"The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself" Carl Sagan, 1980
I lie on a bed of green grass above a white beach on the Atlantic Coast. The sky is blue and it is as warm as it can be on a summer's day in Ireland. I am numb, stirred in with a tear drop of sadness. I don't know exactly how I came to lie here? A whisper to me from the waters edge, I turned away from the breaking waves and here I am.
I stare up into the sky not expecting anything. It comes then. It is not gentle and easy, it is sudden and immediate. The faces and bodies of those who have been in this place before me come unbidden but not unwelcome, I see but also fleetingly feel how they have felt, these men, women and children from different times. I am overwhelmed, my heart feels like it is expanding, expanding until I think it may burst. Then the visions stop and It is there, It talks to me without language, but I understand the communication being sent my way and am grateful for it; I lay there trustingly and look up into the expansive blue sky and I know that I am connected with everyone who has been here and everyone who will be here. It shows me that I am a small part of the universe, that I along with everything that exists are part of and the same as the universe. I am not alone.
Maybe, you can say that I was delusional but to me this experience was very real and in a way saved my life. The hope that it left me with enabled me to start the process of getting better and of taking control of my existence. It has taken a long time and the journey goes on, but I have always been looking for something to help me explain that experience to myself. Is it spiritual or biological, nature based or metaphysical, something other worldly or just plain physics, personal or universal? The road from my experience above didn't start with these larger questions, it started with me making the long journey to connect more completely with myself, to gain a different perspective on my own internal universe, re-aligning the planets spinning out of time, seemingly out of control, erratic and chaotic. After focus and time, the realisation dawning on me that I was configuring myself in that way due to creating my existence based on life experiences. Creating my own theory of internal physics on mainly external opinion and conjecture; Opinions that had become internalised and made universal law; laws that were holding me back from an existence where I could feel more steady, balanced, accepting and in control.
Once I felt that I was on a steady path with the above, I started to look towards a bigger picture. Naturally my first port of call was to look towards nature and what explanations that might bring me. I noticed that I still had small instances, that I'm sure we all share, when I would look out of the window, look up to the stars, feel the breeze on my face and I would instantly feel overawed, that my outline would start to blur momentarily, enjoying it until it passed or I felt a need to be distinct again. I initially look towards ecotherapy,ecology and nature based practice, thinking about how we experience connectedness and whether there is any physical basis for this seemingly metaphysical experience. I say metaphysical because I think my experience does conjure up thoughts of God/s and spirituality, some force bigger than life on earth; historically this something more has been aligned with the spiritual. And indeed spirituality offers its own explanations, from the pagans and druids with their nature based Gods to Buddhism and its concept of interconnectedness or pattica samuppada.
This idea of interconnectedness in Buddhism is interesting as it does seem to fit with biological interpretations of ecosystems. This pattica samuppada is described as "Existence is seen as an interrelated flux of phenomenal events, material and physical, without any real, permanent, independent existence of their own. These events happen in a series, one interrelating group of events producing another." (Encyclopedia Britannica:2016) It seems that what is being suggested here is that all things are part of the same system/s and that each phenomena helps create the other an thus no thing can exist independently. In his book, Wild Therapy, Nick Totton looks at explanations of how ecosystems work and describes the concept of 'dependent co-arising' which links in to the Buddhist view above but also links into general systems theory "I am attempting to break with the long established habits of Western culture and think ecosystematically, which means seeing each species, each being, each person, not as an isolated monad, a sort of old fashioned billiard ball atom interacting with other billiard balls by knocking into them - but as inherently and profoundly linked with every other species, being, person." (Totton:2011)
Ecosystems are described as complex and the more complex, the more likely to survive due to one system feeding/helping/creating each other. However, a more simple system may lead to the annihilation of another as one rely's too heavily on the other, such as humans have been doing to planetary ecosystems. So, taking this point and running with it, it seems that to be part of, not objectify existence, seems to be a positive way forward and also concludes that by doing this we accept that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, something that we can't and maybe shouldn't always control. When I was on that beach, did I experience that because something in me let go, let go of objectifying my experience, let go of my perception and need to control? My identity of one who is separate dissolving? Graeme Barker, on forager communities wrote "Commonly the environment is regarded as a benign spiritual home..relations with it are modelled on the same principle of sharing that applies within the human community: it is the source of all good things 'a giving environment'...Foragers...commonly do not have words for distinguishing between people, animals and plants as separate categories. (Barker, 2006:58-9)
So, I hear you all say what other evidence do we have that we are connected? Well, we can look to physics itself. The quote at the top of this blog, written by Carl Sagan about star stuff is pretty much true as far as physics is concerned. If we take the theory of the big bang to be true, which I know is a debated point, then the evidence suggests the following, "while the universe was still very young and hot. As it cooled, the quarks were stuck to one another , forming protons and neutrons. The mutual gravitational attraction among these particles gathered them into large clouds that were primeval stars. As they bumped into one another in the heart of these stars, the protons and neutrons built up the seeds of heavier elements. some stars became unstable and exploded, ejecting these atomic nuclei into space, where they trapped electrons to form atoms of matter as we know it...those atoms from a long-dead supernova are what make you and me today." (Close, 2012:11)
Pretty impressive huh, to think that what makes us up is nearly as old as the universe itself if we go by this theory? Physics tells us that all life so far contain the two essential building block of protons and neutrons, which are the foundations of all other elements, everything is made from the same stuff. This gives greater insight to Sagan's quote, that "we are a way for the universe to know itself" (Sagan:1980)
So where am I going with this? Well, if we take the scientific approach and say that universally everything is made from the same stuff and then add in the idea that we are part of ever larger eco-systems that rely on each to co-exist and co-create, to change our perspective from one of humankind being separate to the rest of nature/the universe. Add in the metaphysical/spiritual element relating to connection, which I feel says something less about our need to connect, but that it is actually necessary to connect to live in a more harmonious and natural state of being, then I feel that maybe this could help describe the experience I had and that maybe the sum of the parts just described can produce something greater.
However, there is a further part in all this and that is the question of consciousness in this experience; I actually felt like the universe was speaking to me. One suggestion could be that I am conscious and as the universe is made from the same matter as I am, therefore, couldn't the universe itself be conscious? If it is conscious then it may not speak English right? or see things the way that I do? But did I see it that way just because I and my brain had to make sense of what was happening to me and received it/translated it/perceived it in the way I knew how. Therefore suggesting that I am indeed co-creating experience. A relatively recent theory has emerged around physics called Biocentrism which indeed posits that the universe and our observation with it evolve together, "The biocentric universe theory is a radical change in the way we view the world and our place in it. It proposes that the physical universe evolves in tandem with the evolution of Earthly life. The universe exists specifically in relation to us — similar to how the position and appearance of a rainbow is dependent upon the position of the person seeing it, and is not a fixed, absolute object. According to biocentricity, the universe is incredibly complex not because it just is, but rather, because the biological organisms observing it have become incredibly complex." (Biocentrism.net:2016)
Indeed, if we draw back from the universe and look to our own lives, isn't that what we are doing all the time co-creating or co-authoring our experience? Basing our view of the world on the assumptions and beliefs we hold onto as our personal law? For me, this is exciting as as we know perception can be changed, we can choose to experience the world differently by taking a second look, talking it through, asking for help,changing our mindset etc etc?
After exploring all of the above I feel as though maybe it is just as simple as, I am connected to the world and the universe at large because I am made from the same stuff, I need the universe to exist and it needs everything in it including the matter I am to exist. Life and the universe is consciousness and I was able to notice that and process it my own way when I needed it, that this wasn't a one off experience but that this is the constant state of things. I know my life cannot always be lived in this state of connectedness at all times, life is full and difficult and can feel lonely, but being aware of my belief around it, find that I feel more connected to others. Of course, I have just skimmed the surface of these theories and these are just my own conclusions, you may have others but I hope that it has been an interesting and thought provoking subject.
Live long and Prosper ;-)