is a picture of people saying, peacefully and in no uncertain terms, “Enough. Here is the line, and we are it.”

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How might news coverage change if we showed our media and news outlets that this is worth our time and attention? How might our world change if we showed it that peaceful statements can move us to action? What if we show them that we want to see all the sides of a news story?

The bad/scary/ugly/sensational parts of the news are still news. They happen, and they have a significant impact on the world and are, therefore, important. But they are not the whole story. We really should be demanding more of both our media and ourselves.

We should be looking for those parts of any news story that make us uncomfortable or challenge our views. We should be looking for those parts of the story that make the “other side” more real, more human, more relatable. We should be demanding the same from those we trust to provide us with something as important–as absolutely critical–as the news.

Incomplete reporting creates an “us and them” mentality. Seeing the whole story might just remind us that the world is really filled with just “us”.

Evidence

“So,” he said, startling me from my task, “what are you doing?”

I looked at the handful of papers I was holding and at the shredder in front of me. It was a silly question, and he knew it. His face was all mischief and humor.

“I’m shredding papers.” The obvious answer. He waited for me to do better. Ok, then. “I suppose ‘destroying evidence’ would be the too-obvious answer. Ah, but evidence of what?”

“You’re a writer. I’m sure you can do better than that. A whole story even.” He leaned closer. “Let me know what you come up with.”

As he left, I looked at the papers still in my hand and the stack I still carried against my hip.

Everything was there. Every random text I thought to send. Every phone call. Every hope and insecurity. Everything I should say, but didn’t. Everything I shouldn’t say, but wanted to.

:Do I ever cross your mind when we aren’t here … :

:No, you don’t cross my mind. Crossing suggests coming and going. You show up and stay … :

:You’re not safe for me. You’ll break heart, and I don’t care … :

The important things I kept. I tucked the little things carefully away in notebooks and scribbled on scraps of paper in case I needed them, and the big things I kept safely hidden between the pages of unfinished novels in the hope I would someday be able to explain them. The rest … The rest I hid away in myself and fed the evidence into the depths of the shredder.

I finished my task and smiled. He wanted a story, but I gave him only the truth. I was destroying evidence.

As I finished my day and prepared to leave, I passed him on my way out the door. He was feeding paper into the shredder.

“And what evidence are you destroying?” I asked.

“Top secret,” he said.

My First Ramadan

I have a very dear friend who is Muslim.

Right now, he is almost precisely in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. I know almost nothing about Ramadan or its observance. I am not familiar with its traditions. I have only a vague understanding of the beliefs and teachings involved. My friend has told me a bit, of course, and he is always happy to answer all of my (sometime strange, occasionally random, and often silly) questions. I resorted to the mystical art of Googlemancy for whatever other bits of information I have.

I admire the dedication and discipline involved. I am reasonably certain that I would fail miserably at the proper observation of Ramadan as my own self-discipline is sorely lacking at the best of times and very often completely non-existent.

My only experience of Ramadan is what I observe of my friend, and today, after speaking with him for a few minutes, I am sorry to admit, I had this unlovely and unflattering thought:

I am not loving this Ramadan business.

You see, my friend is usually exceptionally charming, he’s clever, he laughs and makes me laugh with him. Today, he was exhausted from the fasting—two weeks of it and still another (almost) two to go. He is withdrawn, melancholy … Silent.

I’m Christian and have little context into which to place the strictness with which Muslims observe the fast. Even Lent (though I am not Catholic and, therefore, have only a little more experience with that) is not nearly so structured and carefully observed as what I see in my friend’s Ramadan observance. No meat on Fridays and giving up one of your vices is hardly comparable to approximately 30 days during which you neither eat nor drink anything (ANYTHING) between sunrise and sunset.

What I saw—the thing that prompted my unlovely thought—was that all the life seemed drained and draining out of my friend. What seemed to be a bit of discomfort for him in the beginning now seems like a trial that takes all of his beautiful energy and leaves him a shadow of who I know him to be.

But then I remembered something. It was a small thing, maybe, if it’s something you’re used to seeing all the time. I’m sure my friend thought nothing of it when it happened, but its impact on me was profound. You see, I was privileged, one evening, to witness my friend’s father performing his prayers after the evening meal. Kneeling, then standing, then kneeling again. Eyes closed, his lips moving in the recitation of a silent prayer. Calm devotion poured off him and filled the space. His prayer filled the room.

It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the honor of witnessing.

So today, after the unlovely thought, I remembered that night—I remembered watching my friend’s father pray—and I had another thought:

Maybe that’s the point.

Or part of it anyway. This draining away of the self to make room for Allah. The emptying of personal energy so that one can then be filled with the Divine.

I still can’t say I’m loving Ramadan. It’s a bit selfish of me, I know. It is a failing in myself, and one I’ll continue to work on. But I can say I respect the holy month of Ramadan and its observance all the more for that glimpse of understanding.

Confession time

OK, I have a confession to make.

I LOVE my WordPress stats page. It isn’t that I have huge amounts of traffic in my little corner of the internet and like to see all the big numbers and so forth. I have a few visitors who regularly stop by and see what I’m up to, but overall, my actual numbers are pretty modest.

No – the thing I love so much about my stats page is that little section that tell me where my visitors are from.

I routinely get visitors from here in the United States, of course, though I do wish the stats page would show me where in the US everybody is (Hawaii? Alaska? Georgia? Right next door?) I have some regular visitors in the UK (love my British peeps!) and Ireland (What’s the craic?). I also have someone who peeks in from Germany once in a while (Guten tag!)

And yesterday?

Spain!

Little things like this excite me and totally make my day. So next time you stop by – even if you see this post a year from now and think I’m no longer paying attention – just pop a little note into the comments.

Tell me where you are.

Tell me the best part about being there.

Or just say, “¡Hola!”

I love that stuff. You will single-handedly make my day no matter where you are!

In the numbers

I have always been interested in all things mystical. Tarot, numerology, astrology, palmistry… In the hands of a skilled reader and insightful interpreter, they can each offer a fascinating way to look at yourself. I have had several such readings from several different sources. I initially approached the exercise as a skeptic, but I was surprised at how accurate and helpful my readings have been.

Through the magic of Facebook, I have met a lot of really great and interesting people. One of those is Sofiana Rich – a professional name she uses for privacy purposes, but I am blessed to know her personally as well. She offered to give me a demonstration numerology reading (my first!) to share here for anyone who might be as curious or fascinated as I am.

There are several ways to approach a numerology reading. Numbers can be calculated based on a person’s name or birth date. For this demonstration, Sofie chose to read my Life Lesson Number, which is calculated by adding together the numerals in my date of birth then adding those numbers together until you arrive at a single digit number (there are cases where a two-digit number is used, but I’ll leave that to those who know much more that I).

My Life Lesson Number is 7, so here’s what that means straight from Sofie:

Your Life Lesson number is 7. This expresses traits that you are here to incorporate into your being and, therefore, will be tested on them often. At least until you’ve learned the accompanying lessons.

You have strong intuition and insight. When you choose to honor that intuition, your words are full of wisdom, which they are meant to be. You are a person who ought to strive to remain silent unless speaking from Wisdom. You are here to develop your mind, so you need to read, think, and meditate. You must embrace spending time by yourself, preferably in nature. Quiet, natural places will be most helpful in delving into your deepest thoughts, which is where/how you will uncover your destiny.

This is the number of the dreamer and the philosopher. You are likely drawn by the mysterious and mystical. If you believe in, and practice using, your intuition it can be developed into an effective tool in helping other people.

Pythagoras considered 7 the most sacred of all the numbers, and in ancient times children born under this number were trained from childhood to serve as priests or priestesses.

It can be easy for you to see through the outer masks that people wear, straight into the truth of their motives and being. This can make others uncomfortable around you, especially if their motives are suspect.

You like the quiet life, preferring the country to the city. You have a love affair with words, being a person of the mind.

You should develop selflessness and compassion, which will help you to create the world you know could exist. When the world doesn’t match your ideal you may become frustrated and depressed. Developing your mind, your intuition, compassion and selflessness will help you combat the depression as well as help you manifest a better world.

Overall, you have a sound, creative mind.

Here is a direct quote about Key VII “The Chariot”, your corresponding Tarot card: “”The Chariot represents receptivity to the will of the one Source. The keyword attributed to this card is fence or enclosure, and its sense function is speech. Every word we speak is a fence enclosing an idea or thought. An eloquent vocabulary is a powerful tool for protection and preservation, as well as advancement. When we speak we set in motion a vibration that acts upon the ethers, space, and akasha…It is only when we become still, quiet and receptive that we can be victorious. Then the primal force can work through us.” (Numerology and The Divine Triangle by Faith Javane and Dusty Bunker, p142)

* * *

Wow! Thanks, Sofie. That was awesome! I really do see a lot of truth in this reading and a lot of things to think on.

If you’re as interested in this sort of thing as I am, I recommend you visit Sofie yourself. You can find her Facebook profile HERE and her Facebook page “Delphic Pandora” HERE. Tell her I sent you.😉

Happy dance!!!

So I was checking out this great blog I follow — Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing — and as I’m reading I notice my name in the left-hand sidebar.

(Go on, check it out. The Pick and Mix page is here … I’ll wait…)

They picked me as their blogger of the week! I did a happy dance all around my kitchen!

Quantum Reality

a-to-z-letters-q

So for my Q post for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I have invited my friend Victoria Adams of Victoria’s Reading Alcove to help me out.

I suggested a topic of “Quantum Magic” because the more I learn about quantum science, the more I see that it is a kind of magic.

Victoria did me one better and gave me a post on quantum science and it’s connection to the nature of reality.

a-to-z-letters-rI strongly urge you to check out Victoria’s blog.  There, you will find book reviews and articles on topics ranging from science to ancient legend (and often the connection between the two) and just about everything in between.  I can get lost on her page for hours and not realize how long I’ve been wandering.

Take it away, Victoria!

The Nature of Reality

First of all, I must thank Stacey for the privilege of contributing to her little corner of the world as well as her patience waiting for me to get this article written.

Science, to me, is an integral part of who we are and where we are going. Because of that, I also believe it is a very real part of our beliefs, our dreams, our ever-changing perception of the world – the universe – around us. Science and spiritually, for me, live in the same house and are quite comfortable with each other. Part of the reason for that is what we are only now beginning to learn about the “nature of reality.”

Although most stories of this kind start with Copernicus, I tend to look even further back. Back into the golden age of the Greeks when so much was within their grasp, and they never failed to test the waters and at least try to “follow the math” wherever it would lead them.

Let’s start with a fellow named Eratosthenes who live somewhere around 200-300 BCE. He was the first to discover that the earth was round and did so without a telescope or any other modern convenience. He measured shadows. It is also quite obvious that the builders of the pyramids knew something about geometry on a curving surface. By the time we get to Copernicus and Galileo, the human race had been through a number of starts and stops in comprehending the universe. It is entirely possible that Galileo’s troubles were not entirely based on his conflict with the Church; he was challenging a whole philosophy based on the teachings of Aristotle. Even church fathers and many medieval philosophers based their interpretations of the world on Aristotelian thought. This was a revolution that rocked the foundation of centuries of developed world-view. A pretty scary thing.

Why? Because in our search to nail down “the nature of things” we often look for a comfort zone. If, as a race, we do not understand how something works, it becomes a mystery, a miracle or magic. Once we start to grow and understand that there is regularity in the universe, that there are rules by which the elements must behave, we feel more secure. This was evidenced in Newtonian science where the great “watchmaker” of the universe provided set courses and rules by which thing on earth and in the heavens were constrained. All the while keeping in mind that even the Greeks envisioned something smaller than the eye could see out of which all things were made.

What, then, was the nature of these tiny building blocks of nature? Wouldn’t they have to follow the same rules and regulations?

Evidently nothing could be further from the truth.

Now that we have entered the age of quantum physics we are being introduced to a whole new vision of “the nature of reality.” We are learning that particles can interact at any distance without a visible physical connection. Space is not empty, it is a fabric made up of time and the forces of gravity. Particles do not always act like particles, sometimes they are probability waves which do not resolve to a finite position or “state” until something or someone measures or observes it. How can we live in a universe that requires observation to become finite?

There are a number of physicists that provide really solid explanations of where modern physics is taking us. The list is rather long for this brief article, however I will name one: the gentleman that actually inspired this piece, Brian Greene. Among his published works are The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos. These programs put the mind bending math of physics well within the grasp of the interested layperson with dynamic, graphical presentations. Somehow it all makes sense for a bit after you view them.

Some years ago, after the release of Elegant Universe, I heard him interviewed on NPR radio. I appreciated his approach because when the questions turned to spirituality he was not defensive or tongue-tied. His response was that he really wasn’t all that concerned about the presence or absence of some supreme being. If he found one in his search for the nature of the universe that would be fine, but he wouldn’t be all that disappointed if there wasn’t one. Then he told the interviewer that he should mention that when he would discuss the latest ideas with his brother, who was Hindi, he would be informed that the ideas had been there for millennium in the Sanskrit Vedas.

For this one interview Dr. Greene has always had my respect. Even though he had no general feelings to a world outside of mathematics, he knew and was prepared to acknowledge that the human quest for the nature of reality has been a long and well-traveled path using all the tools available to us.

What then is there for us to know, at this stage in our history, about the true nature of reality? Is it some gossamer thing that changes with the slightest whim of “observance?” Is it something with set rules and regulations that we can always depend on? Is it something that we can truly understand from our perspective, or will we always need some bit of intuition?

Physicists, in my mind, are men and women who can look beyond visible “reality” and imagine how and why such a thing occurred. The philosophers and spiritualists among us do much the same thing, without the math. If we are to ever discover the real meaning of “reality,” it will take both the visionary and the fact driven scientist to reach beyond ourselves and our visual universe to touch that which gave it all existence; that which gave it life.

If you would like to explore more of the physics of the quantum world, Dr. Greene’s programs are very helpful. You can view The Elegant Universe series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and The Fabric of the Cosmos here.

Also, NASA and JPL Labs have a wonderful website designed specifically for the layperson here.