“We have said this not in order to say something, but in order not to remain altogether silent.”
I’m a practical man and I’ve always enjoyed breaking down complicated topics into simple terms. It’s a helpful exercise for me to make sure I don’t get too caught up in wielding ideas that sound good but have no practical basis. I know from personal experience the extent to which philosophers and spiritual wannabes hide themselves behind words.
(Of course, there’s no way of actually putting this into words. But instead of spending all our time talking about how we can’t talk about it, I venture forth the following words in the humble hopes that they may lead you beyond them.)
Think of it this way: like me and probably everyone else, you probably woke up this morning and began thinking of what you had to do today. Perhaps you had to speed up your shower or breakfast so you wouldn’t be late to work. Perhaps you checked your email and felt a twinge of disappointment when you didn’t see any new messages (or some excitement when you realized you did). You probably went to work, talked to your friends, checked facebook or some other internet sites numerous times, maybe did a little shopping, and came home to rest, only to repeat some variant of this process over again the next day.
It’s unlikely that at any point during the day you considered that the atoms in your body and everything around you were forged in the bellies of exploding stars.
If you did perhaps see someone shouting “death could strike you down at any moment!” you might label him a fool, not a harbinger of truth.
You probably didn’t hear an announcement in the metro during rush hour: “Attention commuters: you are the product of billions of years of evolution. You are the current link in the inconceivably fortunate chain of events on this planet that stretches all the way back to the origins of life. Every one of your ancestors was one of the lucky ones to slip through the five periods of mass extinction where at least 50% of animal species were wiped out. Thank you, and have a nice day.”
(Note to self for future project: infiltrate public transit system and gain control of PA system).
If you live in a city, you probably saw countless other human beings today. But very few of them spoke to you about the magnificence of how the heart beats on its own, how trillions of bacteria aid in everything from food digestion to synthesizing vitamins, how there’s a war in your bloodstream waged without any conscious effort on your part between your immune system and foreign agents.
The question I often wonder about is: why not?
Why don’t we spend more time becoming aware of how much remains hidden to our awareness behind all the busyness? What is so attractive about remaining in our own little worlds of desires and ambitions, where we’re never satisfied for very long, perpetually planning for a future that never arrives in the form we think it will, constantly trying to navigate toward what we find pleasant and away from pain?
Of course, there are certain practical demands that keep our attention focused on ensuring our survival. But on a deeper level, I feel we tend to avoid these thoughts because they scare the shit out of us.
I can only speak for myself, but I get the heebie-jeebies every time I start to consider how, all of a sudden one day “I” just popped into existence out of nothingness. How did that happen?
Iconcede that I haven’t the slightest clue where the atoms that compose my body came from, or how they organized themselves into a self-aware form.
These thoughts are profoundly disquieting; they make me realize the extent to which I am participating in a vast mystery beyond my control and comprehension. It’s more comfortable to remain within the confines of the known, to continue playing the role that I’ve been accustomed to, even if on some level that means I’m remaining in the prison of self.
When I begin to touch the larger reality around me, my field of awareness does indeed expand.
When I take a step back from my tasks and ambitions to open up to the reality around me, I bathe in a rejuvenating source. Considering the fantastic, improbable chance that I exist in this form right now washes away the worry of not doing or being enough.
But only for a moment.
Then I’m back to thinking about what I have to do, about what that person said last night, wondering why I’m doing what I’m doing and if it’s enough, questioning why I persevere with projects that appear to lead nowhere.
This is why it’s helpful to make this type of contemplation a habit. It’s every bit as necessary to health as proper eating and exercise. Active people will tell you how crappy they feel when they don’t get out for a run or yoga or a bike ride, and the same thing happens the more you allow you expand your awareness of what is, and who you are.
I try to spend a few minutes (or hours, if I’m lucky) each day taking the masks off, seeing through the bars of the prison, in order to gain a little perspective. It’s my form of therapy, which I can’t ever seem to get enough of.
After stepping back to see the big picture, I then go back into daily tasks with a new vision, much like a painter who has taken a backed away from focusing on a small detail to see how it fits in with the entire painting.