What led the twenty-six-year-old German-born man to dash, clutching a brown envelope, and wearing a worn pair of green flowered slippers, into the busy streets of Bern, Switzerland, one morning in 1905? A passionate pursuit of physics.
Later, after his metamorphosis from anonymous patent clerk to collectively anointed genius, Albert Einstein would explain the rationale for his thirst, “‘I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts,” “The rest,” which we might take to also include angels-on-a pin arguments by others which inevitably form vortices around great minds, “are details.”
In Einstein’s view, the ultimate way to discover “God’s thoughts,” the why and how the cosmos works, is revealed through mathematical inquiry. Charlie Russell’s drive was similar, he too sought to understand Nature, “I am in search of truth.” His tools of investigation were not sylphlike formulae, but eyes, ears, and body. They served as portals to hear Nature’s discourse, converse with Bears, and bring his mind into resonance with the rhythms of rivers, mountains, and winds. Interestingly, we find the intersection of these two vast souls in the work of another physicist, David Bohm.
Both Charlie and Bohm relied on embodied learning to inform their understanding. Similar to Charlie, who maintained, “I’ve always learned things by doing,” David Bohm rooted his insights in lived experience. In an interview with biophysicist Maurice Wilkins, Bohm describes how he used his body to understand quantum spin, the angular momentum peculiar to the tiny particles. “I can’t really articulate it, it had to do with a sense of tensions in the body, the fact that two tensions are in opposite directions and then suddenly feel that there was something else. The spin thing cannot be reduced to classical physics. Two feelings in the mind combine to produce something that is of a different quality. . . I got the feeling in my own mind of spin up, spin down, that I was spinning up and then down. Then suddenly bringing them together in the x direction (horizontal). . .It’s a kind of transformation that takes place.” This mode of understanding stemmed from childhood.
To Charlie’s delight, he shared with David Bohm a near identical revelatory experience as a twelve-year-old crossing a mountain stream. Both realized that to get across the water successfully without slipping or getting their boots wet, they had to, Charlie recounted, “be in this mindset– being and acting in complete connection with what was around you. If you are in this mindset then you do things correctly because you are accessing all the information about where you are and what is happening.” Bohm called this holistic, engaged perception and movement “holomovement,” “which is never static or complete, but which is in an unending process of movement and unfoldment.” This is how Charlie and the Bears lived.
Living with Brown Bears in Kamchatka, Charlie maintained, you had to “be present, in the right way. When you understand and pay attention to your connection with a Bear and her connection with you and everything around you both, then you are in the same space.” He credits this mindset of Nature Consciousness to why Bears trusted him.
By remaining fluid in mind and body and taking in the entire environment, any splitting fear fails to form. Charlie and the Bears were able, as David Bohm describes, to live as “a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it.” Nodding in agreement as he read these words, Charlie concluded, “That’s how Nature works. That’s how Nature thinks.” Maybe now, this is how Albert Einstein has been granted his wish – by the Bears.
~ Dedicated to Tommy ~
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