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Hans Decoz

A Fish Made of Water

The following are two short excerpts from a book I recently finished. I'm curious to get your take on this, so please feel free to comment.

The first is an impossible little tale in which Albert Einstein meets Lao Tzu. It's used as an analogy. The second is a conversation between two people, Daenko and Johann. Daenko is an older, somewhat eccentric mentor to the younger Johann, the narrator in the story.

Excerpt (in which Johann remembers) :

I remember him telling me a story about two men whose paths crossed. It was a beautiful day so they took the opportunity to sit down and share a meal. One of the men introduced himself as Albert Einstein. The other said his name was Lao Tzu.

They made a small fire and while waiting for the water to boil in preparation for tea, Lao Tzu asked Einstein what he did for a living. Einstein said he was a physicist and had recently developed a theory he thought was very exciting, whereupon he proceeded to explain his general theory of relativity. Einstein was a humble man but once he started talking physics there was no stopping him. This was fine with Lao Tzu because it was certainly interesting. Einstein talked about space and time and the curvature of spacetime. He talked about the law of  gravity and black holes, and the speed of light and how that related to our notion of time. He was clear and concise and Lao Tzu had no trouble following him. It was a lively conversation, mostly Einstein talking and Lao Tzu asking the occasional question.

When Einstein finished Lao Tzu thanked him for all that he had taught him. Then Lao Tzu told Einstein he would like to show him something. He placed his hand on Einstein's head and asked him to close his eyes.

"What do you see, Albert?" Lao Tzu asked.

"Nothing, my eyes are closed, I can't see anything."

"Are you sure? Take your time. Don't think about anything, just let your eyes rest."

Both men were quiet for a few minutes. It must have been a comical thing to see, a hundred year old Lao Tzu dressed in traditional Chinese garb, his long white beard almost touching the ground. And Albert Einstein dressed in a wrinkled suit, sitting on a tree trunk, wild hair disheveled, a pair of steel-rimmed glasses perched on his big nose.

Then Einstein started to cry, silently. Big tears ran down his cheeks.

"Why are you crying, Albert?"

"Because I see, Lao Tzu. I can see! This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. You have shown me the greatest mystery, yet you have not said a word."

Excerpt (of a conversation between Daenko and Johann, a few years later) :

I follow Daenko to what was once the bakery's reception room where we climb a rickety ladder to the roof. We sit down on cheap aluminum lawn chairs that threaten to collapse at any time. It's a beautiful cloudless night.

After a couple minutes he says: "Look around you Johann. What do you see?"

"A dark sky, lots of stars. Looks like we're about three days from a full moon."

"What else?"

"Well, the city of course, and all the lights, city hall, the hospital, office buildings, the neon lights downtown, the freeway over there. I see the horizon and the river. Lots of things, too many to list."

"But you're not seeing the most obvious thing, the prevailing substance."

"Okay, I give up. What is it?"

"Empty space. Everything you see doesn't add up to one-billionth of one percent of the empty space in which it exists."

"That's a little farfetched Daenko, you just tricked me. Empty space is invisible, that's why it's empty. You can't see it."

"It's invisible, I agree, but it's not empty. Far from it. There's no such thing as empty space. The trouble is, we can't envision what that means. We're conditioned to live in empty space, have been since the day we were born. Think about it. We're able to move around because there's space to move. Same with the stars and the planets and everything else."

"Sure, that makes sense."

"And yet that's where physicists and philosophers alike run into a problem. They accept the concept of empty space, to some extent. Science knows space is not really empty, its chockfull of particles. So we study particles and find protons and electrons. We look deeper and find even smaller bits of matter like quarks, then smaller still, something called strings. By now we are far beyond anything we can see or even measure and it becomes mostly theory. But still there's space, a lot of empty space for protons and electrons and quarks and what have you to bounce around in, spin at mind-boggling speeds, attract other particles, split, fuse, absorb energy, produce energy, create matter. Einstein's theory tells us that mass is energy and vice versa. But either way, everything you see and touch, including matter, is primarily empty space - as is space itself. But I think something fills that space. The space between stars and galaxies, where we measure distances in light years, but also the space between particles, that's filled too. Imagine it as a kind of superfine water, a substance science has not yet discovered. It's neither mass nor energy and none of our theories touch it. It simply hasn't entered our sphere of thought or knowledge, or imagination. That's how far outside the realm of anything we know this mysterious substance, this superfine water, exists. But it's there nonetheless, it's everywhere."

"What you're saying is that space, from the farthest reaches of the universe to the space between the particles, is filled with an invisible "superfine water" the way the air around us fills the space between us? You can't see it, but it's there?"

"Exactly. I like your analogy. Like air, it's invisible, but there is one difference. Imagine that the air molecules are so fine they allow air to flow right through us. That's what this "superfine water" is like. It fills the space between the particles, it even exists inside the particles. Now imagine that this superfine water is the source of creation, all of it. It existed before the Big Bang and when the universe implodes back to the size of a pin head, all the space that will then be empty of particles and quarks and anything else, will still be filled with superfine water."

"Is this your theory? Do you really believe that?"

"I also believe that in essence you and I are made from this superfine water too. Picture yourself as a fish made of water, you're made of the exact same material that surrounds you, but by some magic you maintain your shape, you get to be a fish for as long as needed. And to add magic upon magic, you're given a consciousness, an identity. You're cut free from everything to become a single independent entity, a thinking, dreaming, breathing, moving, loving, feeling, talking fish made of water."

I like the concept, but after a few minutes of contemplation a question arises.

"Why? What's it all for then? If it's just some kind of substance you call superfine water, what's the purpose of it all?"

"Good question. My guess is the superfine water has an agenda of its own and we are a big part of it. Of all the miracles of this creation, space, matter, energy, life, water, air, gravity, light - the most magical, the most sophisticated by far is consciousness. But even consciousness is not the end product. Consciousness by itself is a tool, a void, a vacuum looking to be filled, boring and empty. Until you let it experience love and joy and happiness. When you feed it the beauty of life it becomes something else entirely. The consciousness of feeling, consciousness of love, of joy, of appreciation, devotion, bliss, happiness, that's what it's all about. I think that's what this superfine water is after. The creation of something capable of feeling, the creation of a conduit, so to speak, through which it can experience joy, happiness, love. My superfine water is thirsty for that, thirsty for the experience of love and joy and peace and happiness and all the other things we like to feel. It thirsts for humor and compassion, creativity and the excitement of learning, romance and sharing and generosity and everything else that makes the heart sing. In the end, it's not that complicated. Superfine water made you and billions of other human beings, and through us it reaches for an experience, a beautiful experience, a never-ending experience. We are the mouth through which it drinks, the eyes through which it sees, the ears through which it listens, and most of all, the hearts through which it feels. It lives inside of us and reaches for those feelings. And when we open our hearts and feed it what it wants, it rewards us a thousand fold by sharing with us. That's why you feel good when you feel joy, love, gratitude, compassion, contentment. Those feelings suit you, you're experiencing what you were designed for. Of course, it's also why you feel bad when you experience anger, hate, greed, envy. Because that's not what you were designed for. Everything is balanced and simple once you accept that everything is made of superfine water. Now, would you like some tea?"

Daenko is smiling, like he just told a joke and is waiting for me to get it.

I'm stunned though. I've never thought of life that way. Daenko's superfine water, I guess it's what I might have called my soul. It makes sense in a childish, innocent, ludicrously simplified way. I'm not at all sure I believe it, I'm not even sure he does. The way he's sitting there, I wouldn't be surprised if he made the whole thing up.

"Sure, I'll have some tea."

When he comes back carrying two mugs of tea he says: "There's no need to break your head over any of this, Johann. It doesn't matter whether superfine water exists. It's beside the point. As is all of science."

He's right. It doesn't make any difference. The essence of what he told me is true. I can feel it in my heart. I know I'm a conduit.

We sit quietly for awhile. I try to digest what he told me and something bubbles to the surface. I have another question for him.

"If this superfine water is not made of matter or energy, how can you know it exists?"

"Good question. We can't, at least not the conventional way. We don't have instruments capable of picking up traces of this superfine material. So it's a good thing we have a built-in receiver made specifically to help us recognize it, connect with it, appreciate it."

"I don't understand what you mean by that."

"I know, and you can't because it falls outside the realm of the mind. But as I have said before, there are different ways of knowing. You already have everything you need to see and touch and taste the source from where you came, call it superfine water or call it something else. Just as you were given eyes to see, ears to hear, a tongue to taste, you were also given the tools to see inside, and when you do, you will know all there is to know. Like Einstein, once he allowed Lao Tzu to show him where to look."

For once I have no more questions.

I recognize what Daenko has been trying to tell me using his superfine water theory, and many other stories and poems: I need to find a captain who will take me across and lead me to the Holy Grail.