Happy Birthday to Me: The Futility of Seeking Wisdom

“And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”

Ecclesiastes 1:17-18

I wrote the following message to Henry Red Cloud on Thursday morning:

“Spiritually oriented chemist who would like to help Lakota Solar Enterprises

Dear Henry Red Cloud,

I greatly appreciated talking to you on the telephone yesterday.  I encountered your work in Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate” and found the part of the book about the Lakota Solar Enterprises to be the best part of the text.  I had read Klein’s first book “No Logo” in college in 2000 and have long been inspired by Klein’s critical stance on capitalism as a system.  I have spent much of my life so far studying the science of chemistry.  I went to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and graduate with a degree in chemistry in 2003.  I was inspired by my college chemistry professor to learn as much as I could about plants in college so I did three years of research work in the laboratory during that time (2000-2003).  Following the completion of my time at Emory, I went to pursue doctoral studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  I earned my Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2009, and went to MIT to study molecular biology in what is called a postdoctoral research position.

It was there in Boston that I had what I call the beginning of my “spiritual awakening.”  I continued to work in research in the laboratory, but gradually felt that my calling was not in laboratory science but in working to combine spirituality with science.  For the past seven years I have struggled, often in darkness, to define this path.  In many ways, mainstream American learning in the traditional university discourages combining spirituality with science.  Most academic research is done with very tight budget restrictions being funded by a federal grant system that only encourages the development of very specific and controlled topics.  The allocation of that grant money has progressively moved towards funding research that supports the interests of large corporations and not the general welfare of people.  In this way, freely doing science as an expression of one’s spirituality is discouraged.  Science in this kind of system ends up serving to maximize profits of a small elite social class rather than to serve the greater welfare of humanity and the larger spirit of Nature.  Fortunately, the rapid development of information technology enables one to engage the scientific enterprise from outside the traditional confines of major universities.  In the upcoming years, it is my hope to focus my efforts in writing and research on sustainability.  I hope to encounter innovators in sustainable technology development and learn as much as possible.  I feel groups like Lakota Solar Enterprises represents what the world needs technology guided by spirituality that is in harmony with Earth.  It is deeply inspirational to see how your work in inspiring others to invest in solar energy.

While at MIT I began to study meditation seriously.  I had encountered Christianity in college but always felt there was something missing in the direct experience of Spirit in the ways that I was taught to worship in the style of Christianity I encountered.  Gradually, I realized that it might make sense to study religion formally for some time.  I left the laboratory in 2012 and studied at a Christian seminary for a year.  The year at the seminary was very good for my spiritual development, but I found that working directly in the church was not my calling.  I worked for a year with a refugee resettlement agency in Atlanta and spent some time teaching high school.  Following this time I did some hiking on the Appalachian Trail and moved to Minneapolis.  It was there that I started to learn about the spiritual traditions of Native people.  I met a very important woman, Diane Kerr (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianerobinsonkerr), who helped me start to learn about the some of the Native healing traditions.  Diane with her husband Russell would host weekly meetings on Sunday night where we would discuss spiritual topics.  One night she invited an Omaha medicine woman to talk to our group.  I was deeply inspired by her talk and started to write poetry in an attempt to express some of the spiritual thoughts that I had that merge the boundaries of science and faith.  I now see the arts as a great partner to the sciences and while never really considering myself an artist, I hope to expand my study of the arts to express the deep beauty of nature to as many people as possible.

One thing that I feel deeply now is that we are living in a time where the sciences need to come together with all forms of spirituality and faith to create a united whole complete way of being in nature.  As it is now practiced in mainstream American society the dollar is often put over the welfare of the people and the greater spirit of Earth.  We can see that this philosophy is hurting the very atmosphere that we breath.  There must be a better way.  I really like the part of Klein’s book where she says that you say that there are times “when you need to run like a buffalo.”  I feel we are at this point regarding working on merging science and faith.  What inspires me so much about Lakota Solar Enterprises is that it expresses the holistic understanding of Spirit and nature while at the same times working with the greater system of capitalism.  In that way, appropriate technology can be developed that is harmonious with Earth rather than technology that is exploitative and harmful to nature.  I would like to try to find a time to visit Lakota Solar Enterprises.  I am at point of professional transition where I have decided to focus 100% on trying to find a path that brings science and spirituality together in support of sustainable technology development.  I would like to volunteer to teach what I know about science in exchange for time to learn from you and Lakota Solar Enterprises.  I would like to help share the teachings that you have to offer to others.

I am open to working in the Pine Ridge community in any way that can be of support to the community.  What needs does your community have particularly in the area of science education?  One idea I had was to help tutor adults or mature high school students in groups or individually.  In the past few years many college courses from world class universities have appeared online that are free.  I can use these resources to help people in Pine Ridge via one on one and small group coordinated learning.  One thing that I learned from the Omaha medicine woman is that the Internet is connecting people globally across cultures.  Rather than being a one way exchange, the Internet can be a exchange.  I am very passionate about the idea of the core principles of Native spirituality being merged with modern science and learning to create new sustainable ways of being in the world that truly support the welfare of people and of Earth.  In this regard, it is my sincere hope that this email finds you well.

I look forward to the prospect of future correspondence.

William Kaya Erbil”

Following emailing into Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises, I sent it to my mother and my friend Diane. We talked about the mechanical problems in the writing but all agreed that it captures the essence of where I am now. Today, I am thirty-five years old and I am slowing down.  Acceleration referred to this poem I wrote around Thanksgiving time:

“Headed South: The Tango Over Damascus

DAMASCUS 00005399 004 OF 004 is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria…


Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide,
On an airplane, grounded, ready for takeoff,
Merlot blood, mind dissociated from body,
Damascus, drunk with your love, flowing,
Blood river, child appears by my side,
She will be my companion on this flight,
Mother waits at home, headed South,
Home from the land of 10,000 lakes,
This week, the fire lit, white and black collision,
A cumulonimbus cloud on the horizon,
In the distance, molecular vibrations rising,
Heat, up, up we go into the future,
Carbon, captured, stored, burned, smokestack century,
Flooding the air with a blanket, heater, warmer,
Electric blanket, wrapped around earth,
My mind drifts back,
You do not want to fly off into space do you?
Into the air, or into the black hole,
Into the air, wings flowing fast, lift,
Yes, it is take off time and it is time to accelerate,
Into the future, runway of the soul,
It is night after all and the crescent moon is veiled,
Hidden by those storm clouds,
Lightening and thunder ahead,
Colliding water particles, static collision,
Static electricity, violent electromagnetic chaos,
Electronic vibration, thermodynamic amplifier,
Wires around earth, the internet, an iron maiden,
Orange amplifier, accelerating, heating,
Islamic jihad, Judeo-Christian crusade,
Sublating each other in my travel companions blood,
My blood, human blood, shed for what?
Allah? God? Adonai?
Amplifier of Gaia’s warming shell,
Atmospheric container, we are changing,
Taxing to the runway, flaps down,
A rush of color to the heart comes,
Golden, ethereal blue, Gaia’s magnetic core,
My heart in resonance, mother and son,
Star specks of white on black,
Day and night melt into one,
Speed, accelerating, faster, faster, faster,
Accelerating into the sky,
We go, a soul is meant to fly,
Leaving body and drifting to heaven,
Or descending to hell, thrown by the past.”

I emailed this poem to be published in the Callanwolde Poetry Journal Calamaro Magazine. As of today, I identify as a poet and writer. I renounce the identity of a laboratory scientist. I have chased wisdom for years and for other moments in between that chasing chased women, chased money, chased enlightenment, chased friends, … chased until their is no more ground beneath my feet. So, what is there in that? I then went further and chased madness and chased folly. I sought for nine going on ten years the solution to mental illness. What is that? I go to the depth of suffering of the soul, but from starting from the neurons and the brain hemispheres. Somehow back in Berkeley in 2007 I thought that the answer to it was as simple as a couple of molecules. It is not that simple. I will leave it there for now. This blog, much of it once public but now marked private, captures a journey and will continue to capture the evolution forward into serenity and peace. It is time to focus on the small. I want to breath and have space. I want to be working for no one. I want to be poor, I want to ride MARTA, I want to study the dirty water that is sticky in my sink. I want to know what South Atlanta is about. I want to be here south of I-20 discovering how folks on the other side of the railroad tracks from my wealthy 30345 home live. I full acknowledge that I have to just slow down and listen. I do not think that the answer to complex conflicts like what is going on in the Middle East or the racial dynamics of Atlanta or elsewhere in the States can be resolved without listening and slowing down. I am not so good at this often. So, I asked friends. I opened my heart to them this weekend. Some times they yell at me, cursing away the aggressive nature of how I talk to much, how I always have one hundred ideas for their one, and generally being not present and listening to what they have to say or what they have to share in the conversation.  Today, I try to become more selective and start to prune the negative influences in my life, the weeds. This is the beginning of a new year, and just perhaps and new life. I am hesitant to say anything more at this point. I wonder what others have to say about these thoughts and where they see them going. What comes to mind in your reading of this blog post?  Meditation is on the way, slowing down, space, coolness, water, and just maybe peace and serenity in my heart.  Maybe that is where we can find world peace?

About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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