Jeanette Armstrong: Before anything else, we are the living, dreaming Earth pieces

 

The way we talk about ourselves as Okanagan people is difficult to replicate in English. When we say the Okanagan word for ourselves, we are actually saying “the ones who are dream and land together.” That is our original identity. Before anything else, we are the living, dreaming Earth pieces. Dream is the closest word that approximates the Okanagan. But our word doesn’t precisely mean dream. It actually means “the unseen part of our existence as human beings.” It may be the mind or the spirit or the intellect. We are mind as well as matter. We are dream, memory, and imagination.

– Jeanette Armstrong

We are, in a very real sense, the universe and life dreaming itself into existence.

The universe doesn’t care?

 

It’s common in our modern world, and with our modern world view, to think and assume that the universe doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about my life or humanity or Earth or anything in particular.

Yes, it may be true in a certain sense.

What’s also true is that….

We don’t know. We dont know anything for certain. Our assumptions are just that, assumptions, guesses. We don’t know the big picture.

The universe does care. It cares locally. It cares right here, as me, as you, as this life right here.

And there are upsides to a universe that “doesn’t care”. It gives us a great freedom. It leaves it up to us how we live our lives.

Adyashanti: Each human is a point of orientation through which the Universe experiences itself

 

Each human is a point of orientation through which the Universe experiences itself.

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 57, Garrison 2017

Yes, we are the universe experiencing itself. We are a point in this universe, located a specific place. And we have a unique orientation – a unique way of experiencing, perceiving, and acting.

As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe through which the universe experiences itself.

This is the intersection of science and spirituality, of the universe story & the epic of evolution and Big Mind, of who we are – as this human self and local expression of the universe, and what we are – as capacity for the universe as it appears to us.

Through and as innumerable beings as part of this planet and perhaps throughout the universe, the universe – existence – experiences itself in innumerable unique ways. Each location is different. Each being is different. Each filter of perception – made out of matter and psyche – is different. Each experience is different.

In a bigger picture, we can say that this is not only the universe exploring, experiencing, and expressing itself, it’s existence and even Spirit and the divine exploring, experiencing, and expressing itself – in always new ways. It’s the dance of life or existence. It’s what the old Hindus called Lila.

And we – as humans and humanity and Earth – are part of this dance.

Any mythology or cosmology reflects us here and now. So how does the idea of Lila mirror what’s here and now in immediacy? What I find is that all my experiences happen within and as consciousness. They are, in a sense, this consciousness exploring, experiencing, and expressing itself. Lila is here and now. And to me – as this consciousness – it appears that the whole of existence explores, experiences, and expresses itself in the same way.

This is an instance where we can say that both are equally accurate. We can put a story on existence saying through and as this universe – as us as part of it – it is exploring, experiencing, and expressing itself. And we can say that we, as this consciousness, are exploring, experiencing, and expresing ourselves through all our experiences.

Why is this important? In a way, it isn’t. This view or insight or realization is just one of the many ways consciousness or existence is experiencing itself. In another sense, it makes a difference to us – and through this point of existence that is us.

It helps us be aware of something essential in who – as this human self, and what – as consciousness, we are. It helps us loosen the grip on any (other) ideas we have about how life should or needs to be. It helps us find some appreciation and even gratitude for life as it is here and now. It helps us appreciate the dance of existence as it appears as and to us here and now.

13.8 billion years old

 

When people ask how old I am, I sometimes say 13.8 billion years old.

It’s the most accurate answer, even if it’s perhaps not what they meant.

We are all 13.8 billion years old, as far as we know.

As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings, and thoughts of the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

We are part of the ongoing evolution of this universe as it explores, expresses, and brings itself into consciousness through us and other beings.

Everything that we are is this old. The matter we are made up of has gone through a 13.8 billion year process to be formed into this human form. Our mind reflects the evolution of our ancestors and their environments, the Earth as a whole, and the universe. Our body and mind are the product of 13.8 billion years of evolution of this universe.

And we are also timeless. We are what it all – this universe and the universe in the form of this human self – happens within and as.

As who we are, we are whatever age is in our passport, and we are also as old as this universe. As what we are, we are that which all of this happens within and as.

Adyashanti: To be bestows infinite worth upon you

 

You don’t have to be someone to be of infinite worth. To be bestows infinite worth upon you.

– Adyashanti, The Inherent Meaning in Being

This can sound like a well-meaning platitude, but it’s far more than that.

One the one hand, the idea of value comes from culture and what’s seen as having value varies between culture and over time. Assigning value to something has a function, and it can be helpful to examine how we assign value and if there is another way of doing it that makes more sense.

At an ordinary human level, we all agree that babies have infinite worth. Growing up, many of us are taught that our value comes through our actions and that erodes our sense of having infinite value just by being. This is a means of control and it creates a lot of suffering and judgment of ourselves and others.

So why not recover the sense of infinite value of each human being? This can easily co-exist with accountability, responsibility for our own life and so on. Seeing the infinite value in each of us, independent of personal characteristics and roles, provides a sense of basic worth that allows for a more healthy life and a more healthy society.

In our western culture, we see nature as a commodity and having value from the value it has to us – and this is often limited to short-term commercial value. This leads to destruction of ecosystems, eradication of whole species, and systematic abuse of non-human beings. Not valuing all life threatens all life, including our own.

Why wouldn’t all life have infinite value? Why not see all life as having infinite value? This would lead to a more careful approach in how we relate to and make use of nature and non-human beings. We would be far more concerned about their welfare. It doesn’t mean we can’t eat or live or grow food but we would do it with more concern for the lives we are impacting and we would look for ways to make up for it and support a more thriving Earth.

When we take a big picture and deep time view, we see that the universe has unfolded from energy to matter to suns to solar systems to this living planet and all that’s currently part of this living planet. We are all expressions of the universe exploring itself and bringing itself into consciousness. We are all expressions of this living planet and ways for it to bring itself into consciousness. As this, we and all life has infinite worth just by being as we are.

In a more immediate sense, independent of assigning value to anything, we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. This human self, all other beings, and everything happens within and as what I am. In this oneness, ideas of value is not needed in order to live with reverence for life.

How can we explore this in our own life? How can we deepen into this and live more from it? In a sense, this whole website is about just this. We can identify and examine beliefs. We can explore how our minds creates its experience of value and lack of it, and see through it. We can engage in Practices to Reconnect. We can use heart-centered practices to find a more loving relationship with ourselves, others, and all life. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can discover that this human self, others, and the world happen within and as what we are. And we can explore how to live from that in our life.

Why do we love nature?

 

Why do most people love nature? Why do we experience it as healing?

One answer is that it’s because we are nature. We are an expression of this living planet as everything else is.

Another is that nearly all of our ancestors lived in nature. They were adapted to it. It was their home. It is our home. We are – literally – made to be in nature.

There is also a simplicity in being in nature. It helps us focus on the basics and we don’t need to pay attention to all the complexities of modern life. Food. Shelter. Getting from A to B. That’s the few simple things we need to focus on.

It also helps us prioritize and see our life in perspective. When I am in civilization, I am immensely grateful for electricity, running water, hot showers, and being able to go to the grocery store for food. These are not anything we can take for granted at all. Also, I get to see that I can be content with little as long as my basic needs are covered. My quality of life does not come from all the extra things that modern life offers. It comes from the simple things in everyday life, and especially in how I relate to my life and the world in general.

The simplicity of being in nature is also a kind of retreat. It helps us meet ourselves. And instead of going to distractions, we are invited to find another – and more kind and content – way of being with ourselves.

Is this love for nature only for ourselves? No. It can certainly enrich our lives immensely and also clarify our lives. But it also makes us into advocates for nature, and few things are as important – for us as humans and for all Earth life – than that today.

I am very aware that what I write here is a reflection of privilege. I can go into nature when I want. I have a home in civilization. I have my basic needs covered. I don’t need to collect or catch my own food.

I am also aware that since I am from Norway, and a deep love for nature is an important part of Norwegian culture, these views are somewhat influenced by my culture. In the US, I didn’t find the same universal love for nature, or at least not the love that makes us want to be in and experience nature first hand.

Outer space and spiritual explorations

 

Since childhood, one of my main interests has been space, space exploration, and science fiction. And I have had an intuitive sense of the connection between space exploration and spiritual exploration. Why is there this connection?

Here are some of the parallels I find:

Both involve exploration of (for us) unknown territory. Space exploration and spiritual exploration are both an adventure and an ongoing and endless discovery.

Space appears infinite and what we are the same. To us, outer space seems infinite. And when we discover what we are – what this experience happens within and as – this “space” too appears without end.

From space we see Earth as a single whole and a single living system. There are no border visible. We are in the same boat. Our destiny – of all Earth life – is interconnected. We are inspired to take care of all life and future generations to the best of our abilities. This recognition of the oneness of all life can also come through spiritual explorations.

Through the Universe Story – as told by modern science – we see that the universe and all of existence is one whole. It’s one seamless system evolving in all the ways we see around us, and as us and our experiences and life. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos (paraphrased), we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe exploring itself.

Through spiritual explorations, we can find something very similar. We find ourselves as the One locally expressing itself as this human self and the experiences of this human self. We find ourselves as that which our experience – of this human self, the wider world, and the universe as it appears to us – happens within and as. We find ourselves as that “no-thing” that’s capacity for all of this.

So there is no surprise if I experience an intuitive connection between space exploration and spiritual explorations. Both involves ongoing and endless adventure and exploration. Both involves the appearance of something without end. Both gives us a realization of Earth and all life as a seamless whole. Both involves a recognition of Oneness and our human self as a local expression of this Oneness – beautiful and amazing in all its richness.

Note: As a child, I was deeply fascinated – and somewhat transformed – by Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and also read anything I could find about astronomy and science fiction. In terms of science fiction, I loved the classics like Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and others.

How do we find peace?

 

There are many ways to find peace. Here are some approaches I have found helpful.

We can create a certain life. A life that feels right, nurturing, and meaningful. A life where we have nurturing relationships. Meaningful work and activities. A life aligned with our values and what’s important to us. A part of this is to heal and mend – as far as possible – any challenging relationships.

We can invite in healing. We can invite in healing for parts of us not in peace. We can invite in healing for trauma and emotional issues.

We can reorient. We can learn to befriend our experience as it is, including the experience of lack of peace (!). In this process, we also learn to befriend (more of) the world as it is.

We can find ourselves (more) as our human wholeness. As we find ourselves as the wholeness of who we are as a human being, there is a sense of groundedness and peace even as life and thoughts and emotions goes on. This is an ongoing process, perhaps including body-centered mindfulness and projection work, and the peace is of a different kind.

We can explore our need for peace. If we feel a neediness around peace, what’s going on? Do we have stressful beliefs about living without peace? Do we have identities rubbing up against the reality of sometimes lack of peace? Is there a trauma or emotional issue telling us we need peace? Examining this and find some resolution for whatever may be behind a need for peace can, in itself, help us find more peace.

It’s stressful to feel we need peace and fight with a world that doesn’t always give us the conditions we may think we need for peace. And it is, perhaps ironically, more peaceful to find peace with life as it is.

We can live with (more) integrity. Living with integrity gives us a sense of peace, even when life is challenging. Living with integrity means to clarify and follow what’s important to us, and to live with some sincerity and honesty – especially towards ourselves.

We can follow our own inner guidance. Following our inner guidance – in smaller and bigger things – connects us with an inner quiet and peace, even when life is stormy. We can learn to follow our inner guidance through experience. And it’s also helpful to notice when we connect with our inner guidance and don’t follow it, and examine what fears and stressful beliefs in us made it difficult for us to follow it.

We can connect with the larger whole. This larger whole comes in three related forms. One is the larger whole of who we are as a human being (mentioned above). Another is the larger whole of the Earth and the universe. We can connect with this through Earth-centered practices, the Universe Story, and more. The third is what we are.

We can explore and get to know what we are. What we are is what our experience happens within and as. As we learn to find ourselves as that, there is a different kind of peace. The peace of being like the sky that clouds, storms, clear weather and anything else passes through.

Each of these is an ongoing process and exploration. It’s not a place we arrive at for good and don’t have to pay attention to again.

The kind of peace we find in each of these ways is somewhat different. In a sense, they complement each other.

As for how to find these types of peace, there are many approaches and I’ll mention a few here.

To heal, I have found parts (subpersonality) work, inquiry, heart-centered practices, TRE, Vortex Healing and more to be helpful. To reorient, I have found ho’oponopno, tonglen, and all-inclusive gratitude practice to be helpful. To find myself as my human wholeness, I have found body-centered mindfulness (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema) and projection work (inquiry, shadow work) helpful. To explore any neediness around peace, I have found inquiry to be helpful. To live more with integrity, it’s helpful to explore what in me (usually a fear, stressful belief, trauma) takes me away from living with integrity in any specific situation. To follow my inner guidance, it’s helpful to practice in smaller situations and likewise explore what in me (fears etc.) takes me away from it. To connect with the larger whole of the Earth and Universe, it’s helpful to use the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), Universe Story, and similar approaches. To explore what we are, I have found Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, and the Big Mind process to be helpful.

Photo: Flowers from Zürich ca. 2013.

What is oneness?

 

What is oneness?

The most basic oneness is what’s here now. In immediate experience, for all of us, all our experience happens within and as what we are. The content of our experience happens within and as what we are.

We can call this consciousness or love, or awakeness, or the void all happens within and as, but those are labels. The labels tempt the mind into thinking it has got it while it’s not anything that can be gotten conceptually. It’s what we are.

Awakening means that what we are wakes up to itself. Glimpses itself. Notices itself. Notices itself more and more clearly as what any experience happens within and as, including as that which this personality and this conditioning like the very least.

Why is this not always noticed? Because mind likes to identify as parts of the content of its experience. Mind likes to take itself as a me (this human self) and an I (the observer, doer, etc.). It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete. It creates an experience of duality, of I here and the wider world out there, and that’s all there is to it.

That duality is valid in a functional or pragmatic sense. It’s helpful to take this human self as what I am, in a pragmatic sense. But it’s not the whole picture.

In immediate experience, “I” am what my whole field of experience happens within and as. That is, in a sense, a more fundamental identity. Although it’s not an “identity”, it’s just what we are.

We can see this in a couple of different ways. One is that the fundamental reality of the world is of me as a human self in the physical world, and it’s only in my experience all appears as consciousness. All appears as consciousness because that’s how it has to be in my experience since I am consciousness. This is the small or psychological interpretation and it’s a possible and valid interpretation.

The other is that reality is more directly as it appears. All is actually consciousness, all of reality is and happens within and as consciousness. We can say all is the divine or whatever name(s) we have for the divine (Spirit, the One, Brahman, Allah, Big Mind etc.). This is the big or spiritual interpretation and is also valid.

There is another form of oneness, or another oneness within the first oneness: the oneness of this universe. It’s one seamless whole, one seamless system. This system is what has formed itself into stars and planets, this living planet, and everything that’s part of this living planet (including us humans and all our experience). As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, feelings, and thoughts of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into awareness.

I should mention that within the small interpretation of awakening, the physical world – including our own physical body – appears as consciousness because it happens within and as consciousness. (Which is what we are.) In the big interpretation of awakening, the physical world actually is as it appears to us, it is consciousness.

In either case, we can investigate, with guidance, how our mind creates its own experience of the physical world, and perhaps of this physical world as real in itself, as solid, as dense and material. As we investigate this – and as we find ourselves as that which all our experience happens within and as – what we call the physical world will appear less and less solid to us and more as consciousness. In that sense, it will appear more and more as a dream (happening within and as consciousness).

How can we notice oneness and live more from it? This is, in a way, the main question of spiritual practice so it’s too big to address here. I’ll just mention that the easiest way to have a glimpse of oneness may be through inquiry (Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, Headless experiments, etc.). And Practices to Reconnect is an excellent way to deepen into the second form of oneness.

Rewilding ourselves

 

Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats.

Rewilding Europe

How do we rewild ourselves?

It’s another big topic that a short article can’t do justice, but I’ll mention a few things.

One is to recognize that we are nature, we are already wild. We are the local expression of earth, the universe, and reality. Recognize it, feel it more deeply, reorient within this realization.

Another is to look at what in us prevents is from realizing this and live from it. And also from living from a more natural expression of our kindness and wisdom. Often, and perhaps more often than we realize, our beliefs, identities, and emotional wounds keeps us within a narrow range when a far larger range could be available to us.

Spending time in nature is helpful for rewilding ourselves. As is becoming comfortable with silence and listening. (Inner and outer silence, and listening to the inner and outer.) And befriending ourselves as we are, including our emotions, feelings, and body. And learning to appreciate and enjoy who and what we are.

Rewilding ourselves is a process of recognizing and taking in what we are. (A local expression of nature, Earth, the universe.) Listening. Befriending ourselves and reality. Venturing outside of artificial boundaries we put on ourselves. (Aka stressful, limiting beliefs and identities, fear rooted in emotional wounds and trauma.) Respect. Patience. Recognizing all as part of the same whole.

Befriending the wild in ourselves is very similar to befriending a wild animal.

Rewilding ourselves helps us find a deeper and more stable and universal identity (and perhaps freedom from identities). It helps us feel that we belong to nature, earth, the universe, and existence (as we do). It can help us find a deeper relaxion and ease, and comfort with ourselves and reality.

And it helps Earth. We realize we are the earth, and this naturally leads to changes in our life. We reprioritize. We live differently. We may become activists in our own way.

We realize that, by doing so, we are nature taking care of itself. We are nature protecting and defending itself.

Yugen and beyond

 

yugen – a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe

Wikipedia article on Japanese Aesthetics

I don’t speak Japanese so I know I am bound to get this slightly wrong. It seems that yugen often refers to something evoked in us related to our own past (as most poetry does), although perhaps also something evoked in us about nature itself?

Here, I’ll be selective and use it in the sense of something evoked in us about nature itself.

If we talk about that, and a feeling or sense of nature as sacred, then we have nature mysticism.

Nature mysticism can refer to this feeling or sense of the sacred in nature and the universe. It can refer to a deep sense of belonging to nature and the universe. And it can refer to a sense of oneness with it all, that we are all one and the same and part of a seamless reality. (Which is obviously true even from a modern science perspective, and this sense of oneness happens when we realize it, take it in, and perhaps live more from it.) Either of these can come over us, often when we are in nature. Or it’s more stable and with us most or all of the time.

Is this just something that happens on its own or can we invite it in and deepen in it? For me, both seem true.

Yes, it can certainly happen on its own. (For me, all three happened from early childhood on and later became more stabilized in the oneness. The mysterious feeling was stronger earlier on and now is rarer, but that’s natural since the oneness is independent of any feelings.)

And yes, we can invite it in – through being in nature, poetry, deep ecology readings and practices (Practices to Reconnect), eco-psychology and eco-spirituality readings and practices, inquiry to help us remove mind-barrier to a sense of oneness with it all, and so on. (I have been deeply involved in this too over the last three decades.)

And we can go beyond nature mysticism. It can become much more clear and – in a sense – simple.

We can taste and stabilize in oneness. In noticing, realizing, and living from all content of experience happening within and as what we are. (Whether we chose to interpret this in a big or small way, or a spiritual or psychological way, as I have written about in other articles.)

Here, any sense of being a separate self is left behind.

This too can happen spontaneously or through practices and exploration. Usually, it’s a combination of both. (The practices are the usual spiritual ones like meditation, prayer, heart-centered practices, inquiry, energy- and body-centered practices and so on.)

There are a few things it’s good to clarify.

Nature mysticism does often refer to a feeling. A feeling of nature and the universe as sacred, and perhaps even a feeling or sense of oneness with all of existence. Here, there is usually still a sense of being a separate self. (Which is fine and natural, it’s the mind creating this experience for itself.)

Even when oneness is more clear and stabilized, this feeling can come and go. As mentioned above, for me the feeling was much stronger earlier in my process although it still comes very occasionally. Now, there is usually just the noticing of oneness.

And all of this, whether it’s a variety of nature mysticism or some level of oneness, is typically translated into profound shifts in our worldview and – yes – in our lives and how we live in the world.

That’s why I write about it. It can be cool and help us as (individual) human beings in the world. And yet, what it can do for the world is equally or more important. The world today needs this. It needs more people experiencing it, being transformed by it, sharing it with others, and – in turn – transforming humanity (even if it’s just a tiny bit) and how we are in the world.

Image: Hiroshige, View of a Long Bridge Across a Lake

The importance of space exploration from human, Gaia, and Spirit views

 

I have always loved outer space, astronomy, space exploration, and science fiction. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ll write a few words about it at the end.

The moon landing happened 50 years ago on July 20. So here are some ways the moon landing and space exploration, in general, is important from the view of humans, Gaia, and the Universe, and also in the context of Spirit.

Human view

At the time, the moon landing was important for US politicians to show the superiority of their own technology over the Soviets. And, by extension, the superiority of their political and economic system. (The Soviets had reached earlier space-exploration milestones before the US.)

The space program was and is important in order to develop technology and understand our near neighborhood in space, and it was a good way of employing a large number of people (some say 400,000).

The moon landing inspired many young people and brought some of them into science and technology. It showed that technology and science can be cool and glamorous.

Space exploration is an expression of our need for adventure and exploration, built into us through our evolution.

The space program allowed us to, for the first time, see photos of the Earth as a whole and from the outside. This, along with testimonials from astronauts, helped us get a more visceral sense of the Earth as a seamless whole and a fragile living system we need to take care of. (This is part of the Overview Effect.)

As Carl Sagan and others said, the moon landing and early space exploration is a necessary step in humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. And this is essential for our long term survival. (Elon Musk is talking about this today as a motivation for his space technology business.)

Gaia view

The view from Gaia – Earth as a seamless living system – gives space exploration a different context.

Human space exploration is Earth’s space exploration. Earth has developed itself into ecosystems, the human species, human technology and science, and human sense of adventure. And it has done so over time, within itself, and as part of itself. It’s all part of the evolution of Earth.

Space exploration is the living Earth exploring beyond its borders. It’s beginning to explore its neighborhood.

Through space exploration, Earth is seeing itself from the outside and as a whole for the first time.

And through humans, Earth may eventually reproduce. Humans may terraform planets, making them into Earth’s offspring. They won’t be identical to Earth, but they come from the living Earth. (In this sense, humans may function as the reproductive organs of Earth.)

Gaia means Earth as a seamless living system. It doesn’t mean that Earth is conscious in the way we think of it. And it doesn’t mean that space exploration or anything else was intentionally planned at the level of Earth as a whole. It’s more something that naturally and organically grew and continue to grow out of Earth as a living system.

Universe view

As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the Universe. We are the Universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Spirit view

All of this is Spirit – the divine, God, Brahman – expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

The evolving Earth. Ecosystem evolution. Species evolution. Human evolution. Cultural evolution. Development of science and technology. Human sense of adventure (and wanting to be better than the other tribe). Human space exploration. It’s all part of Spirit and Spirit exploring and experiencing itself in always new ways.

Some background…

I’ll add a few words about my own interest in this.

Early on in my childhood, I had a deep love for exploration and adventure, anything having to do with the future, and anything to do with deep space and deep time.

I also had an early sense of belonging to all of existence including the universe as a whole. I remember going out into the yard after watching Cosmos by Carl Sagan when I was about ten. Looking up at the infinite space and the stars. And experiencing profound awe, gratitude, and sense of not only belonging to the universe but being the universe in awe of itself.

Later, through the spiritual opening or early awakening when I was sixteen, it became clear that all of it happens within and as consciousness. It all happens within and what I am, and everything is. It all happens within and as Spirit.

And in my mid-to-late teens and early twenties, this evolved into a deep interest in systems views (Fritjof Capra), Deep Ecology (Arne Næss), the Gaia view (James Lovelock), the Overview Effect (Frank White), ecospirituality, ecopsychology, the Universe Story, and similar approaches.

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Space exploration and the epic of evolution

 

And 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, episode 13

When I was a child, I was strongly influenced by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and especially the quote above. It touched something in me. It resonated with a knowing in me.

Later, in my early twenties, I read The Overview Effect by Frank White, and that too resonated deeply with how I already experienced the world. In it, he describes how astronauts, when they see the Earth from space, often viscerally realize that the Earth is one seamless whole, fragile, with a thin layer of air supporting life. For some astronauts, and especially those who went further away from Earth, it was a deeply transformative experience.

All of us have access to it through photos, movies, and first-person accounts. And also through seeing the starry sky at night, and any time we are reminded of the Earth as one seamless whole. In my case, I had a profoundly transformative experience when I was 10 or 12 years old, in a sleeping bag under the vast starry sky on a mountain in Norway (Sølen) with an equally vast view of the landscape stretching our below me.

I see that Frank White has a new book coming out in a few weeks: The Cosma Hypothesis – Implications of the Overview Effect.

Following the pattern set in The Overview Effect, the book draws on interviews with astronauts about the ways in which spaceflight shifted their understanding of our relationship with the universe. The Cosma Hypothesis suggests that our purpose in exploring space should transcend focusing on how it will benefit humanity. We should ask how to create a symbiotic relationship with the universe giving back as much as we take, and spreading life, intelligence, and self-awareness throughout the solar system and beyond. 

From the Cosma Hypothesis book description.

I obviously haven’t read the book yet, but again it resonates with me.

As Carl Sagan said in the quote above, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into awareness. We do it in all the different ways we live our lives, individually and collectively, no matter how exciting and novel or mundane and familiar it seems to us. All beings are the local senses, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All beings are the universe locally bringing itself into awareness.

And so it also is with space flight and space exploration. That too is the universe bringing itself into awareness. The universe exploring itself beyond this one living planet. It may even be how the universe spreads the life on this one living planet beyond this planet through colonization and terraforming. From the Earth’s perspective, we may well function as the reproductive organs of Earth.

The universe brought itself alive through this living planet and us, and it’s very natural for it to wish to explore itself beyond this one planet, and even to spread life beyond this one living planet, and to do so through us. We happen to be the social and physical organs of the Earth that are equipped to do just that, and the time for the first small steps happens to be now.

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Adyashanti: People suffer terribly when they lack a self-transcending orientation

 

People suffer terribly when they lack a self-transcending orientation

– Adyashanti

Yes, and that can be several forms of self-transcending.

It can be a genuine care for someone else – a partner, parents, children, friends. It can be a genuine care for the larger society, Earth as a whole, and future generations.

It can be a sense of belonging to a larger whole – whether it’s a family, group of friends, a larger society, the Earth, or even the Universe or existence as a whole.

It can be a sense of oneness with the larger whole or all of existence, or a realization that all of existence – as it appears to us – happens within and as what we are.

What are some of the benefits of a self-transcending orientation?

Most of us have a self-transcending orientation, at least sometimes and in some areas of life. It’s more a matter of what we give our attention to. I notice that when I give my attention to the larger whole in one of these ways, there is a sense of belonging, care, and gratitude. I know who I am in an important sense.

Also, a self-transcendent orientation tends to reward us back. We serve ourselves and the larger whole, and the larger whole responds.

ltimately, a self-transcendent orientation is aligned with reality and who and what we are. We are the universe locally bringing itself into awareness. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. And as what we are (aka consciousness), we are that which existence – as it appears to us – happens within and as.

And that also gives the answer to why a lack of a self-transcending orientation creates suffering. It’s out of alignment with who and what we are. It’s out of alignment with who we are as human beings, completely interdependent with all of life and as a local expression of society, Earth, and the universe. It’s out of alignment with what we are, as that which everything – ourselves and the whole world as it appears to us – happens within and as. And pragmatically, it’s very unwise and tends to create a miserable life.

In a sense, life rewards a grounded, sane, mature self-transcending orientation. And it discourages the opposite. Life can’t help it, because a self-transcending orientation is aligned with who and what we are, and a lack of a self-transcending orientation is out of alignment with who and what we are.

Forms of self-talk

 

We talk to ourselves in different ways.

We talk to ourselves silently with words (thoughts). It’s often helpful to bring awareness to this type of self-talk and change it if it’s not supportive. For instance, in stressful situation we can intentionally talk to ourselves as a good mother would to a child (or a father would to a child, or a good friend to a friend). We can give ourselves what we wish for. This is also a part of re-parenting ourselves. (Becoming the parent to ourselves we perhaps didn’t consistently have growing up.)

We talk to ourselves through words and images we may not be consciously aware of. Through inquiry, we get to see some of these and how much they impact our perception, actions, and life without us even knowing.

Another way we talk to ourselves is through our actions. Whenever we chose something and act, we reinforce what that choice and action came from. If it came from a stressful thought, we tell ourselves that thought is real, valid, and something we have to act on. If it came from a quiet and peaceful knowing, we tell ourselves it’s OK to act on that quiet and peaceful knowing.

There is also a bigger picture. In a sense, anything that happens is the universe or existence talking to itself. It’s the universe expressing, exploring, and – through living beings – experiencing itself.

In our case, we can see our interactions with ourselves and the wider world as life talking to itself. We act and receive feedback and, in a sense, it’s the same the other way around. Any thought, feeling, sensation, sight, sound, taste is life talking with itself. Any interaction with the larger social and ecological whole is life talking with itself.

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Where is the final “I”?

 

Where is the final or ultimate “I”?

Where do I think it is? Where have I glimpsed it is? And where is it, in my immediate experience?

Is it in this human self? Is this apparently separate self the final word on what I really am?

Or is it in life itself? As this Earth? As the universe? As all of existence? As all as consciousness? As that which is capacity for it all?

There are several layers to this as well as ways of noticing.

I can have an intellectual understanding, either through western science and philosophy (Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, Ecospirituality) or from mysticism and maps from different spiritual traditions.

I can have glimpses, either without anything apparently bringing it about or through certain practices (inquiry, Big Mind process, basic meditation, practices to reconnect etc.).

And my center of gravity can shift. Perhaps it’s first as this human being in the world. Then, as the wholeness of what I am as human and soul. Or as the wholeness of existence. Or as consciousness somehow separate from the content of existence. Or as consciousness that all experience happens within and as. Or as that which is capacity for it all. Or as this capacity and all it is capacity for (consciousness and all content of experience happens within and as consciousness).

This is one aspect of what spirituality is about. Being curious about where the final “I” is. Exploring it. Noticing new layers of “I” in glimpses. And gradually, and sometimes suddenly, having shifts in the center of gravity of what I experience as “I”.

And really, it’s life exploring itself. It’s life temporarily and locally taking itself as a local “I” and not questioning whether this is the final or most basic “I”. And then being curious about it, either through spontaneous glimpses opening up to something more, or through intuition or a knowing, or perhaps through a crisis that makes it question basic assumptions. It’s life gradually gaining an intellectual understanding and seeing that it must be life itself not this apparently separate self. And it’s life gradually inviting the center of gravity of what it takes itself to be out from the local and to the whole, to all as consciousness, and to what’s capacity for it all.

I want to add a few words about using (structured) inquiry to explore what we are. We can use forms of inquiry that explicitly helps us shift into what we already are, like the Big Mind process and the headless experiments. And we can use inquiry that helps us see what we are not, and helps us see how our mind creates a certain experience for itself of what it is (through images, words, and sensations), and how it holds onto it as true in order to find a sense of safety. Both are equally helpful and they feed into each other.

Shifting into what we are highlights our old (an incomplete and ultimately false) ideas of who or what we are. And shifting out of our old ideas of who or what we are invites in a noticing of (more of) what we really are. And it’s good, and eventually essential, to question absolutely all our experiences or ideas of who or what we are, even the most “spiritual” or “enlightened” ones, and perhaps especially those. They may still be roughly accurate and serve as helpful pointers, but if we hold onto those ideas as true and our identity, we’ll eventually need to question and see through them.

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God as WE

 

Afterwards, my friend shows me a book called “God as WE” and asked me if I know of other authors on that topic.

From Dream: A New Dance, a post from 2007

This is from an old post that showed up in the sidebar today.

God as WE. That’s still alive for me.

All of existence is the divine. And so are all beings – the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself as individuals and communities, and as evolving species and societies.

It’s already that way. God is already WE. And yet, when God recognizes and notices itself as WE something else comes in. A new dimension in our experience of ourselves as WE.

To me, this WE is not only all human beings, it’s also the whole Earth community. It’s all of life. It includes any beings other places in the universe, whether we know about them or not. And it even includes all of existence. All of it is WE.

This larger WE is what we connect with through the Universe Story or the Epic of Evolution, and through many forms of rituals and forms of spiritual openings. And the WE as a society is something that comes when we find a sacred context for how we see each other and society as a whole, and it can be supported by Big History and practical approaches to create a more real and deep democracy.

Finding healing: three basic ways

 

In my experience, I can find healing in three ways.

I can find healing for the issue itself, whether it’s physical, emotional, a relationship, or something else. This is the conventional approach and obviously an important one.

I can change my relationship to it. From seeing it as a problem and an enemy, I can befriend it and what it triggers in me. This, in itself, changes a great deal and is often experienced as a great relief.

I can find that which is already whole beyond the issue. This may be my wholeness as a human being, which is always here and goes far beyond any issues. It can be being part of the wholeness of the Earth or the Universe or all life. It can be being what I am, that which any experience happens within and as.

How do I go about finding these forms of healing?

Since the first is the conventional approach, the world is full of advice and opportunities for this one. I have written about my own experiences in healing from CFS and Lyme, and also in finding healing emotionally and for parts of me (using inquiry, heart-centered approaches, TRE, Vortex Healing, and other approaches).

I can change my relationship to anything that seems problematic through, for instance, inquiry or heart-centered practices. Inquiry for me is often The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process, parts/subpersonality work, and dialogue with a part or actual person. Heart-centered approaches may be ho’oponopno, tonglen, prayer, gratitude explorations, or whatever else works for us.

Finding what’s already whole depends on what level of wholeness we wish to explore. In periods when I have done meditation and yoga daily, I have found an amazing sense of my wholeness as a mind-body whole. I have also found it, slightly differently, through receiving and giving Breema and especially when I have been immersed in the atmosphere through an intensive or when I gave daily sessions. The connection with (or as) the wholeness of the Earth and Universe can come through being in nature or any number of practices, for instance, the Practices to Reconnect. Finding myself as that which already allows and is any experience can happen through meditation, inquiry, heart-centered practices, and many other ways.

And really, it all depends on grace.

Getting to the point where we are able to have issues and discomfort is grace. It required this amazing universe and Earth and us as temporary parts of it. That’s an amazing grace if there ever was one.

Getting to get to the point where we are interested in finding healing, in any of these forms, is grace.

Having a glimpse of the possibility of these forms of healing is grace.

Inviting it in, through intention and exploration, is grace.

When it happens, it’s grace.

What we call grace is really just the universe or life coming together a certain way locally. Sometimes, we may see just some things (the ones our mind tells us are good) as grace. Sometimes, we may see everything as grace (because it is).

Note: In the “finding wholeness beyond the issue” section, I lumped together things I normally would keep in separate categories. Finding mind-body wholeness is quite different from finding the Earth/Universe wholeness, and those are again quite different from finding what I am, that which allows and is any experience. But that’s OK. In this context, and especially in a brief article like this, it seemed OK to group them together. And it’s a reminder that this should really be a book rather than just a set of brief articles.

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The infinite wanting to experience itself as finite, and the finite wanting to experience itself as infinite

 

There is a nice symmetry in life: The infinite wants to experience itself as finite, and the finite wants to experience itself as infinite.

Spirit wants to experience itself as all the things it isn’t: finite, separate, vulnerable and so on.

And humans want to experience themselves as what they (think they) are not: infinite, one, invulnerable and so on.

The divine has gone to great lengths to set up and evolve into a universe where parts of itself take itself as a separate being that is born and will die. And some humans go to great lengths to escape just that, whether it’s through ordinary human activities (to forget, feel alive) or spiritual practices.

And this symmetry is all part of lila, the play of the divine, Spirit expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in a myriad of ways.

Note: We cannot really say that Spirit or the divine “wants” to experience itself as finite. I am just using that word for the sake of symmetry. A want sounds too much like human wants and it’s not like that. I imagine it’s more of a pull, a movement, to explore itself in as many ways as possible, including temporarily as finite. On the other hand, any human experience is the divine’s experience so the divine does (locally) want, feel, think, long, suffer and so on through and as humans and other beings.

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Why is the world beautiful?

 

Why do we experience the world as beautiful?

Why do we experience people, animals, plants, landscapes, art, music, science, the Earth as a whole, stars, nebulae – and much more – as beautiful? As intrinsically beautiful?

Could it be because we are it? We are the universe experiencing itself as all of that. We are Earth experiencing itself as landscapes, animals, plants, humans. We are life itself experiencing itself as all of that. We are a product of the evolution of the Universe, Earth, and life on Earth. We experience ourselves. And we find it fascinating, interesting, and beautiful.

And what happens when we find some of it not beautiful? Could it be because we have stressful and unpleasant stories about it, and those stories temporarily shade our experience of its beauty?

In the even bigger picture, we can say that all is Spirit. All is Spirit expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in myriads of forms. So it’s only natural for Spirit to find it beautiful. Spirit – as us – finds Spirit – as the world – beautiful. And Spirit sometimes forget. Spirit – as us – sometimes tells itself parts of itself is not beautiful, and temporarily believes it, and that too is Spirit expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in myriad of ways. That too is Lila… the play of the divine.

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Limitations and going deep

 

I attended my cousin Knut’s funeral yesterday, and it was a reminder of how limitations can help us go deep. He had a strong physical handicap, and – as it seemed to himself and us who knew him – it allowed him to go deep in reflection, being, soulfulness, and spirituality.

He was one of the most genuinely reflected, deep, soulful, and spiritual people I know. At least within the limitations of a relatively mainstream Norwegian culture.

We see that in many areas of life. Limitations – whether imposed by life or chosen – allow us to go deep. Sometimes, that means going far beyond the apparent boundaries imposed by the limitations, and we may surprise even ourselves.

We also see this in the bigger picture. Life or the Universe has imposed limits on itself through densifying itself into matter, a great variety of matter, galaxies, solar systems, living planets (at least one), a great variety of life within these living planets, being, and taking itself to be separate beings.

And, if we are open to it, we can say that this is the divine doing all this within itself. It densifies itself, makes itself into an evolving universe, into a variety of elements and combination of these elements, galaxies, solar systems, beings, and taking itself as a variety of separate beings.

Through these limitations, life and the divine is able to experience and explore itself in always new ways. There is a great richness created from these limitations.

Of course, when life takes itself to be a human being, and especially if this human being happens to live within certain cultures, it may feel that limitations are limiting. They are. And at the same time, they not only allow us to go deep within our life and limitations. In the bigger picture they allow an immense richness of life and even life itself as we know it.

Limitations are not only inherent in life as we know it, it’s what allows for this life.

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My larger body

 

Some statements are often seen as poetic or romantic, but in this case, it’s a literal reality.

My larger body is nature and society. My larger body is this planet. My larger body is this solar system and universe.

My existence as a human being depends 100% on this larger body for its existence and survival. The only boundaries between this human self and the larger whole is imagined, and invested with reality only by our minds.

This is very real from a ordinary material and scientific point of view.

And going beyond that, as what I am – what all experience happens within and as – it’s all what I am.

It may seem a romantic or hippyish notion, but it has very real consequences for how we live our lives.

If I see myself as a human being mostly separate from the larger whole, I’ll act accordingly. I’ll act as if the health and well being the larger social and ecological systems matters little for my own health and well being. I’ll tend to act from a short term and narrow perspective. I’ll tend to act in a way that’s – intentionally or not – harmful for the larger whole. And we create our societies, social systems, and worlviews to reflect this. We’ll use economic models that assume that the health and well being of the larger whole doesn’t really matter. We’ll create transportation systems, production systems, food systems, water systems, energy systems, and more that reflect this world view. And we’ll reap the consequences individually and collective. That’s what we see today with a growing awareness of the consequences of toxins in our air, land, and water, diminishing ecosystems, and climate change.

If I see the larger social and ecological systems as my larger body, my view and actions will be different. I’ll act from a longer term and larger perspective. I’ll seek solutions that benefits myself as well as the whole. And we’ll collective use worldviews and systems that reflect this reality and this desire to support life at all levels.

If I see the solar systema and universe as my larger body, I’ll tend to experience a deep and profound sense of belonging and meaning. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into conscious awareness.

Of course, this has to be a lived reality for us. It may become a living reality through natural adult maturation and development. It may happen if we live in a society or group where this is a mainstream view. And it can happen through education and experiences such as the Practices to Reconnect by Joanna Macy.

I am aware that I am using the word “reality” here and it’s not really that. It’s a perception. An experience. A worldview. But “reality” works as a shorthand even if it’s not that precise.

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Carl Sagan: We who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos

 

And 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, episode 13

 

Thomas Berry: The story of the universe is the personal story of everybody

 

The story of the universe is the personal story of everybody.

– Thomas Berry in an interview with Drew Dellinger, June 1998

I can’t say it more clearly or simply.
The history if the universe is the personal story of all of us, of all beings and everything else.

In our modern science-based story of the universe, we are told how we expanded rapidly as energy (Big Bang), how we became light and matter, formed into stars and solar systems, how we exploded as stars and formed heavier elements and new solar systems, how we eventually formed into this planet, and how this planet formed itself into life, and eventually all life we see and know today. This is all my personal story. And yours.

When we tell this story, it’s often told from a more fragmented perspective. We look at it from the perspective of the parts. And it’s equally or more accurate to look at it from the perspective of the whole as well as the parts. We can say that the universe formed itself into all these things.

This story is also often told in the third person as “it”. It – the universe – formed itself into all these things. It’s equally true and accurate to tell this story in the first person plural. We formed into all these things, and eventually, what we see and know today.

Even from a mainstream science perspective, the universe is a seamless whole that formed itself into everything we see and know today, including you and me. Everything is “we”.

These are vital differences. Do we tell this story from the perspective of the parts and in the third person? Or do we tell this story from the perspective of the whole and the parts, and in the first person? These different views have real life consequences. They inform how we perceive ourselves, the universe, and our relationship to everything. They inform how we live and act. They even inform policies and how we organize ourselves as a society.

The first view creates the type of western and global society we see today. One that’s not aligned with ecological realities, and one that does not take nonhuman life, ecosystems, and future generations into account in any significant way. The second view has the potential to transform our society into one that is more aligned with ecological realities and takes nonhuman life, ecosystems, and future generations into account when it comes to policies and how we live and organize ourselves.

Universe fascinated by itself

 

The universe is fascinated by itself.

And in our case, the universe is fascinated by itself as an individual, a culture and a civilization, in all the ways we are fascinated by anything at all. At this level, there is no reason for it and it doesn’t need a reason.

In an evolutionary perspective, there is of course a reason. It makes good sense to be fascinated, to explore, experience, learn and so on. It aids survival to be interested in life, in our surroundings, in each other, in ourselves, in anything at all.

Today, this fascination is perhaps most obvious in our fascination in all forms of media – TV, internet, movies, podcast, music, performances, newspapers, magazines and so on. It’s an endless fascination where we absorb, experience, learn about ourselves, each other, the world,  and life.

It’s the fascination of the universe of itself, in all of these ways. It’s the universe evolved into a planet, and into a species for whom it makes evolutionary sense to be curious and interested in the world.

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