The Universe Story: Yes, And…, and also Who & What


I was reminded of this part of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series yesterday, after Michael Dowd‘s talk.

And we, we who embody the local eyes, and ears, and thoughts, and feelings of the cosmos — we’ve begun at last to wonder about our origins. Star stuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion billion billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter — tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and, perhaps, throughout the cosmos.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

This made a huge impact on me when I saw the series as a kid, and it was a seed of a deep shift in my orientation to life.

Michael’s talk also reminded me of meeting people where they are, which he seems to be excellent at. He speaks to fundamentalists in a language they understand, addressing issues and emphasizing values important to them. And he does the same to moderns, and greens and post-moderns as well. (Even post-post moderns!)

With fundamentalists, he acknowledges and emphasizes the emptiness in how science is sometimes presented, and shows how science can lead to a profound sense of meaning and belonging, and strong moral guidelines, when presented in a different (Universe Story, holarchical, integral) context.

With moderns, he acknowledges the immaturity of fundamentalist religion, yet shows how science itself can lead to a deep sense of meaning and belonging, and offer sane and practical ethical guidelines for how we individually and collectively live our lives.

With greens, he acknowledged how religion and science often are presented in a trivialized way that is not life-centered. Yet he shows how they can find peace with and profound enrichment from both religion and science.

With post-post modern/second tier folks, he shows ways of communicating with each of the above – fundamentalists, moderns and greens, using language each understands and emphasizing values important to each.

And with everyone, he shows how science and religion/spirituality not only do not need to be opposed, or coexist in a trivialized and compartmentalized way, but can enhance and enrich each other in deeply meaningful ways that preserve and respect the integrity of both.

His approach is a great example of meeting people where they are, and also of the Yes, And… approach. He acknowledges the truth and validity of where people are, and then adds to it from his own perspective. In that way, we gently nudge ourselves along by finding the truth in a view we may not have explored before, and we also invite the others to nudge themselves gently along, out of their familiar turf.

As usual, I was also reminded of how it can be helpful to differentiate who and what we are, in this case within the context of the Universe Story.

As who we are, as this human self, we are made up of star stuff, we are the product of 13.7 billion years of evolution, we are – quite literally – the local eyes, ears, feelings and thoughts of the universe, the universe and evolution becoming aware of itself. As poetic as it may sound, it is all rooted in science. From a mainstream contemporary scientific view, this is the literal truth.

Yet, as what we are, as that which experience happens within, to and as, it is different. Here, what arises in each of the sense fields – sight, sound, taste, smell, thought – happens within, as and to us. There is no differentiation between the wider world and this human self, apart from in a story. There is no I with an Other, apart from in a story.

And the universe itself, in its expanse and unfolding, is also a story. A story that is very useful, that fits experience and science very well, and a story that may even be profoundly meaningful and inspiring for who we are, yet still only a story.

As usual, if we have only one without the other, it has some drawbacks.

If we only have the who side of it, we tend to get caught up in the stories without seeing them as only stories, and we continue to take ourselves as an I with an Other, and as this human self, with all the extra drama and struggle that goes with it. (Which can be fun as well, but also stressful at times.)

If we only have the what side, we lose out of what the Universe Story can do for our human self, and how it can serve as a guide to create a more life-centered society.

Together, we have the benefit of the story, and we recognize it as a tool with temporary and practical value only.

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