“When I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.” Neil deGrasse Tyson
We might not stop to consider it, but everything we see around us is the sun.
It’s easy to see in things like plants, which obviously need sunlight to grow. Less obvious is the sunlight contained in the walls that surround me, the clothes that cover my body, or the oil used to pave the roads I drive on.
I recently watched an amazing interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, where he described that the most profound truths are actually the simplest. He used E= mc2 to illustrate this. What this equation communicates is that particles (matter= M) are “condensations” of energy (E).
This is really crazy to think about. All the “stuff” around and in us is the the energy of the sun (and other stars), converted into matter. We are the same energetic vibrations found in supernovas, black holes, and all the billions of galaxies. Einstein expressed this profound truth in three simple letters.
I never tire of contemplating our kinship with the stars. At certain points in my life, it’s almost become an addiction (nearly as powerful as the drive for sex!). When a few days or weeks go by without investigating something new, I have withdrawal symptoms.
There are certain times, however, when I ask myself why I’m so interested in this. After all, why expend mental effort in contemplation when I have so many practical duties to take care of?
On the 1st of the month, my landlord is going to ask for his money, irrespective of whether I explain to him that the elements in his body were forged in the bellies of exploding stars. I might walk into the supermarket and marvel at the incredibly diversity and abundance of forms of nourishment…but they’re still going to make me to pay for those bananas.
I can see why some people might think it’s unproductive or even pointless to contemplate truths like E=mc2. But I’ve seen, as many philosophers and scientists before me, that speculation on abstract truths is actually the most practical thing I can do.
It’s not a stretch to say that contemplating impersonal Truths makes me a better person.Why? Because doing so puts everything into perspective.
Egotistical concerns somehow seem less important in the face of Reality’s inconceivable vastness and beauty.
I sometimes get annoyed at my son for screaming and being an unparalleled force of destruction and disorder. But at the end of the day, those frustrations melt away when I take a step back and realize what a gift it is to be able to have these frustrations in the first place.
My personal desires are never entirely satisfied, but when I look deeply enough, I see that my deepest driving desire is to be as clear a window as possible for the universe to look at itself.
All results from my goals and ambitions will one day be eaten up by the very forces that brought me forth. Cosmic ash to cosmic ash, stardust to stardust.
As an ego-based creature, I am indeed very limited in time and space. But as a child of the stars, I am part of a timeless, infinite process. This is not a topic of idle speculation. It’s a morally transformative activity.
As Plato observed, when we contemplate the omnipresent source that runs through all things- what he called the Good (agathon)- the structure and nature of the universe is replicated in our own minds. We become more like it.
When we study what the universe is, we become less attached to fantasies of permanence and more accepting of change, since we observe that everything is in a constant cycle of death and regeneration. When we see the incredibly diversity of fecundity of life on every level, that somehow trickles down into the way we lead our lives. Perhaps most importantly, we become more reverent and grateful in the face of this mystery that brought us forth through no effort of our own.
As Plato illustrates in the Allegory of the Cave, once you’ve glimpse this light, you can’t go back to living the way you did before. Once you glimpse the source of all things, what causes reality to be, you make it the central pillar around which the rest of your life revolves. And because there is always the dynamic interplay between light and dark, between Truth and ignorance, you take on practices to keep the Truth in view however you can (part of the reason why I keep writing!).
The sun is always shining on half the world. Darkness arises not through a temporary diminution of the sun’s light, but as a result of our shifting perspective.
Similarly, this timeless, eternal Truth – the Tao, God, Brahman- is always present. We just have to position ourselves correctly to see It.