The only social entertainment during the pandemic quarantine was walking with a friend through a forest dedicated to meditation and spiritual reflection, which is very close to where we live. And the walks became the frame for us to have wannabe Plato's dialogues. We spoke about the nature of existence and the condition of being alive, as seen by both with the calm of old age, without haste of agenda, desire to excel, accumulate, or procreate.
In addition, the forest itself, with its various lakes, wildlife, and lush trees, was a wonderful setting to focus on these conversations. We shared information from the frontiers of knowledge and news that we discovered on the Internet. Trying to explain the origin of the universe and the interaction and function of its various constituent elements.
One day, we talked about the trillions upon billions of coordinated cells that make up our bodies or about the mycelial networks that communicate with trees in their underground root world and how stronger trees use these networks to nourish weak trees. Or we ventured into topics about subatomic particles, where Newtonian laws did not apply because they have their own movement, the so-called "active matter."
We both read some recent articles in The Lancet about the decline of the human population. My friend had read that the 20th century presented the largest known human population expansion, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000, as life lengthened and infant mortality decreased. And that, in some countries, which represent about a third of the world's population, these growth dynamics are still in play. According to the information he read, by the end of the century, Nigeria could surpass China in population; in fact, across sub-Saharan Africa, families still have four or five children.
But we both had also read that demographic studies show that today, countries are facing population stagnation and a collapse of fertility, a vertiginous and unparalleled setback in recorded history, which will make first birthday parties a rarer spectacle than funerals. and that empty houses will be a common nightmare. They predict that, by the second half of the century, or possibly sooner, the world's population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.
We interpreted this, as we took our steps in our long walk, to mean that a planet with fewer people could relieve pressure on resources, curb the destructive impact of climate change, and reduce domestic burdens for women.
But at the same time, slower rates of population growth over many decades (as projected by the latest censuses in China and the United States) portend adjustments that are difficult to understand. We were debating along the way about a combination of increased longevity, and low fertility would mean, that is, fewer workers and more retirees like us, which would upend the way society is organized around the notion that a surplus of young people drives economies and helps pay for the elderly. According to projections by an international team of scientists published last year in the British scientific journal, The Lancet, by the year 2100, there would be 183 countries and territories – out of a total of 195 – with fertility rates below replacement level.
We laughed and worried at the same time, for so many things were to happen, and we had so little time to witness it, live it, and much less understand it. The Lancet model showed an especially steep decline for China, with a projected population collapse from 1.41 billion today to about 730 million by 2100. In 80 years, China will have as many 85-year-olds as 18-year-olds!
My friend commented, laughing, that statistics show that already today, in Japan, more diapers are sold for adults than for babies, and municipalities are consolidating as cities are shrinking. And that, in Sweden, some cities have already transferred resources from schools to caring for the elderly.
As we talked about these concerns and projections about climate change and population collapse, we felt that we were living at a crossroads moment for human consciousness and sensitivity, a juxtaposition of "every man for himself" versus a new planetary consciousness.
At that point, we would be silent in mind and speech as we realized the beauty that surrounded us in the forest, and we changed the subject to talk about existence, about life, about what is a human being, and who we are. About the experiences lived in those moments of aha we had each have, those moments when one realizes existence. And we switched our talk to the writings of the mystics, to spirituality, and cosmology. And we agreed, without knowing why, that the universe is a flowering of existence, a turbulent outpouring of light and poetry, an explosion of love to love.
And everything was very simple and totally incomprehensible at the same time. We concluded that all the mental elucubrations of humanity, the endless questions and answers, and the thousand and one theories based on rationality, thought, logic, and verbiage do not explain the reason for everything. And we recognized the capacity for wonder, interiority, revelation and the feeling of oneness, which exists beyond the mind.
And with our enthusiasm, perceived in ignorance, we felt that existence spills into the universe, to lose and find itself, to love itself, so that interiority becomes external, and realizes itself, that Being dreams itself as the universe to wake up.
And the more we talked and walked thinking about this, we became convinced that, in all stages of life, from the simplest energies to human consciousness, this dreamt Being is awakening. That consciousness is the inherent substance of the universe. And that all the apparent points or drops, the atomization of being, is the same ocean, which little by little expands their foam borders of nothing until finally, they dissolve, merging with the ocean that never ceased to be.
We agreed that we all have moments of intuition that allow us to glimpse reality. And for a moment, despite being busy with life and with the performance of its functions, ambitions, and the self-definitions of the personalities we think we are, we get drunk with the joy of Being and forget the constant questioning, the attachments to our rhetorical views.
By the end of our walks, we always gave up. We knew that we did not understand anything and that understanding did not seem to be the goal of life, but experiencing being was, and that Being cannot be thought nor believed because Being IS. In short, we finished our afternoon walk, giving each other a hug, well aware that still, after so many years lived, we did not understand anything. But at least, we accepted that, and that maybe the effort to understand was vain mental effort, and that in the end, everything was alright.
On the last day we walked together, we remembered a story in verse attributed to the great Sufi poet Hafez. This story tells that once a bottle of wine fell from a carriage and broke in the open field. And that night, hundreds of fireflies, Coleoptera and insects of all kinds gathered to drink and party. Everyone was enjoying the dancing and music of life. At that time, the moon rose in the sky. One of the creatures, setting aside the beating of the drums, commented to another, for no reason, "Now, what do we do with the moon?" Hafez ended by saying that the vast majority of people stop listening to the music of life to deal with questions as profoundly useless as that.
We laughed and marveled at the deep meaning of this story. That we forget the magic, the miracle of life. That wonder is replaced by logical thinking and singing by trying to understand what cannot be understood. That detail makes us lose the integral vision. It's like looking at a master painting with a magnifying glass and trying to appreciate the beauty by adding up the dots.
Birds sing in the forest, insects buzz, humans think and speak, and atoms and planets vibrate in the music of life. It is inevitable; it is the same Being dreaming the dream, whistling the song. This song is the answer to all questions. And the multiple questions we constantly ask ourselves and the innumerable answers are the echoes upon the echoes of this song.
I yelled at my friend as he walked away to his car, "Hey, what do we do with the moon!"