About Ian Kennedy
I grew up in the Washington, DC area. I was a good but disinterested student until I took my first physics class. The elegance and precision of the equations and the ways in which abstract mathematical tools like calculus could so effectively predict the behavior of the natural world entranced me.
At Cornell University, I turned my back on physics - my first love - and bounced from subject to subject until finally settling (begrudgingly) on economics and pre-med. It seemed like everyone around me wanted to be a doctor or an investment banker, and I wanted to be like them, so I figured why not do both. Instead, I did neither, graduating in 2009 into the worst job market in decades.
After bouncing around doing odd jobs for a year, a family tragedy radically altered my trajectory. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I enlisted in the US Army to become a Green Beret. If my life were a movie, the next few years would have passed quickly in a montage of pushups, shooting ranges, and crisp salutes. Of course, life isn't a movie, and passing through the Special Forces Qualification Course was full of peaks and valleys (literally and metaphorically). I almost quit many times.
As a Green Beret in the 1st Special Forces Group, I trained and advised elite counterterrorism and counter narcotics units in Iraq, Thailand, South Korea, and the Philippines. Like most things in life, it wasn't as sexy as it sounds, but nevertheless, I'm incredibly grateful for my time in the military. Over the years, I befriended people from vastly different backgrounds than my own - not only the Thai, Iraqi, and Filipino soldiers with whom we trained but also my fellow Americans. It was my first exposure to the way in which the incredible diversity of human experience is stitched together by a common humanity. I also rediscovered my love for math and science, spending my free time on deployments relearning physics and teaching myself to code using online courses. And I began to meditate, finding an ever present laboratory for understanding my own mind.
After separating from the Army, I spent a year at Columbia University taking all of the physics classes in the undergraduate curriculum and bumbling around a condensed matter laboratory trying to understand superconductivity. As is only natural for an aspiring physicist pathologically enamored with fancy degrees, I next found myself in business school at Stanford University, where I explored a subject far more intimidating and opaque to me than superconductors - the art and science of interacting effectively and empathetically with people. Along the way, I started the Contemplative Leadership Program (CLP), an initiative designed to teach students how to apply meditation and other contemplative practices to business leadership.
At Stanford, I also got a graduate degree in electrical engineering and was the token bald and bearded man in his early 30s among a sea of 22 years olds. I took the required number of engineering units and spent all of my electives in graduate physics courses, ostensibly because I was studying quantum computing, but actually because I still hadn't lost the itch to understand the constituent elements of the universe (I still haven't figured it out, so if you have, please reach out).
I've finally accepted that my interest in physics is an itch that cannot be scratched, and I will continue to study it in one form or another for the rest of my life. Increasingly, the aspects of physics that most interest me are complexity and entanglement, two foundational ideas that tell us how structure can emerge from simplicity and how the behavior of the part and the whole are intricately, inseparably, and eternally entwined. In that sense, physics informs everything I find important, including my spiritual life.
I grew up Catholic and was quite religious as a child before losing my faith. For many years, I worshipped at the altar of fact and reason. Recently, however, my once emphatically secular meditation practice has begun to embrace the power and wisdom of Buddhism. And in a development that would shock my 21-year-old self that didn't think there was anything useful to learn from the Bible, I've also developed a renewed appreciation for Jesus' teachings - not as a source of supernatural insights but as a practical guide for living a good life on earth. Although I have a long way to go before I am ready, I aspire to one day start a hybrid monastery-university that embraces both the intellectual and the spiritual.
There are many roads to self-discovery. The journey can be exhilarating, but also lonely and painful at times. On the Contemplative Primate, I hope to share what I have learned with those who walk beside me on the path; to encourage those who have just embarked; and to continue to learn from those who walk ahead. We may walk on different roads, but we are never alone.