My Memory of Ms. Dantes

As I go over my memory of the dialogues I had with Ms. Dantes over the years, what stands out is her primary emphasis on inquiry. For inquiry to have value, it must involve wandering freely. In traditional spirituality, teachings are set, thinking is discouraged and the emphasis is on practice because in traditional societies thinking is circumscribed by scriptures, traditions and established bonds and loyalties.

Inquiry has a great value when and where it is possible to wander freely. Ms. Dantes emphasized inquiry in this sense and provided an example of a life enriched by ceaseless inquiry. She often asked me questions about science and listened with curiosity to my approach as a scientist. She warned people against becoming followers and urged them to do their own inquiry rather than expect others to provide them with answers. The meetings she held consisted of open dialogues meant to enhance observation and understanding.

What did Ms. Dantes mean by inquiry? Inquiry invariably involves reasoning. Artificial intelligence performs operations along pure reasoning with no feelings about the details it manipulates in the process. In humans, on the other hand, reasoning is intertwined with feelings. In traditional spirituality this is expressed in terms of the paradoxes of thinking with the heart and feeling with the mind.

If we strive not to involve our feelings when inquiring, we may succeed to a degree when the subjects we are examining lend themselves to some extent to being divorced from how we feel about them. But spiritual inquiry proceeds with reflecting on ourselves, and so we are immediately confronted not only with sorting out our opinions and beliefs but also with the feelings inspired by these opinions and beliefs and, on top of all that, we come face to face with biological tendencies firmly grounded in feelings.

What makes it open to humans to look into what they are is the capacity to step back from what they think and feel and begin to reflect on all that. Stepping back is a contemplative process where thoughts and feelings are allowed to surface without investing energy into holding onto them or being moved into action by them. The insight we gain is similar in effect to how enacting something in a dream gives us insight into experiencing it when awake.

The meditation that was promoted by Ms. Dantes consisted of focusing on stepping back from our thoughts and feelings without introducing methods or beliefs to facilitate this process. The contemplative process is self correcting and stepping back becomes natural with practice. Methods and beliefs invariably become an object in themselves when introduced and the contemplative process gets crowded out by the establishment of a religion. Our spiritual wondering is often overshadowed by our fervent desire to form beliefs. Spirituality lives by wonder and dies by fervor.