Matter & Meaning Ruminations on the Higgs Bosun & Yoga


I have a geeky fascination with physics, so I’ve found all the talk this week about the discovery of the Higgs bosun particle to be quite intriguing. 

Also known as the “God particle,” the Higgs boson particle is the “key to understanding the existence of all mass in the universe.” Physicist Peter Higgs first proposed it’s existence 48 years ago, and since then millions of dollars and the life work of scores of scientists have been dedicated to proving it.

The idea (as my layperson’s mind understands it) is that there is an energy field (called the Higgs field) that permeates the entire universe, and that the Higgs boson is the smallest part of this field. Low-mass particles move through the field quickly, and high-mass particles move through it slowly. In fact, particles are made more massive by interacting with the field. This means that the Higgs bosuns add real mass to pure energy.

To be honest, I only partially get the science, but I’m delighted by how it sounds. Adds real mass to pure energy.

And I love that the Higgs bosun had never been seen before because we had never before had the energy to make one. 

And that they’ve been running the experiment in the particle accelerator 40 million times a second for 24 hours a day for years to get all the data they needed to confirm its existence.

And that the odds that they’re wrong about this being the Higgs bosun are less than one in 3.5 million. 

What I do get is the elation of the scientists who have been working on this at CERN outside of Geneva, Switzerland. I’ve looked with empathetic joy at the photos of the room full of mostly white-haired men in exultation over their discovery. 

I think I have a similar room full of white-haired scientists within my brain who have been looking for matter and meaning for my entire life. Who have been running millions of experiments with the hopes of finding the missing puzzle pieces that will suddenly make sense of everything. Who would die to reach the kind of certainty these scientists have found this week.

This last weekend I experienced a few days when I felt like I had knocked the puzzle of my life off the table, so that not only was I missing more pieces than usual, but the ones I did have were a jumbled mess. 

I had so many questions. In all that uncertainty I wanted to latch on to meaning in places it didn’t exist, to come to conclusions that had not stood up to enough testing. In this space, I had a hard time practicing on my own. I couldn’t get the unsettled energy of uncertainty to rest into stillness. 

So I went to a yoga class. My own version of a particle accelerator, where there is more energy than what I can create alone on my mat at home, and collisions with the thoughts and experiences of others that lead to unique findings.

Within seconds of class beginning I could feel the energy field of my body. And over the first 20 minutes of slow, supine stretches, I had the experience of re-membering myself. As if my body, like a dry sponge, had been immersed in water and was softening and plumping out. 

Kind of like the way that, as we are now certain, a particle grows in mass as it interacts with the Higgs energy field. It was as if in interacting with the energy field of my body, I literally grew mass. I could feel the heaviness of my body again, and in that, a lightness. 

I found that when I left class, I didn’t really care whether or not I had certainty about anything. In consciously inhabiting the matter of my body, I had reconnected with what matters. And I had remembered the joy of engaging in the process of collecting data.

Which, I suppose, is where the CERN scientists are, too. Because even though the Higgs bosun is considered the final puzzle piece of the Standard Model of particle physics and the explanation for why matter exists, the certainty of its existence is not an end to uncertainty. It’s the beginning of a whole new set of uncertainties. And the invitation, like yoga, to come back to the practice of asking, “What’s in the data?”