If you’ve ever looked at that iconic photograph of earth sent back from space by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972, chances are you may have felt very small. The things you do can seem insultingly unimportant, useless, or a total waste of energy—the effort, our pain, the whole point becoming lost in the incomprehensible hugeness of it all. In one snapshot is a glimpse of our existence within the context of an entire planet: billions of people.
There we are, floating, in orbit, rotating at some figure I could never pretend to compute or understand. A sphere of blue and green, dusted with blurs of white clouds we learned the names of in fourth grade. Cumulonimbus. Stratus. But it expands even further. A planet, within a galaxy, within a solar system, within a boundless universe for which we can only account for a relatively small portion. Why am I worried about the U2 album that came pre-programmed on my iPhone? I didn’t ask for that album Bono, I didn’t ask! But you look at our planet like that, and sometimes it helps spot spilled milk when we’re unable to discern it ourselves.
Snapshots just like this are every where in all types of forms– landscapes like the ocean, trees hundreds of years old, music that hits us somewhere deep or a night sky full of stars. They stir inside us some sacred moment demanding our attention. Attention beyond the five senses. These are the stirrings of Consciousness, I think. Or becoming aware of it. That divine desert in our depths, dormant and shy, but reliable like a sleeping dog, waiting on us to wake up and snap our fingers, let him lead the way. Always that calm sits in the background of our thoughts—that sturdy part that never leaves. The gap between breaths, but we forget. Last week I sensed it watching the wind rustle the leaves of the bamboo in our yard for I don’t know how long. I don’t get out a lot.
I know this is Consciousness I’m confronting, because a stillness envelops me, time melts like a clock in a Dahli painting, and the typical limits and boundaries fade. A noise that usually dominates the atmosphere diminishes to silence. I haven’t arrived or gotten anything, I’ve simply met the present moment and there the forms, my thoughts and the sounds seem to run out of ink. A space is required for Consciousness to awaken, but it’s usually drowned out by the incessant noise of our lives. Opinions and drama and auto-pilot tasks and Snapchat. Trump. Chatter. Twitter!
We are bombarded by distraction, no doubt, and there will never be a shortage to keep us looking the other way. Because consciousness doesn’t operate according to the limits of space or time, we are glimpsing eternity in that instance. A non-quantity! It’s no wonder we can’t hold the reality of this perspective in the forefront of our minds for very long. It almost operates on a separate plain. Size without a producable sum total– time beyond a unit of measurement: this is not how we learned to understand the world. It’s like trying to remember what words looked like before we learned to read. Then going out in the world and being told not to interpret the thousands of messages we’re assaulted by. Even Monty knows this is basically impossible. It will take some time to unlearn the default.
So we can only live in that space for so long before it vanishes out from under us, like a dream that dissipates as we slowly awake. The sky then fades back to a ceiling, a black ceiling with white dots. The ocean returns to an aquatic location where we swim and fish and take family pictures at sunset. And why not? Sunset by the ocean is the perfect backdrop for photos.
This Consciousness is hard to reconcile with the world we live in though, because it veritably negates the way we’ve been taught to perceive the world for centuries. At the same time it also perfectly encapsulates Tolle’s explanation of our life here, which he emphasizes is not according to time, but to being awake in the now–the closest thing to time that actually exists. The Eternal Moment, he calls it, which works out in every scenario where you try and deconstruct it. I’ve tried. Still, when you’re down here in the dirt, when you’re in pain, it seems far too simple a way for things to operate.
So when the window opens, we can expect it to be small, but we should hold on as long as we can. I know that’s where a much more permanent and truthful dimension in us lies, it just hardly gets time out of the box. So I try not to be afraid of the quiet, of being alone, of having nothing “to do”. In these uncommon, custom moments, forces larger than us might be at work, awakening something that the whole world, not just us, is in great need of.
Most nights, I walk home from my parents house with Monty. They lock the door behind me and sometimes my mom yells Watch for snakes! Marc flips the switch and the Christmas lights in our trees illuminate a path to my house, a whole 15 steps away. Monty bolts off feigning a hunt of a squirrel or raccoon or some other Southern vermin. Midway between our houses is a small wooden path over the ditch that connects their yard to my driveway. Every time I reach that bridge, I stop, almost reflexively. I look up. Every time.
Sometimes I’m holding a laundry basket full of clean laundry with my head pointed upward at the sky and mouth agape like an idiot. I often don’t even remember making the decision to stop or look up, I just find myself with my head directed that way. For whatever reason I think, I’ll remember this when I’m older. I see these constellations of stars and whatever shape the moon takes and if I’m lucky, rarely, a shooting star. I remember then too: the sky is not a ceiling. The sky is not a ceiling. Then I try to reconcile that truth without my mind exploding, and consider that what I’m looking at goes on. Then I try to humbly just appreciate the beauty of this magnanimous thing and think think how I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m looking at.
I just know I’m mesmerized by what I see and some part of me is drawn to look there, every night. I wonder a hundred things. A part of me thinks maybe it’s the soul making a nod toward its source. The same way we’re drawn to look out at the ocean or up at trees the height of sky scrapers. Maybe it’s just a bunch of burning gas with no intrinsic meaning and this is a crap romanticists idea of the cosmos. But that notion feels too simple when held up to the backdrop of the universe’s complexity. Just like staring out at the ocean. These stars, this water: all here before us. All to go on after we’re gone.
I think when we capture these hiccups in time, it’s not meant meant to make us feel small or meaningless; That none of this matters. But I do think it helps us remember that our time here is temporary. We don’t exist on earth forever, which the human being practically takes as an insult. How dare there comes a point when I die! So we don’t talk about it, fine. We don’t have to talk about it. But we have to deflect the thought that just because we live in a boundless world with a kazillion people that we’re somehow replaceable and we don’t play a very needed and unique part in the production. It takes a trust that’s very hard to reach for, let alone find. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can assume one is that we’re not meant to torture ourselves over not knowing it. Maybe living with the mystery while trusting our path is answer enough, for now.
I’ve been writing about this for a while because one, my brain has run the speed of sap. And two, I’ve been sick every day this week and stuck in a half conscious state in bed. The last 4 months haven’t been much better besides an occasional ‘OK’ day. I realize compared to some of my sick counterparts, thats nothing. But still, it’s hard. It’s like you’re tethered to the world, and you slowly start to drift outward, losing your connection to people, your passions, a reason that makes sense. The further away you float, the more convinced you become that cutting the chord would be no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I don’t say that flippantly. I say it as a testament to the power of the mind and our thoughts. They can actually make us believe we don’t matter, which is a dangerously powerful indictment that can be incredibly hard to fight off. I’ve been there, and I’ve had people help dig me out of the hole. I’ve been lucky, and I know that.
During trying times like this when my body feels like it fails me repeatedly, I’ve lost my belief that there is worth in a life spent sick this way. But that stillness, that other plain that awakens under night skies or oceans that you can’t see the edge of, it is so much more powerful if we only give it space to grow. Even just recalling that I’ve felt it before can help me remember that these periods in the dark will be “burned up by the light of consciousness” (Tolle), as they have before. I am still learning. Part of that lesson is to accept the mystery of pain, to even yell at the sky about it if that’s what has to happen, but to keep going, nonetheless. Even if you don’t trust where you are, keep going. At least allow yourself the relief of eventually finding a place you do trust. Like Churchill said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.
Life is working in pieces, one day at a time, like always. It doesn’t have to make sense in order for us to be happy. I wish it would– I feel violently curious for answers sometimes, knowing good and well that no answer will bring back the things I’ve lost. But here we are, who we are, with the hand we’ve been dealt. It matters now how we play our hand in the game. With carefulness, attention, and reverence that you’ve got a hand at the table at all. Be still, make space. And look up once in a while.
I’m talking to myself again. It doesn’t matter. I still I believe there are answers everywhere. We don’t have to know them to awaken the space where they might be easier to find.
Health, Happiness, Looking Up