Physics and Buddhism both posit that it’s hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint “you.” Harrison Blum, the Buddhist spiritual advisor at Northeastern University, has created a new guided meditation that allows practitioners to experience that truth.
In three sessions last fall, participants sat and danced in meditation, while watching molecules and energy fields interact with their bodies on a screen. The meditation uses a simulation called “danceroom Spectroscopy,” or “dS” for short. dS was created in 2011 by physicist and Royal Society research fellow David Glowacki, who wanted an easy way to share his research findings with non-scientists. Using supercomputers, cameras, a projector, speakers, and a screen, he created the simulatihon, which puts participants directly inside the molecular world. Participants’ bodies are interpreted as energy fields that interact with atoms and molecules on the screen in real time. The simulation uses the same equations used by physicists to model the complex movements of atoms. Glowacki’s work has won a host of awards for breaking down barriers between art, science, and education.
Glowacki observed that dS participants found the experience to be deeply spiritual and introspective, so he reached out to Blum, who was an old friend from college.
“I think he was interested in what would happen if there was a specific invitation to experience dS as a spiritual practice,” says Blum, who is a Community Dharma Leader in the Insight Meditation tradition, and has just finished editing “Dancing with Dharma,” a collection of essays on movement in Western Buddhism.
In the video above, Blum describes how the event unfolded.
“In dS, the visual representation of our form dissolves, and is populated by particles or movements of energy that are not owned by anyone. They’re dynamic,” says Blum.
Blum set up dS in Northeastern’s Sacred Space, with cushions set around the room. The sessions began with a guided meditation, and then participants were allowed to move around the room freely.
“The idea was that, whether you were moving our sitting, you would be engaged in a form of meditation,” says Blum in the above video. “It was thrilling. I felt like I was seeing Buddhist principles brought to life in front of my eyes.”
Glowacki has also pointed to on overlap between Buddhist thought and the principles of physics. He has described dS as “an invitation to contemplate the interconnected dynamism of the natural world.”
As participants in dS watch the energy fields of their bodies push and pull on the atoms around them, it becomes apparent that there is no clean-cut entity that can be identified as “self,” and that the elements that we comprise are constantly shifting and changing. These observations resonate strongly with the Buddhist concepts of no-self and impermanence.
“It’s pretty obvious that people are interpreting this on a metaphysical, spiritual level,” says Glowacki in the video below. dS creates the opportunity for participants to ask themselves questions, says Glowacki, like “What is the separation between ourself and the environment in which we are situated?”
In The Guardian, Glowacki, who has a personal interest in Buddhism, writes,
“Tibetan texts quote the Buddha as having said: ‘All the many things in the universe are appearances of collections.’ These words, spoken nearly 2,500 years ago, resonate with the recent Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, and physics – which recognize advances in our understanding of how tiny things are composed of even tinier things.”
Blum and Glowacki are discussing ways to use dS in a therapeutic context. Blum currently teaches mindfulness meditation to teenagers with mental health issues. Mindfulness meditation is an effective treatment because it helps patients see painful thoughts and emotions as dynamic and transient. In the same way, dS allows participants to see themselves as ever-changing energy. Blum hopes dS could be an entry-point for patients who are less likely to try mindfulness meditation on its own, as well as a powerful tool for contemplation and discussions.