14 billion years ago, there was a “pulse”, and our universe came into being, expanding outward from a single point of unimaginable density. For a fraction of a second matter and energy flew apart at a speed beyond that of light…but then it began to clump together into nebulae, and stars, and planets. Our Earth was born 4.5 billion years ago, and as it began to cool, more and more complex chemical combinations were created, and after a billion years one of those chemical chains had the ability to exchange energy and matter with its environment, to reproduce, and it was called life.
Some say that that is all there is: complex chemicals and physical interactions. Others that there is another threshold that eludes categorization or logic, and it is the realm of spirit. If so, then spirit buried itself in flesh, and would never know itself until it gained awareness beyond needs and desires and fears, because these delicate organisms needed to survive, or would devolve back into the elements from which they arose.
More and more complex “life” became, over time, and when those complexities aided them in survival and reproduction, they were replicated genetically and then, as the organism called “life” moved from the oceans and breathed air, developed into “mammals” and “primates.” The thing called “life” took on new aspects, of family and tribe and the ability to pass on information through symbols rather than just genetics, and change became more rapid.
Six million years ago, the first ancestors of humans roamed Africa. About two million years ago, they began to migrate to other sections of the globe. And 200,000 years ago what we call “modern humans” came into being, just another form of this thing called life, which was just another form of this thing called existence, which had popped into being fourteen billion years ago.
This creature, like many others, had the ability to create and use tools, and use symbols to represent what it learned, and thereby pass knowledge to its children. But its capacity was beyond any other creature on the planet, and this ability accelerated its ability to survive and eventually dominate its environment.
Perhaps thirty thousand years ago, this creature made another leap and, instead of just hunting and mating and living and dying…it REALIZED it was doing these things. And that threshold was one which, once crossed, could never be un-crossed. “I am here” the creature called Man said.
Or sometimes just: “I am.”
Once it knew it was here, it also realized it was going to die, and that led to a search for meaning. Countless different theories about the significance of life and death evolved and were cast aside, or wound together, taught in stories around campfires, or after these creatures began to actually plant crops instead of gather, to contemplate these things in the period after crops were gathered, where, for the first time in the history of life, living things could simply stop and ask questions, share ideas with others and have whole moon-cycles to contemplate the answers. To create written language and write down their conclusions, and travel to compare answers with others who had had different experiences.
The creature called “Man” began to trade with others from other lands, as that explosion of migration also led to collection and creation of items of scarcity and value. And as genetic evolution is a matter of many different changes that have advantages or disadvantages, social and technological evolution is largely a matter of many many different variations (because no two people ever do things precisely the same way) colliding after time, and competing, and one or the other surviving the collision.
Technologies, genetics, and philosophies all colliding. And the two questions “who am I?” and “what is true” birthed schools of knowledge, and techniques of argumentation to find your way through the maze of conflicting ideas, or enhance life itself.
The Scientific Method, Logic and Socratic inquiry, Zen meditation and the technologies of rhythmic motion were among them. And in the realm of spirit, those who spent their lives in deep meditation developed the ability to see beyond the outward explosion of differences, or the collision of apparent opposites, to see a different reality: that everything came from a single point. And that the universe was expanding, yes…but also seeking to re-connect at higher and higher levels of complexity.
That despite all of the tribalism and parochial thinking, there was a unity to all experience and existence. And that somehow, it seemed the ultimate purpose of life to remember this.
Countless paths of inquiry were developed to this end. But just as there was an urge to connect, there was another urge to separate, and instead of seeing the commonalities between the paths and people and experiences, many humans focused on the differences. There were powerful forces pulling away from the connection, and those forces had many tools and tricks.
Human beings along the path of discovery could concentrate on the unity of things, but in doing so it sometimes seemed they had to deny the realities of life. If they did that, they could accelerate their progress, but risked abandoning those who were mired in the world of duality. It was in resolving those dualities that progress could be accelerated. Dealing with the dualities sapped the energy you need to continue on the path.
Trying to deny human experience was its own trap–it was easy to delude oneself into believing “progress” was being made, just as if you climb a tall mountain the lack of oxygen and food will create hallucination. And death.
But remaining connected to humanity had its own dangers. The call of fear, and sex, and money, and power, and love, and hate, and ego, could all tear you from the path. It could be gold: the lure of fame and fortune. Or it could be anger and fear: the powerful survival drives programmed into us.
Some who spoke of a spiritual path taught ways to engage with the world and simultaneously keep your eyes on the destination. One from a place called India spoke of being a “householder yogi”, to raise a family and deal with the mercantile aspects of life, not renouncing them until elder children could take over the household, then going out into the world with a spiritual vision informed by a life of experience, and find truth.
One, a being called “Jesus”, speaking in parables, taught balancing between mundane and divine worlds: “rendering unto Cesar that which is Cesars, and unto God that which is God’s.” To take the responsibility to master both worlds while neglecting neither.
It is hard for this creature called Humanity. It can be pulled from the path by both positive and negative emotions. By stories in the newspapers. By tales of woe OR wonder. Wars and injustices and riches. And every time it is trapped in the world of duality: race, gender, politics…it can accomplish something wonderful in the material world, but lose focus on its path.
All it can do is deal with the mundane, with the pains and joys of the world around it, and try to keep an eye on the journey. And as they do, some almost miraculously gain the ability to be “in the world but not of the world”, to help those around them but never lose sight of the goal.
And some report back, mark out the path to this amazing accomplishment. Some remarkable few speak in metaphor of unknowable aeons of time, stretching back to that first pulse of existence, and forward to a time when the stars themselves might die, when the expansion of the universe ends and it all collapses back together into another mass of incalculable density, such that space and matter and energy and even time itself no longer exists in any meaningful way.
And some say that it is possible that, after some incalculable time, there might be another pulse, and an expansion…and it all begins again. And some would say that this expansion and contraction, of all there is or could ever be, is the beating of the heart of what human beings call “God”, for lack of a better word, for lack of the perspective to relate to such things on any but a human scale.
Life and consciousness not as they are, but as we understand them, using symbols that make sense to our limited minds.
We have such a tiny fraction of a fraction of a moment in which to live, and try to grasp where and what we are, and there is so much we will never understand, and this is the domain of faith.
Ultimately we choose what we will believe. We can choose to believe in a patternless universe…or that the pattern itself is life and mind, of a kind. We can choose to believe in separation, or connection. In love, or fear. In meaning, or meaninglessness.
In the answers created by earlier people, or reject them because we are smart enough to see their flaws…or in the metaphors behind their glimpses, or reject them because of their cultural simplicity.
We can be in awe of the mind of the first hairy creature who looked backwards and forwards as far as he could and asked ‘what is true’? Or glimpsed her reflection in water, watched babies born and watched the bodies of her parents deteriorate and asked “what am I?” and devised the best answers she could.
We can build on the answers of the past. Create better answers. Stop being distracted by ego, or survival, or race, or gender…but simultaneously deal with their challenges.
We can remember that once we were all one. And once again shall be.
We can choose love over hate, joy over fear.
It is our choice. We stand on the shoulders of countless generations who did the best they could.
We can, and must, do better, or we dishonor the dead, and steal the heritage of children unborn.