Black Holes, Mindfulness, and a Sense of Wonder

Black Hole Image April 2019

Apparently, the many black hole images I thought I’d seen before were fake news. For decades, artists, scientists, and special effects folks have produced images of black holes yet, until this week, nobody had known what one truly looked like. It took an array of telescopes, an ingenious set of algorithms, and ten years of international cooperation to pull together an image of a black hole in a distant galaxy.

What’s the link between black holes and mindfulness?

I’m glad you asked.

I don’t know about you, but looking at this new image affects me physically. It touches me in a way that the already amazing images of space hadn’t yet, for some reason. Perhaps you’re touched by other such images, like nebulae, whole galaxies, mind-blowing depictions of things way bigger than ourselves that the mind can barely grasp. Heck, just staring into the night sky blows my mind every time.

And that’s the connection to mindfulness.

When we practise mindfulness, we open up space to be surprised. When we bring full attention to an aspect of what’s happening, we can see or choose things more consciously, and we’re gently moved out of automatic pilot. Perhaps the black hole image gives more of a jolt out of auto pilot.

There was perhaps a mass experience like this when humans first landed on the moon, and perhaps during the radio hoax of War of the Worlds. People around the world were stunned into questioning their perspective on reality. It happened at other times in history, too, as the mysteries of the universe unfolded. What? The Earth isn’t flat?

Interruptions are a gift

Think about times when you’ve been jolted into a strong sense of presence. I can recall inspiring moments, for example, when traveling. Waves washing onto a 70-mile beach, Ayers Rock at sunset, kneeling on the ocean floor beside a giant clam. And there were other less inspiring moments that hit hard, too, those “I remember where I was” moments – the day of Princess Di’s funeral, the unfolding disbelief of 9/11, the unimaginable reality of a mass shooting.

After all, aren’t we mostly gliding through each day in habit mode? The movement called mindfulness is essentially a call to awareness, a subtle call to constant prayer, or remembering the presence of God – a modern way of bringing meditative awareness into our days. In his mindfulness program, originator Jon Kabat-Zinn found a way to integrate his Buddhist and yogic studies into his secular work on stress reduction. He gave people tools to come into the moment and out of their habit-mind.

Wonder is a mindfulness tool

Well, the black hole image (or rather, the image of its halo since the “object” itself is out of sight) just became one of my new mindfulness tools.

Take a moment:

There’s an object out there whose mass is 6.5 billion times greater than our sun. It’s 40 billion kilometers across. Because it’s 55 million light years away from us and light can’t escape from it, they used eight massive telescopes to focus on it for ten days, producing much data that it couldn’t be sent over even super-fast Internet. And then it needed a team to develop a special series of algorithms to piece this gigantic amount of raw data together, led by a woman who was still in college when she did it. Way to go Katie Bouman. That’s the awestruck woman whose image you’ve likely been seeing lately.

Black Hole April 2019
Worth seeing again

Well, feel free to go back to your day now, but I’m going to take a moment and stare at my desktop, in awe.

2 thoughts on “Black Holes, Mindfulness, and a Sense of Wonder

  1. It is a pretty incredible thing!

  2. Update on the beautiful name of the Black Hole: Thanks for this comment by Eco Dharma:

    “Hi Andy – ‘enjoyed your recent article about wonder and mindfulness, evoked by the recent black hole image. It has been given an official name, “Powehi”, Hawaiian for “The adorned fathomless dark creation”. Or, “Embellished dark source of unending creation”.

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