Animal communication

I have been fascinated by animal communication since my early teens, and maybe before. I remember Carl Sagan writing about dolphin communication in one of his books, and I have always thought that if we arrive at a better way to communicate with animals, our relationships with them would change as well. Hopefully, for the good of them and us.

HUNGER FOR WORDS

A few years ago, I discovered Hunger for Words through an online article, and I immediately thought that this was one of the breakthroughs I had been hoping to see.

Hunger for Words is a project created by a speech therapist. In 2018, she got a dog (Stella) and wanted to see if some of the methods she used with children would also work with Stella.

Specifically, she started using buttons that each represented a word or simple phrase and taught the meaning to Stella.

I started my experiment with just a few recordable buttons that Stella could push to say, “outside,” “play,” and “water,” and the same language facilitation strategies I use with children.  Since introducing those first words, Stella has progressed far beyond what I ever thought could be possible. Now, Stella uses a homemade communication device to say more than 45 words (and counting!), combine up to 5 words together to create unique phrases, ask and answer questions, express her thoughts and feelings, make observations, participate in short conversations, and connect with us every single day. 

CLOSE RELATIVES & SHARED ANCESTORS

It’s amazing to watch videos of Stella and other animals using these buttons to communicate. They are creative in how they put sentences together in a way that demonstrates a real understanding of language.

And why would be surprised? Dogs and cats are mammals like us. We are cousins. We share most of our ancestors. They may not naturally have words, but they do communicate clearly. And through this method, they can learn to communicate with words so we can more easily understand them.

THE EFFECTS OF IMPROVED COMMUNICATION

As this becomes more common and commonly known in our culture, what effects may it have?

I hope it will help us recognize non-human species as sentient beings like us with emotions, wishes, needs, hopes, and fears like us. They wish the same as we do, which is to be free from suffering and have a good life.

And that, in turn, may shift how we treat our fellow beings. They are like us. More than us versus them we are all “us”. So why not treat them as we would have wanted to be treated in their situation?

Why not give them a voice, even beyond this type of communication? Why not assign people to speak up for non-human beings in places where we make decisions that impact them? (Government, courts, board rooms, and so on.)

Why not give them stronger legal rights and ways to enforce these rights?

SHARED INTERESTS

Some may assume that this is not in our interest. After all, don’t we sometimes need to use non-human species for our own good? To take their land so we can grow food or build houses? Keep them captive for our entertainment? Keep them imprisoned so we can eat them?

It may look that way from a short-term and narrow-interest perspective.

And yet, from a bigger perspective, it looks very different.

Here, we see that we share interests.

We are embedded in the ecosystems of this planet. We are all parts of this living evolving system we call Earth. We share fate. We are all dependent on a healthy, diverse, and thriving ecosystem and planet.

And by giving non-human beings a metaphorical and literal voice, we not only take care of their interests but our shared interests. We take care of our own long-term interests.

This is essential not only for them but for us.

GIVING A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS

This is not by any means idealism. This is realism.

For our own survival, we need to give a voice to those who do not have one in our society. We need to give a voice to non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations. And that voice needs to be backed up by laws and the legal system to have a real impact.

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Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature?

I recently watched the last season of His Dark Materials, and find I have as much and often more empathy with the dæmons as I do with their human counterpart. (The dæmons are animals representing an aspect of the people, their inner self, anima/animus, or something similar.)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature? Why is it sometimes easier to find love for a non-human being than for some fellow humans?

There are many answers and they all (literally) come out of one.

Here are some that come to mind:

MISTREATED

Non-human beings are often mistreated by humans. I tend to side with the underdogs, and in this relationship, non-human beings are almost always the underdogs. I have a natural empathy with non-human beings for that reason. (I know this particular dynamic is rooted in my own history and experiences.)

INNOCENCE & DIFFERENT HISTORY

The natural world has everything from cooperation and care to fights and mercilessness.

At the same time, we see an innocence there. For all their savvy and specific skills, knowledge, and experience, many of them generally function cognitively at the level of human children or babies.

Most non-human species must have mental representations and use them as we do, to orient and function in the world. And yet, it seems they are much less likely to elaborate on and believe these imaginations. They use them in a more simple and direct way.

For many of us, it’s easier to find love for animals. They are simpler. In some ways, they are innocent like children. For that reason, we don’t experience the same friction with them as we do with humans. We don’t experience the clashes of hangups and worldviews we experience with humans. And most of us have been more hurt by humans than non-human beings, we have a different history with them.

For all of these reasons, it’s often easier to find love for non-human beings. And especially the ones we know personally and live with.

MIRROR

Animals mirror me in several different ways. I see myself in them.

They mirror my animal nature. They mirror how I am with a simpler mental field. They mirror how I am minus my more complicated – and complicating – human mental field with elaborate ideas, beliefs, identifications, etc.

And the different animals mirror different parts of me as well. Whatever story I have about any type of animal, I can turn it to myself and find specific and genuine examples of how, where, and when it’s true.

And since I wish to have – and have – some love and care for these parts of me, I have the same towards the beings mirroring these sides of me.

WE ARE CLOSELY RELATED

All Earth life is closely related. We are all, literally, part of the same family. We share ancestors. We are cousins. We are far more similar than we are different. We share far more than what’s unique and different.

We are “we” far more than we are “us” and “them”. And we all know this in our cells and bones and our mind when we subtract our complicated human mental field. Any ideas of separation come from our ideas, not from reality.

PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM

We are all part of the same living and evolving system we call Earth or Gaia.

We are subsystems in larger living systems.

We are subsystems in the larger systems we call the Earth and the universe and all of existence.

We are all expressions of the same larger living wholes.

We are part of the same metaphorical body we call life, Earth, the universe, and existence.

And that’s not just metaphorical or poetry or wishful thinking. It’s what current science tells us.

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

We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE DIVINE

We can call existence and reality God, Spirit, or the divine.

Here, we can say that we are all expressions of God, Spirit, or the divine.

We are all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

We are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the divine.

We are the divine bringing itself into consciousness through and as us.

PART OF THE ONENESS I AM

There is also another oneness here, and one that’s far more immediate.

In one sense, I am this human being in the world.

Ehen I look in my own first-person experience, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

To me, everything – including any being – is part of the oneness I am.

And to the extent I allow this to sink and infuse and transform my human self, this gives birth to a natural love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right.

WORDS AND LANGUAGE

I use the word “animal” here since that’s the terminology most people use these days.

In reality, we are all animals. We are all living beings.

There is no reason to create a hard and imagined boundary between us and the rest of Earth life.

We are all closely related. We are all in the same boat. We are all embedded in the same larger living systems. We are all expressions of the evolution of the universe. We are all expressions of existence. We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself through and as us.

When I hear the word “animal” I am reminded of the old Greeks who used a similar mind-created division. They called any non-Greeks barbarians. I assume future generations may see our current human-animal distinction as equally quaint and old-fashioned.

Today, there is a growing awareness of all the many ways racism and sexism is expressed in society and our language. In the future, I assume there will be a similar awareness of how our anthropocentrism is expressed in our language and society, and a movement to change it.

CULTURE & OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

How we see humans versus the rest of life is obviously dependent on our culture.

In some traditional cultures, all life is seen as related and part of the same whole.

The irony is that in our culture, that’s the view of science. Science tells us all life is closely related and part of the same living evolving systems. And yet, most people operate on an outdated and misguided idea of the basic separation of humans from all other life. We operate on misconceptions while we know better.

Why? I assume it’s not just because of tradition and habit. It’s also convenient. It allows us to keep using and abusing non-human beings and nature in general.

And that brings us to saw over the branch we are sitting on. It’s out of alignment with reality, and operating on ideas out of alignment with reality has consequences. In this case, the consequence is the destruction of the living systems we are fully embedded in and dependent on.

NOISE

I’ll add one topic that’s been on my mind since my early teens.

I have personally never liked noise or loud music. I love silence and natural sounds, and less human-created sounds (apart from some music).

And, as far as I can tell from research and personal observations, it seems I share that with most non-human beings.

So why do some humans apparently love noise and loud sounds and music?

I don’t know but I assume it has to do with our noisy and complex mental field and what happens when we take certain (painful) ideas as reality. (Taking any idea as reality is painful in itself, no matter what the idea tells us.) Perhaps the outer noise masks the inner noise, at least for a while? Perhaps it’s a strategy to distract ourselves from our own discomfort and pain?

Perhaps it’s a sign we haven’t found peace with our own experience, as it is? A sign of war with our experience?

In our culture, we act as if we are at war with nature, and we act as if we are at war with our own experience. The two are closely related. They depend on each other. And they may break down together.

FINDING PEACE WITH OURSELVES & PEACE WITH NATURE

In most cases, if we find peace with our experience, we tend to find a deeper love for nature. And finding a deeper love for nature tends to be reflected in finding more peace with our experience.

Of course, both take work. And even if we find this peace, and wish to live in a more peaceful relationship with life in general, we are still living within a social and economic system that is inherently destructive. It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take the limits of nature into account. And now – with increasing human numbers and more efficient technology – it’s obviously destructive to life.

We can personally experience peace with life, but our life is not peaceful to life as long our collective human system is as it is.

It takes personal intention, skill, and work to find peace with our experience.

It will take a similar collective intention, skill, and work to find real peace in our relationship with nature – and transform our collective life so it takes ecological realities into account.

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How old am I?

I had a birthday yesterday, and it brings up the topic of age.

How old am I?

It’s a simple question, and if I take it seriously, it can reveal a lot about my nature.

THE AGE ON MY PASSPORT

In a conventional sense, I am the age my passport tells me. It’s the age in my official documents, and the answer most people expect if they ask the question. It’s not wrong, but it’s a small part of a much bigger picture.

MY BODY’S AGE

In another sense, my body has a certain biological age. Depending on genetics and lifestyle, it can be older or younger than my conventional age. This age has some importance in terms of my health. (And depending on how it’s measured and what criteria are used, it will likely change somewhat.)

THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE

In yet another sense, I am the age of this universe. According to current science, I am roughly 13.7 billion years old. This can sound like an answer that’s meant to be cute or clever, but it’s far more real than that.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of 13.7 billion years of evolution of this universe.

Every molecule is the product of this evolution, most having been forged in ancient stars blowing up and reforming into this planet which formed itself into all of us and this living evolving world.

Every dynamic in me is the product of the evolution of this seamless system we call the universe.

As Carl Sagan said, and I often quote: We are the ears, eyes, thoughts and feeling of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of the evolution of this larger seamless system I am a local and temporary expression of.

In a very real sense, I am the age of this universe. Everything I am as a human is the age of this universe.

This age is important since it’s a reminder of the reality of the oneness of the universe. It’s a reminder of what current science tells us about our more fundamental identity and nature.

TIMELESS

All of that has some validity to it. And yet, am I most fundamentally this human self? Or even a local and temporary expression of this seamless and evolving larger whole?

If I look in my own first-person experience, what am I more fundamentally?

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, including this human self and anything connected with it. I am capacity even for any thought or sense that I am fundamentally this human self.

I find that any experience – of the wider world or this human self – happens within and as my sense fields. (Sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, mental images and words.)

To me, the world as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am.

This is my more fundamental nature, in my own immediate experience.

Here, I find I am what any ideas or experience of time happens within and as. My nature is timeless, allowing and forming itself into ideas and experiences of time and change.

LAYERED

My age is layered.

As a human being, I am the age in my passport and my body’s biological age.

As a local and temporary expression of this larger seamless evolving system, I have the age of this universe. (And that will change somewhat depending on what science says.)

And in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is timeless. I am the timelessness any ideas and experience of age happen within and as.

I love the richness of my age. I love that there are many answers and that some change over time.

I love that each one makes sense in its own way.

WHY DON’T WE USE OUR UNIVERSE AGE MORE OFTEN?

If science tells us we all are 13.7 billion years old, why don’t we use that age more often?

It may seem a silly question, but it’s actually a very important one. Science tells us our more fundamental age is 13.7 billion years, so why don’t we collectively take it more seriously?

It may be because this story is still relatively new so it hasn’t had time to sink in yet.

Also, we are used to using our age in our passport so most people stick with that. Much in society is dependent on separating us by age. (School, tickets, pension, and so on.) And many seem to like to follow that orientation.

For me, it’s beautiful and important that this is an age we all share. Everything that exists has the same age. That’s amazing and wonderful to me. It’s a reminder of what ties us together and that we are all local and temporary expressions of the same seamless evolving whole.

That’s far more fundamental and important than the age we happen to have as local and temporary expressions of this whole.

WHY DON’T WE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR TIMELESS NATURE MORE OFTEN?

Similarly, why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often?

It’s not because it’s not here to be noticed. Based on my own noticing and what I hear from others, it seems we all have this nature. (It’s the nature of the consciousness we all inevitably are to ourselves.) (1)

It’s not even because it’s difficult to find. I assume most can find it with guidance and within minutes.

So why don’t more people acknowledge this?

I assume there are many answers here too. The obvious one is that we live in a society that tells us – directly and indirectly – that we most fundamentally are this human self, an object within the field of our experience. As we grow up, we see that this is what others do so we do the same. In our innocence, which is very beautiful, we train ourselves to do as others do.

There are also many misconceptions about this. Many traditions suggest that finding our nature is difficult or takes a long time, or that it’s for special people, or that it’s about something distant, or that it gives us special powers.

In reality, it’s right here. It’s not only what we are most familiar with, it’s the only thing we are familiar with. It’s what all our experience consists of.

Since it’s about noticing what we already are, it’s for all of us.

It doesn’t give us any special powers, it’s just a noticing of our nature. (And that can be profoundly transforming for our perception and life in the world.)

And with good guidance, most of us can find it within a relatively short time.

How can we find it? The best approaches I am familiar with (so far) are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

Of course, finding it is just the first step. It’s just a glimpse. If we want to continue exploring it, we need to refind it here and now. We need to explore how to live from this noticing. We need to investigate anything in us out of alignment with it, anything created and operating from separation consciousness.

And that takes dedication, passion, and a lifetime. (Or more if there are more.)

(1) Why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often? It’s not even because it’s illogical. Based on logic, we find that in our own experience, we have to be consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, we inevitably and most fundamentally have to BE consciousness in our own experience. And the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We have all of the characteristics of consciousness, and since the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are, that too – to us – have those characteristics.

We are what’s inherently free of time and space and that our experience of time and space happens within and as. We are the oneness any sense of distinction and separation happens within and as. And so on.

This just says something about our own nature in our own first-person experience, it doesn’t say anything about the nature of existence or the universe. And that’s more than enough. If we are led – by existence – to take it seriously, that’s profoundly transforming.

Image: A look at the distant relatives we call the “Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.)

Why do we love our land? An evolutionary perspective on landscape

When it comes to understanding anything human, I often do a quick check-in with an evolutionary perspective. And the same obviously goes for understanding the behavior of any species.

My wife and I are stewards of beautiful land in the Andes mountains.

Why do we see it as so beautiful? Why do we feel so connected with it?

We fell in love with it within seconds of our first visit. And it feels as if the land chose us as much as we chose it.

OUR ANCESTRAL HOME

One answer, which came up in my environmental psychology classes at the University of Utah, is that humanity comes from the Great Rift Valley in Africa so we are naturally drawn to that type of landscape. It’s our ancestral home. We love open landscapes with trees and shade. It’s the environment we co-evolved with.

Our pre-human ancestors likely lived for innumerable generations in that landscape, and our first human-like ancestors lived there before they started migrating out to the rest of the world.

In this case, there is a clear similarity between this land and the landscape of the Great Rift Valley. (Not surprising since both are close to the equator and about the same elevation.)

Many if not most of the ancestors in me feel at home there.

BIOPHILIA

There is also a much deeper and general reason for our love – and sometimes fear – of nature.

We are nature. So we love, and sometimes fear, nature.

The universe is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy, a whole with wholes within it.

It’s also an evolving system, expressed through and as – among everything else in the universe – our living and evolving planet and us as a species and individuals.

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

When we look into the universe, we are looking back at ourselves. When we experience nature, we are experiencing ourselves.

We co-evolved with all of it.

We find nature beautiful because we recognize ourselves in and as it, whether we are conscious of it or not.

THE LANDSCAPES WE ARE ATTRACTED TO

At a more conventional level, there are other reasons why we tend to find nature beautiful, and why we are especially drawn to certain landscapes.

Our ancestors lived with, from, and as nature, so it makes sense to be attracted to nature. It helped them survive. (Neutrality or aversion would not be so productive.)

It makes sense that we tend to be attracted to open landscapes. Having a view helped our ancestors to survive. They could see prey, friends, and enemies from far away and prepare accordingly.

It makes sense we tend to be attracted to green landscapes. For our ancestors, it made sense to be drawn to green landscapes since it means vegetation, and vegetation means shade, protection, and food.

It makes sense we tend to be attracted to moderate climates, for obvious reasons.

It makes sense that we are attracted to running water since it means fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cooking food.

Many love sitting by a bonfire or a fireplace, or even just a candle. For our ancestors, these types of smaller and controlled fires meant food, warmth, protection, and community.

The ones who were drawn to these features of nature were more likely to survive and they passed these inclinations on to their descendants, including us.

And it makes equal sense we are afraid of or slightly repulsed by certain things in nature. Most of us have some fear of heights, and this fear has helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations. We tend to have some fear of snakes and some insects for the same reason. We avoid places that smell musty, moldy, or rotten.

Our ancestors who experienced some fear or repulsion to these things were more likely to survive, have children, and pass these tendencies on to us.

CULTURE AND ANYTHING HUMAN

Human culture and anything human – all our experiences, thoughts, and feelings – are obviously part of the seamless whole of existence. It’s all the evolution of the universe and this living planet expressing itself in these ways, through and as us and our experiences.

We obviously find a lot in humans and culture beautiful. But not always. Why is that?

Again, an evolutionary perspective can give us answers. If we see an open and infested wound, it makes sense to experience some repulsion since it can help us not get infected. If we meet someone who is chronically caught up in anger, blame, or similar, feeling less attracted to it can help us to avoid problems. If we see a building or village in disrepair, it may be best to find another place to go. And so on. (This is obviously a very simplified outline.)

On a more immediate level, what we find beautiful and not has to do with how we relate to our thoughts about it. If we believe our thoughts about something or someone, it will often create attraction or aversion.

HOLDING IT LIGHTLY

As usual, it makes sense to hold all of this lightly.

An evolutionary perspective on psychology and behavior helps us arrive at educated guesses at most. It’s not something we can verify once and for all.

Personally, I often use it to find more understanding and empathy for myself and others. I find a plausible explanation in an evolutionary context, and that helps me see that our experiences and behavior are not as personal as they first may seem. It all comes from somewhere else.

Note: The photo above is from our land in the Chicamocha Canyon.

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Joanna Macy: If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by… people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear

If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.

– Joanna Macy

That’s what creates any change. When our love is greater than our fear. When we realize that continuing will be more painful than making a change.

Mother’s day

It’s mother’s day in some countries today.

We can look at mother in many ways, including literally, as a projection, and metaphorically.

And although much of it may be pretty obvious, it can also help us shift our perspective. We may be able to shift out of habitual views and into views that are more new and fresh to us, and hold them all more lightly.

And that, in itself, is often valuable. 

LITERAL MOTHERS

The most obvious is our own human mothers – whether it’s our biological one or the one(s) who raised us.

Can I find love for my human mother even if she wasn’t perfect?

The more we resolve any issues with our mother and those in our early life, the more we tend to resolve many of the more central issues we have. If you wonder what to find healing for, a good place to start – and end – is your mother and father and anyone important in your early life.

The more we find healing for our relationship with our mother, the more we can find genuine gratitude for her, as she was and is.

Another side to this is that, to us, our mother is as much or more in here as out there. Finding healing for our relationship with our mother (and father) helps us heal parts of ourselves.

MOTHERS ALL THE WAY BACK

There is also the lineage of mothers.

This lineage goes through all our human mothers through the centuries and in many geographical locations, going back to the early human migration(s) from Africa.

It goes back through our non-human humanoid ancestors. The ones that may be somewhat similar to primates today.

It goes back to our non-human and non-primate mammal ancestors. The small ones that lived during the dinosaur era and even further back.

It goes back beyond this, to our non-mammal ancestors. The ones who left the ocean for land, and the ones who lived in the ocean.

It goes back to the very simple organisms that were the pioneer lifeforms in the oceans.

And it goes back to the very first single-celled organism that’s the ancestor of all life today.

All of these are our mothers. They tie us to all Earth life.

Without them, we wouldn’t exist and the amazing living planet we are part of wouldn’t exist.

MOTHER AS A MIRROR

We also have the mother in all of us.

These are the mother qualities of nurturing, understanding, fierce protection, and so on, and also the distorted version of these.

When I see mother qualities in others, whether nurturing or protective or more distorted, can I find it in myself? What stories do I have about my own mother and other mothers? WHat do I find when I turn this story to myself? Can I find specific and genuine examples of how each one is true?

OUR CHILDREN AS OUR MOTHERS

We think of mothers as mothers of children. Is the reverse also true?

Yes, in a sense, our children are our mothers. They are part of making us who we are.

Can I find appreciation and gratitude for this as well? 

MY EXPERIENCES ARE MY MOTHER

At first glance, it may look as if the situations I am in are my mother.

The universe, planet, ecosystem, culture, subcultures, and family I grow up and live in form and shape who I am.

All my experiences – whether I call them small or big – are my mother.

THE WAY I RELATE TO MY EXPERIENCES IS MY MOTHER

When I look more closely, I find something else is more true for me.

It’s the way I relate to my experiences that forms and shapes me and who I am in the world.

The way I relate to my experiences – the way I relate to myself, others, situations, and so on – is my mother.

MOTHER NATURE

Nature is our mother in a very real sense.

Without this living planet, we wouldn’t exist. Every molecule in our bodies comes from the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. All of it comes from the wider ecosystems we are part of.

We are an intrinsic part of this living system and a local expression of this living system.

Our own health and well-being, individually and collectively, is dependent on the health and well-being of our mother, of this living system we call planet Earth. 

MOTHER UNIVERSE

Similarly, the universe is our mother.

All of existence, going back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and stretching out to the widest extent (if there is any boundary), is our mother.

We depend on all of it for our own existence.

Without the whole, just as it is, we wouldn’t be.

WE ARE THE MOTHERS OF EXISTENCE

The reverse is also true here. We are the mothers of the universe.

We bring existence into form and life – locally and through and as our experiences and life.

We are the local expressions of existence as a whole. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

As Meister Eckart said, we are the mothers of God.

CAPACITY AS THE MOTHER OF ALL

There is also the mother of existence, which is what allows it all – as it appears to me – to happen.

When I look at what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me.

I am capacity for any and all experience – whether it’s of this human self, the wider world, or anything else.

This capacity is the mother of the world as it appears to me. 

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Wolfwalkers & our relationship with the wild in nature and ourselves

I loved this movie in many different ways. And as any good story that deals with primal archetypes and archetypal dynamics, it can be interpreted at many different levels.

It can be seen as a metaphor for how humans treat each other, including how the English have treated the Irish. It can be seen as a more literal story about how humans treat nature and the wild. And it can be seen as a mirror for dynamics in ourselves, and how we civilize ourselves at the expense of the primal aliveness in ourselves.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WILD

It’s easy to imagine a history of the human relationship with the wild, and it will – by necessity – be somewhat speculative when it comes to the early history.

Before agriculture and civilization as we think of it, people lived in nature, with nature, and from nature. They may have had more of a partnership relationship with nature and the wild, and they likely respected nature out of necessity. They had a more nature-oriented spirituality. They didn’t have much property so they didn’t have much hierarchy. They may have had a more matriarchal culture. The inevitable damage to nature was limited since their numbers were small and their technology simple, and they also moved if they needed to which limited their impact on the areas they were in.

With agriculture, this all changed. We could accumulate wealth. We had more division of labor, tasks, and skills. We developed a hierarchy. The ones higher up in the hierarchy developed a wish to control others and the general population. We got culture as we know it. We got more removed sky-God religions. We got a more patriarchal culture.

We lived in tamed landscapes or towns and cities. With agriculture, we depended more on tamed nature. We lived more distanced from the wild. We depend much less on the wild. The wild became “other” to us. For those higher up in the hierarchy, it became in their interest to also tame the population.

We learned to tame nature and ourselves, and find this comforting and the wild scary and unsettling and perhaps even evil.

Our human relationship with the wild shifted. We went from living in and from the wild to becoming distanced from it and viewing it often as something scary and suspicious. We learned that taming ourselves and nature was safer.

WHAT DOES TAMING OURSELVES MEAN?

We know what it means to tame nature. It means to make the wild into agricultural land, towns, and cities. Replace wild forests with planted forests. To kill any animals – typically large predators – we see as competitors or any danger to ourselves. And so on.

But what does it mean that we tame ourselves?

In one sense, it just means that we learn to live with others and in civilization. We learn to express our feelings with words instead of through actions that may harm others. We learn to cooperate. We learn to take others into consideration when we make our choices and live our life. This is natural for us since we are a social species and it doesn’t necessarily come at much or any cost. 

In another sense, it can mean that we tame ourselves at the cost of our aliveness, sense of connection and meaning, and authenticity. This happens when we take taming ourselves in a slightly misguided way. We may deny our emotions or needs, wishes, and desires instead of acknowledging or expressing these and finding ways to get our needs met. We may disconnect ourselves from our body and nature and feel disconnected, ungrounded, and aimless. All of this tends to come as a consequence of believing painful beliefs and identities and perceiving and living as if they are true. And these painful beliefs and identities tend to come from our culture or subculture. They are passed on and shared by many if not most humans in our culture, and some may be common across cultures – especially in our modern world.

HOW DO WE REWILD OURSELVES?

Rewilding nature is a popular topic these days, and very much needed for the health of nature and ourselves and our culture.

But how do we rewild ourselves?

There are several approaches, and what works best is probably a combination of the ones that resonate the most with us – and that may change over time.

We can connect with nature through spending time in nature, gardening, spending time with non-human species, learning about nature, spending time in the wilderness, learning to survive in the wilderness, spending time at a bonfire, looking at the stars, and so on.

We can connect with our body by walking barefoot, receiving bodywork, doing different forms of yoga, learning to recognize and take seriously the signals from our body, and so on.

We can engage in nature-centered spirituality and rituals, including the Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy.

We can shift our worldview from one of separation to connection and oneness, for instance through deep ecology, the epic of evolution, the universe story, ecospirituality, system views, integral models (AQAL), and so on.

We can engage in actions on behalf of other species, the Earth, and future generations. These may be small and “invisible” everyday actions or more visible in the world. These may be actions to stop damage, change our culture, or envision and implement life-centered alternatives.

We can learn to notice and acknowledge our emotions and wishes, needs, and desires. We can find ways to express this and meet our needs in a kind way. We can find a more authentic way to live that’s kind to ourselves and others.

We can identify fears we have of rewilding ourselves.  What’s the worst that could happen?  What does my culture tell me could happen? What do I find when I examine these stories? What’s more true for me? How is it to meet and be with the fear and allow it as it is? How is it to find love for it? 

We can find healing for any emotional issues that create a sense of separation and lack of connection, aliveness, groundedness, and meaning.

We can identify and investigate the views and beliefs that create a sense of separation – with ourselves, others, nature, and the universe as a whole. We can identify beliefs passed on through our culture. We can find them in ourselves and inquire into them and find more freedom from them and what’s more true and honest for us.

We can connect with and taste the wholeness we are at a human level, through a combination of meditation, body-centered practices, emotional healing, and more.

We can explore what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. At one level, we are a human being in the world. And what do I find when I explore what I am in my own first-person experience? I may find I more fundamentally are capacity for the world as it appears to me. And what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. I may find myself as the oneness this human self and the wider world happen within and as.

This is not only for the benefit of ourselves. It benefits our culture. It may help our species survive. And it will likely benefit other species, this living planet, and future generations.

Note: This article itself is an example of rewilding ourselves. I saw the movie three or four weeks ago, made a few notes, and allowed it to rest. Today, I was moved to write the article and it came out easily and naturally, without much if any effort.

When I saw the movie, I noticed I wasn’t ready to write the final article. I knew that pushing it would be uncomfortable and likely wouldn’t give a good result. So I allowed it to rest and digest on its own, and I waited for it to come to fruition in me and move me to write it.

I planted the seed, waited, and it sprouted in its own time in the form of this article.

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Cells and oneness

Someone I talked with brought up the idea that we are like cells in an organism. Just like a cell is a part of a larger organism, we – as human beings – are part of a larger organism. We are holons in larger holarchies, just as we are a holarchy for smaller holons. We are part of the seamless system of this planet and the universe and all of existence.

This is all accurate at a story level, in terms of science, and so on.

At the same time, we are something else. To ourselves, in our own first-person experience, we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what the world – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. We are oneness and love.

These two are complementary. In the world and as human beings and at a story level, we are like cells in a larger organism. To ourselves, when we look, we find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what the world happens within and as. We are oneness and love, and we are the oneness and love that – to us – the world happens within and as.

Alan Watts: You are it!

They say in the Upanishads, those ancient texts of Hinduism, they say: Tat Tvam Asi. You’re it! Ha! You are everything that’s going on. In other words, you are a partiucular place in which the whole universe is focused.

– Alan Watts, see this video on FaceBook

For me, there are two different parts to this.

One is that to me, I am everything that’s gong on. My nature is capacity for every experience I have and am. The world and universe as I experience it happens within and as my sense fields. The universe, to me, happens within and as what I am. This is something I can explore in my own first-person experience and find for myself.

The other is that I am a particular place in which the whole universe is focused.

As this human self, I am a part of the seamless and dynamic whole of the universe, a holon in a wast holarcy.

Every experience, thought, feeling, action, state, and so on, that I experience (and am, in that moment), has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is a beginning) and out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is a boundary). What’s here as this human self – and any experiences and activities of this human self – is created by the universe as a whole.

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

This is something I can find within stories, including western science, the universe story, the epic of evolution, and so on. 

Why do we find nature beautiful?

Why do most of us find nature beautiful? Especially if it’s mostly natural and untouched by humans, or mimics a more natural state?

There are many answers to this question.

CO-EVOLUTION

We have co-evolved with the rest of nature. We evolved as part of Earth’s living systems. So naturally, we’ll tend to experience an affiliation with the rest of nature.

EVOLUTION

We have evolved to find certain types of nature attractive. We tend to be attracted to landscapes that serve our survival needs. Landscapes with trees, sun, wind, water, lush vegetation, shelter, abundant life, and so on.

CULTURE

There is obviously a cultural component to this. We learn what’s beautiful in nature and what’s not, and this is often rooted in something that makes sense in a survival context. Sometimes, it made sense several generations back (for instance, wanting to get rid of competition in the form of large predators) and not so much anymore.

SEAMLESS LIVING SYSTEM

We are, in a very real sense, Earth taking the form of us. The living systems of Earth take all the forms we see around us. We are Earth locally seeing, feeling, and experiencing itself. When we experience a tree or a landscape, we are Earth experiencing these parts of itself through and as us. And conversely, when the rest of nature encounters us, it’s Earth experiencing that part of itself – us – through all these other parts of itself.

SEAMLESS EVOLVING UNIVERSE

More fundamentally, we are existence experiencing itself. In the words of Carl Sagan, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. No wonder we find a lot of the universe and existence beautiful.

OUR NATURE / WHAT WE ARE

There is yet another fundamental answer to the question.

And that is that, to us, all our experiences happen within and as what we are. Our nature is to be capacity for all our experiences, and any and all experiences happen within and as what we are. We are oneness, and we are the love that comes from this oneness recognizing itself. We may not notice, but that doesn’t change our nature.

We naturally have preferences, including from evolution, culture, and our own biology and experiences. And because of this and sometimes our beliefs, hangups, issues, and so on, we find certain things distasteful or even ugly.

And yet, we tend to find much of nature very beautiful.

Why? One answer is because it is already and inevitably happening within and as what we are.

WHY DON’T WE FIND EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL?

Looking at all of this, another version of the question comes up:

Why don’t we find everything – all of nature and all of existence – beautiful?

I have already hinted at this earlier.

The answer is partly in our evolution, culture, biology, and personal experiences. We have natural preferences and biases because of all of these influences.

And the answer is partly in our beliefs, identifications, hangups, issues, and so on. These cause us to find certain things repulsive and unattractive, or even just boring and neutral.

The two often overlap, and the second tends to build on the first.

So the more we heal our beliefs and issues, the more we heal our relationship with all of life, and the more we notice and live from our nature, the more we tend to find everything beautiful.

We’ll still have our preferences. We’ll still be a good steward of our life and choose some things and not others. And we’ll tend to find more and more – and perhaps even everything – inherently beautiful.

CHANGING DEFINITION OF NATURE

Through this, we see a changing definition of nature.

I started out by defining nature in a more conventional sense, as relatively untouched ecosystems.

We went through defining nature as us too. Everything we are, do, and experience is – in a very real sense – nature. All of what we are and experience is part of the living seamless systems of Earth and the universe.

And we end up defining nature as all of existence.

Each of these is accurate in its own way.

Image: Scott Kelly, ISS

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Tiny in a huge universe

Modern science has shown us that we are close to insignificant in size compared to the vastness of the universe. How do we take this?

IF FUNDAMENTALLY SEPARATE IN OUR OWN EXPERIENCE

If we see ourselves as fundamentally separate from the larger whole, then this can be scary or depressing or confirm the meaninglessness of it all. It can easily tie into some of the emotional issues or hangups we have.

CONNECTED WITH THE LARGER WHOLE

And if we perceive ourselves as part of this larger whole, then it can become a source of awe, fascination, joy, and a sense of deep connection. I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am the universe bringing itself into consciousness. Everything I am and experience is something this amazing universe forms itself into here locally as this human self and this life and these experiences.

ONENESS IN TWO FORMS

As suggested, this goes beyond being a part of a larger whole and connections.

There is a very real oneness here in two ways.

We have the oneness of the physical universe. The universe is one seamless system. We and our life and experiences are local expressions of this larger system. We are a holon in a holarchy.

And we have the oneness we already are in our own first-person experience. It’s easy to perceive ourselves as something within the content of our experience, and specifically this human self, an I, a me, a doer, a man or woman, and whatever other identities our minds create for us. After all, that’s what most of us learn we are and what’s correct in most cultures.

And yet, when we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find we are more fundamentally something else. We may notice that our more fundamental nature is as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and that we are what the world – and all our experiences – happen within and as.

And here, we find another oneness. We find that to us, as it appears to us, the universe and all of existence already is one.

DEEPEN INTO A PERCEPTION OF CONNECTIONS AND ONENESS

How can we deepen into this perception of connections and oneness?

We can learn about the universe a seamless system, and this planet as a living evolving system. (Systems theories, Gaia theory, and so on.)

We can do the practices to reconnect and similar rituals to get it into our bones.

We can explore what we are in our own first-person experience, for instance using structured inquiries like the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process. Or even exploring the sense fields or using basic meditation, heart-centered practices, and so on.

Genealogy and holarchies

A long time ago, in what feels like another life, I worked with translation, history, and genealogy.

I understand why people want to know more about their family history. It gives a context for one’s own life, and it’s interesting to know a bit about our ancestors, what they did, and where they lived.

For me, it’s also interesting with the two ways we have a family: Genetics and lived family life. Sometimes they are the same, and sometimes they are different. And sometimes, there are family secrets coming up through genetic testing, and people respond to it in all different ways.

Ultimately, we are all family. In the context of Earth life, all of us humans are relatively closely related. In the context of the universe, all Earth life is closely related. The history of humanity is our shared history. The history of the living evolving Earth is the shared history of Earth life. The history of the universe is the shared history of everything and everyone, including possible life in other places in the universe.

It’s all part of the same story. The story of the universe forming itself into all of this.

The story of existence forming itself into all of this.

And this story includes us and all of who we are and do and experience.

Seed: I was contacted by a family member passionate about genealogy.

13.8 billion years old

It’s my birthday.

How old am I?

Am I the age my passport tells me? In a conventional sense, that’s my age.

Am I the age of this universe, if it really has a beginning? Am I 13.8 billion years old? That’s equally or more valid. Everything I am as a human being is the product of 13.8 billion years of evolution. I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am a local expression of what the universe has spent 13.8 billion years to form itself into.

Am I timeless? I can find that too. When I look, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what forms itself into my experience of the world – including time and space.

As an individual, I am few decades old. Everything I am – all the dynamics, patterns, and processes I am – are the result of 13.8 billion years of evolution. And I find myself as timeless and capacity for time and all of these stories.

Photo: Crab Nebula (Messier 1), NASA / ESA.

Carl Sagan: I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship

I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship.

– Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Yes, science can certainly be a form of informed worship.

Science is a more formalized way of learning about our world, and it can be approached with curiosity, receptivity, and awe. And a recognition that we are, in a very literal sense, the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the universe, locally and in the form of us, exploring and discovering itself.

Everything happens for a reason?

As usual, there are many ways to look at this.

EVERYTHING HAS CAUSES

Everything has causes so everything happens for a reason. That’s the literal and wonderfully boring answer.

WHAT HAPPENS IS THE LOCAL EXPRESSIONS OF THE LARGER WHOLE

Everything has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and the widest extent of existence (if there is any). What happens here is the local expression of movements within the larger whole, within all of existence. Seeing it that way can, in itself, be meaningful.

It’s meaningful because of the reminder that everything is existence as a whole locally expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself.

MAKING IT MEANINGFUL FOR US

The other side is how we relate to what is happening. We can make what happens meaningful to us. We can relate to it more intentionally and use it to support something important to us.

We can use it as an opportunity to deepen our connection with ourselves and others. Finding receptivity. Authenticity. Deepen in healing and maturing. Exploring living from noticing what we are. And so on.

ASSUMING MEANING INHERENT IN WHAT IS HAPPENING

There is also another way to look at this. We may have ideas of a meaning that’s somehow inherent in reality or given from divinity, or something similar.

For me, this is a reminder to take a closer look at what’s happening.

When I look at this, I find a projection. I find my own ideas about a meaning, and I find a thought saying this meaning is inherent in reality or life or given from the divine. The reality is that it’s an imagination.

Ultimately, trying to find some meaning inherent in what’s happening is a futile exercise. At most, it’s a guess. And more honestly, it’s a projection.

And I also know that imagining a meaning inherent in what’s happening can be helpful in some phases of our process. Any assumption is a kind of crutch, and these crutches are necessary until they aren’t.

The universal person

As human beings, we have a certain unique flavor.

And it’s also all universal, in several different ways.

Everything in us comes from somewhere else. The innumerable causes of everything we are and experience go back to the beginning of this universe (if there is any) and stretch out to the widest extent of existence.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the local expression of the universe and how it locally brings itself into consciousness.

The world is our mirror. We can take any story we have about anyone or anything, turn it around to ourselves, and find several specific examples of how it’s true for us in the moment and at times in the past.

To us, the world happens within our sense fields. It happens within and as what we are.

There is even a universality to our unique flavor. Every being has a unique flavor. Every being is a slightly different way for the universe to express, explore, and experience itself.

John Mohawk: The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual; the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself

Seneca scholar John Mohawk wrote that according to his culture, “an individual is not smart […] but merely lucky to be part of a system that has intelligence. Be humble about this. The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual; the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself.”

– “Hearing the Language of Trees” by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Yes! magazine

Aspects of oneness

We can find oneness in several places.

I’ll make this short since I have gone into it in more detail in other articles.

ONENESS IN IMMEDIATE NOTICING

One general form of oneness is what we notice in our own first-person experience.

Here, I find my nature as capacity for all my experiences – for the world, this human self, and anything else as it appears to me. One place I find oneness is my nature as capacity for the world as it appears here.

Another place I find oneness is within my sense fields. All my experiences – of the world, this human self, and anything else – happen within my sense fields. Within sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thought, and so on. These sense fields are a seamless whole. Any sense of boundaries and any labels come from my mental field overlay. This is another oneness.

I find that all my experiences – of the world, etc. – happen within and as what I am. This is yet another aspect of oneness.

These are all aspects of the same, and all ways to explore and find oneness for ourselves.

ONENESS IN A CONVENTIONAL SENSE

We also find oneness in the world, in a conventional sense. And many of these stories of oneness come from science.

The universe is a seamless evolving whole.

All we know and see and know about is a part of this evolving seamless system.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

All Earth life share ancestors. We are all intimately related. We share huge amounts of DNA with a large number of species – whether we call them animals or plants.

And so on, and so on. There are always more examples of oneness in the universe and the natural world.

ANTIDOTE TO A SENSE OF SEPARATION

Why is this important?

Because it’s an antidote to a one-sided sense of separation. Especially in our western culture, it’s easy for people to feel disconnected and separate from just about anything – themselves, others, society, nature, existence.

Exploring the connections, and also exploring these forms of oneness, is an antidote to that sense of separation and isolation.

We can find the oneness already here, in our immediate experience. And we can find it in the universe and nature – which we are an intrinsic part of.

We can engage in all sorts of practices to explore this for ourselves.

We can explore the first general form of oneness through inquiry, basic meditation, heart-centered practices, body-centered practices, and so on.

And we can explore the second through deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, epic of evolution, the universe story, big history, shamanic work, rituals, and Practices to Reconnect.

We can find these two forms of oneness for ourselves, and allow it to transform us and our life in the world.

Photo: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, spiral galaxy NGC 4651

Life is living itself

I saw this amazing rainbow (firebow) a couple of nights ago, took this photo, put it out on social media, and it has around 3000 likes so far. Partly because I shared it in two groups with a large number of members. (The amount of likes is more than for anything else I have put out there.)

I see that I could take this as a feather in my cap. I could make it about me. All these likes mean I am a great guy, or it means I am lovable, or good enough, or accepted, or something like that.

For me, none of that rings very true. What’s more true is that this is about nature. Nature created that scene. I just happened, through grace and coincidence, to be there and had a camera to capture it. I was given the role of a messenger, someone who was able to give others a small taste of what nature created here at that moment.

I could also think that this is about my skills and sense of aesthetics. I am a good photographer. I have built up some skills. And so on. Although there may be some truth to it (not so much in this photo since it’s so simple), something else is more true.

All of that also comes from beyond me as this human being. I was born. I was born into a family that values art, aesthetics, and nature. They passed it on to me. Evolution made us humans so we can see and enjoy beauty. It gave us these bodies with eyes and a brain. My parents bought this cabin many years ago, making it possible for me to be here now. I live in a peaceful society making it possible for me to be here. Someone built this cabin. They learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else. Someone grew the food that’s kept me alive for long enough to see that rainbow and take the picture. Someone made the phone making it possible to take the photo. Innumerable generations of very smart and diligent people worked out the technology that eventually became that phone. And the same for the technology that makes internet and social media possible. The evolution of Earth was required for this photo to be taken. The whole universe, and the evolution of the universe, had to be just as it is and has been for me to take that photo and others to see it on their phones and computers.

This photo was taken by me, but it’s not about me. It’s about the whole world and all of the universe, going back to the beginning of time.

When I am grounded in reality, it’s clear that this is about what’s beyond any one of us. It’s about existence as a whole.

Ultimately, this photo wasn’t taken by me. The scene was created by life and existence. It was taken by life and existence. It’s enjoyed by life and existence. And all of it is made possible by life and existence.

Note: The photo ended up with around 10,000 likes.

I am in you and you in me?

When you call me European, I say yes. When you call me Arab, I say yes. When you call me black, I say yes. When you call me white, I say yes. Because I am in you and you are in me. We have to inter-be with everything in the cosmos.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

This can sound like a poetic expression or well-intentioned wishful thinking.

And if we look more closely, we may find something else. We may find it’s an accurate description of how it already is.

BIOLOGY

We share ancestry not just going back to the first cells but to the beginning of this universe. We share 99.9% of our genetic material.

We are basically the same, in all the essentials. We have the same basic needs, wants, fears, and so on.

PROJECTIONS

If I have a story about you, and turn it around to myself, I can specific examples of how it’s true for me as well. I can find how it’s as or more true for me.

You are my mirror. You help me see myself. (If I allow it and notice.)

In this sense, you are me. What I see in you is what I know from myself, whether I notice or not.

WHAT I AM

My experience of you happens within my sense fields. If you are here, or I see a movie or picture of you, you happen within my sight and possibly touch, smell, and so on.

Whether you are here or not, you also happen within my mental field. You happen through my mental representations of you – my mental images, labels, memories, and stories.

I find I am capacity for you. You happen within and as my sense fields. You happen within and as what I am.

In this sense, you are me. You happen within and as what I am. And I am you. What I am takes the form of my experience of you.

I AM IN YOU AND YOU IN ME

In several ways, it’s true that you are in me and I am in you.

It’s true in a biological sense.

It’s true since you are my mirror. What I see in you is what I have in myself.

It’s true since my experience of you happens within and as what I am.

The question is: if I keep noticing this, and keep exploring it and seeing it’s undeniably so, what does it do to me? If I take this seriously, how do I live my life?

Alan Watts: For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new

You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies?

– Alan Watts

There are two ways to look at this.

One is talking about existence itself, which is more of a third person view and philosophical.

And the other is how it is in our own immediate experience, which is from noticing.

UNIVERSE STORY

We can say that the universe is existence exploring, expressing, experiencing itself in always new ways, including through and as innumerable living beings.

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

Our most fundamental identity is not as this local and temporary human being, but as the whole of existence taking all of these forms and always changing itself into new forms, expressions, and experiences.

This is a view that can be deeply inspiring and meaningful, and it can deepen our sense of belonging to the universe and all of existence.

We may also find that sensing, feeling, thinking, and living becomes meaningful in itself. And the more this is felt and visceral, the deeper is the sense of belonging.

DIRECT NOTICING

We can also explore this through our own immediate noticing.

When I look, I find I am not most fundamentally this human being. I am what all these changing experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as. I am capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

In that sense, the world as it appears to me is a magical illusion and a fabulous game. It’s all happening within and as me. It’s all an expression of the creativity of existence and the mind. The only real “me” is capacity for all of it, and all the always-changing content of experience – whether I call this my human self or the wider self or the whole of the universe. To me, it’s all happening within and as consciousness, and it’s all – in a sense – existence looking at itself from a billion points of view.

COSMOLOGY AS A MIRROR

Here too, we find that cosmology is a mirror.

We may have ideas about the universe similar to what Alan Watts describe, and what we find in the Universe Story and the Epic of Evolution, and these may be grounded in science and what we observe.

And we can find it here and now. We can find these mental representations here and now. And we can find what these stories point to in our own immediate experience.

In that sense, cosmology is both a projection and a mirror. We place our mental representations on the universe, and can use them as pointers to what’s already here in our immediate experience.

And there is likely some truth to both. We may be onto something about existence as a whole, and also – equally or more important – about our own true nature.

Feeling our connection with all life

When we hear about our connection with all life, or see a video illustrating the evolution of our distant ancestors, do we see it as something interesting and not much more? Or do we feel it?

Do we feel that these are are ancestors? Do we feel that all life is related?

In a practical – and social and political – sense, that makes all the difference.

If our connection with all life remains intellectual for us, it doesn’t do much for us or life.

But if we feel it, if we feel it in our body and bones, that makes a huge difference for us and possibly for all life. That’s when it gets translated into action.

How do we feel the connection with all life?

So how can we shift from knowing to feeling?

One is intention. If our intention is to take it in and feel it, we have a much better chance of doing so.

Another is through combining our knowledge with feeling. When we watch the video above, how is it to take in that these are our actual ancestors? How is it to let it work on us? How is it to feel it?

We can also seek out whatever evokes this feeling, for instance through being in nature with the intention of noticing and feeling our connection with all life. We can also do this through poetry, documentaries, movies, and fiction writing. And we can seek out talks, books, and workshops about deep ecology, deep time, the universe story, and the epic of evolution.

The Practices to Reconnect from Joanna Macy is also a powerful way to bring this alive for us and feeling it more deeply and directly.

For me, watching the Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when I was ten had a profound impact on me in this direction.

Additional ways to open up for feeling our connection with all life

There are also approaches that may seem indirect but deeply support these shifts.

The more comfortable we are in feeling our own sensations and our own body, whatever it is that’s going on there, the more we’ll feel our connection with all life.

The more our heart is open, the more it’s open towards all life. We can open our heart in many ways, including through finding comfort with whatever we are feeling, and heart-centered practices.

We can do inquiry on any of our beliefs that separates us from the rest of life. For instance, that we are a separate being, that humans are inherently different from the rest of life, that’s it’s scary to feel a connection with all of life, that compassion for all life will be overwhelming, and so on.

We can find ourselves as what our experiences – of ourselves and the wider world – happens within and as. Here, we find that the world happens within and as what we are. In our direct experience, the world is one and it always was, we just didn’t notice.

Each of these and many more approaches helps us open to feeling a connection with all life, deepening that feeling, and act on it and bring it into our daily life.

Why is this important?

Knowing about our connection with all life is a start but it’s not enough for real changes in our perception and how we live our life.

The more deeply we feel our connection with all life, the more we act from it. The more we make choices that bring us and society and our civilization one step further in a more ecologically sustainable direction.

Wait a minute, isn’t this mostly about stories?

Yes, some of it is. It’s about stories from science.

When we watch the video above and use it to feel our connection with our ancestors and all life, we use a story to evoke a feeling. We use stories from science to evoke and deepen our feeling of connection with all life. That’s what the universe story and the epic of evolution is all about.

That’s not a problem, it’s just good to be aware that this is what we are doing.

The one thing here that’s not dependent on a story is finding ourselves as what all our experiences – of ourselves and the world – happen within and as. Here, there is an immediate recognition of oneness, and to the extent we take this in, it leads to a transformation of our perception and life in the world.

Feeling and acting our age

I thought I would add a quote from the QI social media feed earlier today.

We aren’t entirely ‘made of stardust’. About 9.5% of the mass of the average human body is made up of hydrogen atoms that are older than the stars, formed in the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

Do I take this as an interesting fact and not much more? How would it be to take it in? To feel it?

How is it to feel that a part of this body and who I am, is made up of matter unchanged since the beginning of this universe? How is it to take in and feel that the rest is matter from the beginning of this universe, transformed in stars?

How would it be to act my age?

Karl Schroeder: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature

Karl Schroeder

I love this quote. It’s a take on Arthur C. Clarke’s: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And it highlights the hugely advanced “technology” of nature which is far beyond anything we can do or even understand very well.

We do best when we ally ourselves with this technology, and when we make use of it in a way that interferes the least with the natural processes of Earth and all the living systems we are a part of.

In a very real sense, we are one of the many examples of the technology of nature. Everything we are and do and think and feel and create is an example of this amazing technology of nature.

Lila here and now

Lila or Leela can be loosely translated as the “divine play”. […] Within non-dualism, Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman).

Wikipedia article on lila

Any map, cosmology, and idea about the world reflect what’s here and now.

So what about lila – the play of the divine? Can I find that here and now?

What is lila?

Lila refers to the divine – or reality, existence, the universe – exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways through and as all of existence. A thought, a feeling, an insight, a painting, a leaf, the ocean, an ecosystem, this living and evolving planet, the evolution of this universe, and so on, are all lila, the play of existence.

Can I find it here?

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we notice that all our experiences happen within and as what we are. And that means that lila, too, is right here.

Said another way, lila is a projection of what’s here onto the rest of existence. We know it from here, and imagine it on all of existence.

It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It does look like lila happens here in and as us and also in and as existence as a whole.

Ways of understanding lila

We can understand lila in a few different ways.

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and all our experiences happen within and as consciousness, so all seems like consciousness to us. That means it’s easy to imagine all of existence as consciousness, and from there it’s a small step to call it the divine or Spirit. And say that all of existence is the play of the divine, Spirit, Big Mind, Brahman, or whatever similar label we would like to use.

We can also say that lila is the play of existence, life, or the universe, and this is something that can fit just about any worldview. This universe and all we know – including our thoughts, feelings, and experiences – can be seen as the metaphoric play of life, existence, and the universe. It’s all the universe metaphorically exploring itself in all of these ways.

Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi in The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi, reinterpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

This question sometimes comes up for me as a kind of life-koan. For health reasons, I am doing far less in the world than I used to and imagined I would, so this comes up for me. Does my life have meaning and value even if I am not doing the things I imagined I would do in the world?

What do I find when I look into this?

The essence – taking it literally

We can take the poem literally and look at what our activities do for the universe.

If we are engagest in the simplest of activities, and perhaps appear to be doing very little, how can that be doing as much for the universe as anything? Does our existence, in itself, do as much for the universe as anything?

What first comes to mind is that I cannot know. I cannot know if not laughing, or petting a dog, or singing isn’t doing as much for the universe as anything. Perhaps just existing and experiencing what I am currently experiencing does as much for existence as anything.

We can also look at this from a systems view. We can see the universe as a seamless evolving system, and we and all beings are parts of this system. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. In this sense, any activity or experience may do as much for the universe as anything.

And if we see the universe as the divine itself, then our experiences and activities are the experiences and activities of the divine. Here too, the simplest of activities and simply existing may do as much for existence as anything.

We can also bring it home. Here, I find that my current experience does as much for me as anything. In other words, it does as much for my universe as anything, and it does as much for this local part of the universe I call “me” as anything. Right here, I find how it’s true.

The essence – bringing it home

Often, these apparently metaphysical questions are about something more immediate and simple.

Does my life have meaning and value? Even if I don’t do what I had imagined? Or as much as I imagined?

This is where it makes sense to talk about meaning and value. My life as it is, even in the simplest of moments, is of immense value to me and to those who love me.

For our personal lives, this is perhaps the most important and the essence of the question.

Our sense of meaning and value is often colored by less-than-helpful assumptions we have adopted from our culture, perhaps telling us that our value is tied up with what we do, so it’s helpful to notice these, examine one at a time, and find what’s genuinely more true for us.

Some painful beliefs worth examining may be: My life doesn’t have value. If I don’t do X, my life doesn’t have value. I need to do X to be loved. And so on. What this really is about is often something universal, vulnerable, simple, innocent, childlike, and essential for us as human beings.

IN A BROADER CONTEXT

I’ll go into a few related topics and angles since it has direct consequences for how we live our lives, and the choices and priorities we make individually and collectively.

There are a few related but distinct questions here: What does an activity or our existence do for the universe? What does the activity or existence of anything do for the universe? What’s the value we assign to these things and how does that influence our perception, choices, and life?

Protestant work ethic and value through productivity

Coming from northern Europe, I am familiar with the protestant and capitalist work ethic suggesting that we have our value from what we do in the world. Productivity equals value.

Is that really true? What about a baby? A baby isn’t productive and still considered valuable. Is it just because we expect it to become productive later? Is someone with a handicap not valuable? Someone in a coma? Does nature only have value for what it produces for itself and us?

It all depends on how we look at it. People with a disability are loved by someone, and that makes them valuable to that person – and others who value love. And the same for a baby, and even someone in a coma.

Cannot find value outside of what the mind assigns to it

Of course, the idea of value is an idea created by the mind. It’s not inherent in reality.

We – collectively and individually – decide what’s valuable, and it’s good to remember that this is, quite literally, imagination and fantasy. At a collective level, it does help with coordination and cohesion, and it’s also something we can question. We can recognize it as imagination.

This also means that we can, as individuals and even collectively, assign value to what we find useful to us. For me, it seems useful to assume that all living beings, all ecosystems, and all life has value just from existing. Beyond that, I would assign value to all parts of Earth since the non-living parts of Earth – water, air, rocks – are as integral and essential to this living planet as anything else. All life, including ourselves, depends on it for our life.

Assigning value to all life and Earth as a whole allows us to live in a way that honors the living systems we are part of, and even ourselves independent of productivity or anything else. It’s practically useful since it opens up for some reverence for all life and makes us consider if we can meet our needs in a different way. Perhaps one that minimizes harm to life, and may benefit life overall.

A systems view

If we see the universe as a seamless system, then we see all things as part of this evolving system. All parts of the system have value as parts of this larger dynamic system.

We can also see all beings as the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness. In the words of Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. All life is, in its own way.

If we see it this way, it’s natural to also see all life as having value and all things having value in themselves.

Divine creation or the divine itself

We can see all of existence as divine creation, and as such, it has meaning and value in itself.

We can also see all of existence as the divine. We may see the physical body as the divine taking physical form. And this opens up for even a deeper sense of reverence for all of life and all of existence.

Capacity for the world

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and that which anything I think, feel, see, hear, and so on happens within and as, this all looks a bit different. Here, everything has value. Everything is what I am. Everything happens within and as the one. We can also say that everything is the divine.

Here, the reverence for life and all of existence comes from direct perception.

Values and a pragmatic approach

We can choose to assign value to all life, and that doesn’t mean we won’t prioritize and make difficult choices. For instance, we can choose ecosystems over individual life, and we may choose our own life over that of plants we eat to survive. We always make these kinds of choices, and it’s good to be conscious of it.

Life is a mix of destruction and giving life. We eat life to stay alive. We ourselves are eventually consumed by other life. That’s how things work here.

As mentioned earlier, by assigning value to all life, we may live with more reverence for life and find different strategies that minimizes harm to life and perhaps even benefits life overall.

And as Albert Schweitzer said, by living we put ourselves in debt to life, and we can do our best to repay that debt through how we live our life.

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Alan Watts: our most private thoughts and emotions…. were given to us by society

We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society. We copy emotional reactions from our parents, learning from them that excrement is supposed to have a disgusting smell and that vomiting is supposed to be an unpleasant sensation. The dread of death is also learned from their anxieties about sickness and from their attitudes to funerals and corpses. Our social environment has this power just because we do not exist apart from a society. Society is our extended mind and body. Yet the very society from which the individual is inseparable is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual that he is indeed separate! Society as we now know it is therefore playing a game with self-contradictory rules.

– Alan Watts from The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Seeing this helps us take our thoughts and emotions less personally. It all comes from somewhere else.

We can go further and find that every single thing we take as most personal is given to us by the larger whole. Our thoughts, emotions, personality, preferences, likes, dislikes, insights, choices, consciousness, any sense of a separate self, and so on were all given to us by existence.

The most personal is not really personal at all.

It’s given to us by society, evolution, Earth, this Universe, and existence as a whole.

We can take something very simple in our life and find a cause for it, and then another, and then another, until it’s difficult to find anything personal there.

I am writing this here now. Did I – as this human self – cause it? I saw a partial quote on FB and looked up the full one. This brain and body writing it come from millions of years of evolution. The computer was put together by many people I don’t know, and all the parts and technology were developed by innumerable people I also don’t know who are. It’s the product of millennia of technological development and the work and insights of a great number of people.

I didn’t write the quote, it came from Alan Watts. And he, in turn, was probably inspired by innumerable people, who in turn were inspired by and learned from a great many people.

All of this is made possible by this living planet and this solar system and universe. It’s all, in a very real sense, the universe and this living planet that is taking the form of this evolution, this species, all the species we have co-evolved with and depend on, these people, these thoughts and feelings and insights, the technology making writing it here possible and for you to read it, and everything else. It’s all the local activity of the universe and this living planet, through and as us and our mind and consciousness.

Everything that’s part of me writing this here has innumerable causes going back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and out to the widest extent of existence (if there is a boundary).

The reason I was drawn to it and decided to put it here must have innumerable causes from society, culture, biology, personal history, and so on. That too is the local activity of the universe and this living planet through and as me.

I cannot find any room for an “I” here doing it or deciding to do it. It all comes from somewhere else.

And to me, there is an immense beauty in noticing this.

This post was brought to you courtesy of existence.

Rewilding ourselves

Rewilding prioritizes untamed ecological processes, in which species may be reintroduced, but where human interference is kept to a minimum.

– Phoebe Hamilton-Jones in On the Literature of Rewilding… and the Need to Rewild Literature

How can we rewild ourselves?

Finding ourselves as capacity for the world

The best approach is to get out of the way.

We can do so through finding ourselves as capacity for the world – including this human self with its thoughts, emotions, choices, actions, and so on.

Here, we notice that this human self lives its own life, as does everything else. The whole world, including this human self, lives its own life. Life lives itself.

Releasing beliefs and emotional issues

We can also get out of the way in another sense, which is by gradually freeing our human self from the impact of beliefs, identifications, and separation consciousness. These are the product of culture and history, and they limit our perception, choices, and life in the world.

Even if we notice what we are, parts of our human self still operate from separation consciousness, so we can investigate the beliefs behind this and find what’s more true for us, we can invite healing for our emotional issues, and we can shift our relationship to these bubbles of separation consciousness through dialoguing with them and heart-centered practices.

Finding ourselves as nature

There is another aspect to rewilding ourselves, which is to find ourselves as nature. We are part of the seamless whole of this living planet, and part of the seamless whole of the universe. We are a product of the evolution of the universe as a whole and the Earth. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe locally bringing itself into consciousness.

We can deepen into this, and into our connection with past and future generations, through the Practices to Reconnect. And we can also deepen into our connection with this human body through body-centered practices like yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema, TRE, dance and a myriad of other approaches.

Trusting the process

It takes time to rewild ourselves. Our whole life, we have been civilizing ourselves. We have taken on the beliefs and identifications of our culture and civilization. We may even believe that this is necessary for us to not descend into savagery.

As we notice what we are, and become more familiar with it and living from it, we get to see that it’s OK. We may notice that our human self and the world as a whole lives its own life, but it always did. And it’s going as well as when we thought an imagined separate I was in charge. It may even go a bit better with a bit more flow.

As we question our beliefs and identities and find what’s more true for us, we learn to trust this process as well. We get to see it is safe. What we find that’s more true is a gentle and kind truth, even if it can be sobering as well. And living from it is also more kind.

As we find ourselves as nature, we see that this too is safe. We find a deeper belonging with all of existence. We connect more deeply with this human body of flesh and blood. We find the softness and home in it, even if it’s a temporary home.

Thomas Berry: The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with

The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not objects to be exploited. Everything has its own voice. Thunder and lightning and stars and planets, flowers, birds, animals, trees, – all these have voices, and they constitute a community of existence that is profoundly related.

– Thomas Berry in Evening Thoughts: Reflections on Earth as a Living Community

This beautiful quote stands well on its own, and invites us to explore this for ourselves.

What I find is…. In a conventional sense, based on the universe story from our modern science, we are all parts of the seamless whole of this universe and existence taking the form of everything we see in and around us and in the universe. We are all parts of the same seamless whole. We and everything are local expressions of the universe evolving and exploring itself in always new ways.

As capacity for my world, I also find a seamless whole. All of this – my human self, stars, flowers, birds, animals, the world as it appears to me – happens within and as what I am, within and as this awake space. Here too, it’s all one.

In both cases, the universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, and everything constitutes a community of existence that is profoundly related.

Life is intelligent

You are very intelligent.

Thank you. Although it’s life that’s very intelligent.

There are always someone more or less intelligent than us, there are as many types of intelligence as there are areas of life to use our intelligence for, and what we call intelligence is often better called insights or experience.

In any case, it’s really life that’s intelligent.

Our human intelligence is the product of evolution, going back to the first single-celled organisms billions of years ago. It’s the product of this living planet’s evolution as a whole. It’s the product of the evolution of the universe, from the big bang via matter and solar systems to the universe evolving as this living planet.

Life created this intelligence. This intelligence is the Earth being intelligent, locally and temporarily here. It’s the universe and existence being intelligent (or not), here and now.

We cannot take credit for this intelligence, no more than we take credit for anything else.

It’s all given. It all has innumerable causes going back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of existence… and it may well be beginningless and endless.

It’s all grace.

Carl Sagan: Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light?years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.

– Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

There are many interesting connections between science and spirituality. And it all obviously depends on what we mean by spirituality.

Science inspiring spirituality

Science often inspires spirituality – as we see in deep ecology, the Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, ecopsychology, and different forms of ecospirituality whether outside or inside of existing religions.

The story of the universe, as told by modern science, is our story. It’s the story of how existence formed itself into this evolving universe, this evolving and living Earth, and us. As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. And this can be a profoundly meaningful and inspiring story.

It’s not the story of a universe “out there”. It’s the story of our own past and evolution, and how existence as a whole formed itself into who we are as individuals and collectively, our culture and civilization, and our experiences here and now.

In a similar way, science shows us this planet as a seamless living system, how all of us – all beings – share ancestors, and how closely our fates are profoundly intertwined.

Methods of science

The methods of science is common sense set into system.

It’s a set of pointers for how to test out things and make sense of how things work. And it’s a set of pointers for how to think about it in an honest and clear way.

We have an idea of how something works. We try it out and see what happens. We compare notes with others. WE may engage in a more open exploration and see what we find. We get new ideas and pointers and try those out. We record and share our findings. And so on.

We know we cannot know anything for certain. We know that the content of science and what we think we know always change. We know that also goes for our worldviews and most basic assumptions about the world and ourselves. We know that our thoughts, models, and maps are questions about the world.

And that’s something we can apply to whatever we do, including spirituality.

What we are

Science and spirituality are, in essence, about exploring reality.

When we explore what we are to ourselves, we find we are capacity for the world. The world as it appears to us happens within and as what we are.

So whether we take a science approach or a spiritual approach, or use logic or direct perception, we find the same.

Although it does require taking logic to its full conclusion, and following our direct noticing here and now, and setting aside what we have been told we are from society and culture.

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.

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.

Healing on behalf of life

When I invite in healing for myself, it’s on behalf of life.

When I heal a part of me, it obviously benefits myself, my future self, and those around me. It may also benefit future generations and all life. And I am doing it on behalf of my ancestors.

So when I do healing for myself and it feels challenging, I can remind myself of this. I am doing it on behalf of life. And, in a sense, I have the support of all of life in my healing process. 

How is this true, more specifically? 

When I find emotional healing for myself, it benefits me and my future self. It’s an act of solidarity with my future self. I’ll be better able to make good decisions and fully enjoy and live life. It may also benefit those around me since I’ll be more free of emotional issues and reactivity, less annoying, and perhaps more understanding. 

In the same way, it may benefit future generations. If I have children, they will benefit from my healing and pass it on, and at the very least not pass on the unhealthy patterns that ended with me. 

And I am doing it on behalf of my ancestors. Many unhealthy emotional patterns are passed on through generations and through our culture.  And even if my ancestors and previous generation were not able to find healing for the patterns passed on to me, I may be able to find healing for what they couldn’t (due to different times, awareness, support, skills). 

My healing can also help the wider living whole. Healing means contentment and less reactivity, and contentment allows for less (harmful) consumption, and reduced reactivity allows for kinder and more informed decisions and way of life. A way of life that takes into account the well-being of all of life. 

In these ways, all of life is an ally in my healing. When I imagine all beings as kind and clear, I know they support my healing. And I can remind myself of this and this implicit support, when my own healing seems challenging.

Beyond just reminding myself, I can call in and ask for support from ancestors, future, generations, and all of life for my own healing process. 

Note: I say “heal myself” which is partly true, but it’s more true that life heals itself. “I” am not doing it and cannot do it. Life does it. Life invites in healing for parts of itself and heals itself. 

Does God evolve?

Does God evolve?

If all is God, and the universe evolves, the answer clearly is yes.

It seems obvious from this view. (We could call it a panentheistic or even nondual view informed by modern science.) And yet, I realize it’s perhaps not so obvious if we are used to a theistic view that sees God as somehow separate from creation.

What doesn’t evolve is the basic – and useful although thought-created – distinction between who and what we are. As who we are, we develop and change and we are an intrinsic part of an evolving living planet and an evolving universe. And we find that who we are and the world we experience, as any content of experience, happens within and as what we are. No matter how much or in what ways creation evolves, it still happens within and as what we are.

And what does evolve is anything in form, the whole universe, and even the world of subtle energies if that’s part of our worldview. This means that the way we come into awakening may slightly change and evolve over historic time. (As is a common view in some forms of modern spirituality.) The content of awakening, meaning what’s noticed and lived from, may also slightly change.

And yet, the essence of awakening remains the same and is timeless. It’s still the divine awakening to itself as all there is and all of it as the play of the divine. The divine expresses, explores, and experiences itself as all of existence including this evolving universe, this living planet, and each and all apparently separate beings. Sometimes, it temporarily and locally takes itself to be a separate being. And sometimes, it wakes up to itself as what all of this happens within and as.

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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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