While cleaning out my computer files I found a few quips and quotes and idea snippets that I wanted to share. I dusted off the fragments, put on a little polish, and offer them here as a play of perspectives.
Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why did consciousness happen? Why is there suffering and death? We keep asking these questions that begin with “why,” and everywhere we go in the world the crows are there, strutting around on the street or gazing down on us from the wires and branches, repeating the answer over and over again: “Be-CAWS! Be-CAWS! Be-CAWS!”
It is time for you to change professions. You’ve been a psychologist of yourself for way too long. If you were any good, there would be more people calling for appointments. So leave the psychology behind and become an anthropologist. Dig through the status symbols of your civilization; uncover the fashion trends that dress you; unearth the unique ways your society approaches sex and food and tribal configurations. From your studies you will know that these are all temporary appearances. You could also become a biologist of yourself and study how you came to have a spine, a desire for sugar, an innate ability to use language. From your studies you will know that no species remains a permanent fixture on the landscape of Earth. You might also become a cosmologist and investigate wormholes into other universes, or just count the galaxy clusters in this universe and then try to figure out your relative significance in the cosmos. Maybe all of that will also help take care of any psychological issues you might be having.
“The more you think you create yourself, the harder it is to accept yourself.”
Some schools of Buddhism begin ceremonies and meditation sessions by arousing gratitude for two very fortunate circumstances. The first of these is the blessing of being born a human, which means that you have the ability to understand yourself and be liberated from the suffocation of separateness. The other reason for gratitude is for being born in a time when the Buddha’s teachings are available, giving you the skillful means by which to achieve this liberation.
Expanding on those reasons for gratitude, my daughter and I have a game we play when one of us is feeling out of sorts. It’s the “G-Whiz” or “Golly-G” game, and it consists simply in thinking of all the reasons we have to be “G”-rateful. You can make up your own list, but please feel free to borrow some of our reasons. Most of them apply to everyone.
For instance, let us all give thanks for living in an interglacial period. After all, getting caught in an ice age could ruin your whole day. Of course, we don’t want the Earth’s temperatures to become too warm. So maybe we can figure out how to use our pollution as a kind of thermostat, increasing greenhouse gases when it becomes too cold and decreasing them when it gets too hot. We are such a clever species we should be able to figure this out.
Speaking of our unique human qualities, certainly we can all give thanks for the opposable thumb. Without it, just think how difficult it would be to button your pants. Or give a thumbs up! Of course, we now know the real reason for the opposable thumb, and that is: the better to text you with, my dear.
I feel a vast infinitude of gratitude for the Hubble telescope and the various space probes, and for all the pictures of the universe they are sending to us. My web browser automatically opens to the “Astronomy Picture of the Day.” A few months ago I got a glimpse of the Sombrero galaxy, which, as you might imagine, is shaped like a Mexican hat. Most amazing is the astronomers’ estimation that the Sombrero galaxy contains 600 billion suns! And I got to see that in my lifetime.
An even bigger, more existential blessing is the latest estimation by astronomers that the Milky Way galaxy alone contains over 35,000 planets that could support life. It is looking extremely probable that we are not alone in the universe, and I consider that to be very good news, mainly because it takes the pressure off of us Earthlings. It means that the universe is probably not just about us. What a relief! We no longer have to carry the entire burden of meaning in the cosmos.
If life exists elsewhere, then other histories also exist, other stories of evolution, other kinds of consciousness, perhaps even some interesting deities. Maybe the life on some other planet has a different kind of meditation practice than ours, or they may not even need meditation at all. They may have already become light.
By the way, if we find evidence of life in a galaxy other than our own, we would instantly acquire a new collective identity. We would become galaxy-identified as “Milky Wayans.”
Gary Snyder was once camping with fellow poet Lew Welch in the Mendocino redwoods. As they looked up at trees that were hundreds of years old, Snyder said, “I’ll bet the trees are thinking that we humans are just passing through.” Welch looked around and replied, “And the rocks around here must be thinking that those trees are just passing through.”
FACTOID: Life expectancy for a species of mammal is 2.7 million years.
“I have never been really able to believe that human affairs were serious matters. I had no idea where the serious might lie, except that it was not in all this I saw around me—which seemed to me merely an amusing game, or tiresome. . . . To be sure, I occasionally pretended to take life seriously. But very soon the frivolity of seriousness struck me, and I merely went on playing my role as well as I could.” —Albert Camus
Modern science says we should no longer think of space as separate from time. We now live in space-time, the two inseparably intertwined. So remember, the next time you say to someone “Be here now,” you are being redundant.
“When I realized that no moment could be repeated, I was enlightened.”
At last we have a scientific explanation for the “self.” Noted neuroscientist António Damásio claims that over millions of years our brains have learned how to create detailed maps of both the body and the environment, revising these maps from moment to moment as the body moves through the world. According to Damásio, as the maps communicate with each other they create the sense of a “self” that is separate from the world. Unfortunately, this brilliant survival technique brings with it the pain of separateness, the dukkha of duality. But the message to meditators is clear: Beware! You mess with your “self” at your own risk.
“Might as well be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde
I am skeptical when I hear someone say that our “true nature” is “free” or “loving” or “compassionate” or some other exalted adjective. Just read a little human history and you will find some other kind of nature dominating. We are a baby species and are working with a brain and nervous system that have been programmed for millions of years to be self-serving, in a perpetual state of desire and fear. This meditation stuff is at best 3,000 years old. So let’s talk about our “potential nature.” As Professor Robert Thurman says, meditation is an evolutionary sport. We aren’t there yet.
Every moment is
a matter of life and death
to someone, somewhere.
The next time you are feeling bored, despondent or irritable, try to remember your cosmic situation: at this moment you are riding on a big round-shaped rock that is hurling through space, spinning around its own axis at about a thousand miles per hour and spinning around the sun at approximately 66,000 miles per hour. Along with our entire solar system, you are also soaring through the Milky Way galaxy at nearly 500,000 miles per hour. And what’s truly remarkable is that you don’t even have to hold on. So turn up the music. What a ride!