For it is not so much that you are within the cosmos
as that the cosmos is within you.
That day, more than 12 years ago, boarding a plane to Beijing, I was thinking about the 13 hours of flight at about 11 kilometers above sea level, that I was going to submit myself to, hurled at an average speed of 1000 km per hour. Never imagined this in my youth, but by now crisscrossing the world’s atmosphere, in many directions, had become a routine. But somehow that day, I was reflecting on these day-to-day things and was amazed. Maybe, because it was going to be my first trip to Beijing.
Like, I checked the messages in my hand-held device, while thinking, wow it has more memory than the main computers in the ’60s. And then, with the same device, I made a last phone call, checked the weather at destination, and proceeded to embark with the boarding ticket electronically showing on its small window. Quite a gadget, - I said to myself - as my mind flew back to the times, when the first television sets arrived at home, when I was a child. Yes, those huge heavy square boxes, showing images in black and white, arriving through an antenna, that you had to adjust on top of the set, to see a stable vision.
My mind shifted to more reflections, on the technology of travel, communications, the history of humanity, and my own human moment, at many levels of perception and expression, the whole experience of living. I was absorbed in thought and contemplation, as we surfed the high atmosphere, looking at clouds from above.
Life, I guess, is fascinating to all, once you pay attention to what is taking place. Most of the time one lives automatically, engrossed in action-reaction schemes, in objectivity, and one does not pay attention to the magic of living. Like breathing, it becomes a background thing, that one takes for granted.
Once you decide to reflect on life, on its diversity, functionality, complexity, and simplicity combined, there is no magic that compares, everything becomes fascinating, bewildering, and somehow one realizes, what a mighty dream is unfolding.
Biology was always my passion, finding out how life is orchestrated became a natural way for me to reflect and meditate. Cells, those little watery sacs that make life possible, fascinated me, their incredible molecular fabric, the process of capturing a packet of energy from the sun, to make carbon compounds. Or mitochondria, power suppliers, and the cellular membrane protecting the integrity, against invasions of so many floating things in solution, while enabling fluxes of electric charges to generate connectivity and sensation. The list is interminable.
Life is indeed a splendorous thing, my mind wandered while flying then to Beijing.
Now, years later, after a heart attack and a complicated bypass surgery, when I almost died, plus the natural aging, these reflection instincts have become more intense. The daily performance of life has become a magnificence to watch. So, I perceive the surround, expand with things learned in the past, add some poetry to the interpretation, search Google, for what others think, and cook everything up in a mélange, as a song to share my awe with others.
Life has a mania of living
It rises like a Phoenix from the ashes
It splashes in blooms of thousand flowers
After the crudest winter freezing.
Every morning it rises in praises
waking to the enchantment of being
As even wounded, she knows its healing.
Just think about our human body, our cells. They live from a few hours, in the case of certain types of white blood cells, to many decades, in the case of most brain cells. You get a new skin every month, and a new liver every six weeks. And of course, while most cells are regenerated, the processes involved become progressively unreliable - and the result is aging. But aging helps one to reflect.
The other day, I calculated that this “me” has been around for 28,426 days, almost 683 thousand hours! Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center, have estimated, that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year. So, not a single atom in your body resides there forever. And there is a 100% chance, that thousands of other humans through history, have held the same atoms that you currently hold in your body. Isn’t this wild!
Someone asked a question in an Internet forum: “How far can the atoms of your body extend if you lay them on a straight line? The answer was: “Atoms are a little fuzzy, so their exact size is a little tricky to define. So, taking their size in terms of bond length, and looking at the most common elements in the human body by mass:(65% oxygen, 18% carbon, and 10% hydrogen), you can estimate that just 1 kg of person will extend about 7,000 million km!!”
That means that the atoms of an 80kg human would go in a straight line for about 550,000 million km, this is about 1,400 million loops around the equator, or 140 million trips to the moon, or about 58 light years. Now just think, Alpha Centauri, which is the closest star to our Earth, is just 4.3 light years away (about 40 x1012 kilometers), so the linearly stretched atoms of one person can lasso Alpha Centauri 7 times!!
Or consider how many cells or units of life congregate to make a human body. Most recent estimates put the number at around 30 billion (30 x 1012). These cells all work in harmony to carry out all the basic functions necessary for humans to survive. But there are not just human cells inside your body. Scientists estimate that the number of bacterial cells in the human body likely exceeds the number of human cells. Data shows that the number of bacterial cells inside a human body is around 38 billion. And let us not forget that the mitochondria, which are part of every cell, are really bacteria that moved inside cells to live as guests. So, our body is a walking ecosystem.
Just think about the above, next time you are waiting in line, bored or impatient. We might not be able to stretch our atoms in a single line or do a current census of our cells, but we can stretch our imagination.
Now, of course, some could say, that the relevance of this exercise is akin to knowing how many oarsmen in Ulysses ship, or how many angels fit on a pinhead. But on the other hand, the reflection does reveal, a small fraction of the texture, of this marvelous awesome thing we call the universe and life, that surrounds us, that envelops this consciousness we call “us”, and that mostly we don’t give it any thought to.
Reflection can also take you, to the enthralling story of our evolution. From a point called the Big Bang to this you and me. The unfolding of this story is beautifully narrated by Teilhard the Chardin, in his book The Phenomenon of Man, written in 1935. But now, three-quarters of a century later, modern science can provide an even more precise story of humanity. It is the greatest of all fairy tales!
A new cosmology, based on a continuum of an evolving universe. A chronology, that goes from the origin of the universe in a Big Bang, through critical steps like the formation of stars, which gave birth to light, planets, and the heavier elements that make life, to the formation of organic carbon compounds, their initial self-replication, the formation of cells and the evolution of multicellular organisms and civilization.
Smiling carbon atoms are gracious in relations.
They go about hugging, shaking hands,
Aided by sympathetic water molecules, so pliant in their dance,
they form civilizations out of organic compounds.
They gather, prompted by impulsive kisses from the sun,
and stimulated with this fire, they seek union.
The lattice of the universe, the magic of life, is being witnessed constantly by this consciousness we are, even if we do not pay attention to it, just like breathing goes on constantly and we are unaware, except when we gasp for air. Our fragmented consciousness, seems to be part of the same unified field, vibrating in everyone and everything, not just in our ego and personality. An undefined, organizing principle that reveals itself in silent instants of reflection. We must cherish these spontaneous moments, that precipitate suddenly, and open a window that enables us to see things from a comprehensive point of view.
I go back now to that first trip to Beijing. It was one of those business turnaround occasions and only had a few hours on my own - a Sunday morning, before catching a plane back in midafternoon. So, I decided to go and see Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City.
Many, and I mean many Chinese families, decided to do so the same day, and I was immersed in a mass of humanity. All of them were like me, alive, with their cells, their atoms, their hopes, their life. With a common and long evolutionary history, from stardust to human consciousness. But we did not know each other, could not even communicate if we tried to. A sea of humanity was surrounding me, each with their mental spheres, thinking, feeling, and being.
That loneliness in multitude provoked another spell of reflection. About the human condition, about messy headline news, our competitive thrusts, our existential questions, the why of this human tribe, our true purpose, what is this love that sometimes we feel, this empathy, this essence that makes us one humanity, this being that Is. And pondered, about all the misery that I bring to myself and others when I fail to recognize the unified field that intertwines us and apply the “each man to his own principle” as a prevailing motto to live.
I contemplated then on the message of love, compassion, and unity, put forth by the great human voices, that have highlighted compassion, love, and oneness, as the true organizing principles for humanity. And wondered if we ever, if I ever, will really wake up to become aware, like Desmond Tutu said that “we are all one family”.
Maybe, when we can create resonance around a comprehensive point of view about life, we will shift to another stage of human civilization. With that thought in mind, I said goodbye to Beijing.
The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind.