Letting the Universe Live Through You
I have fallen in love, once again, with the open road.
Humanity and nature entwine so deeply in the making of a road: each side, initially struck by the shock of Change, gradually comes to understand and preserve their new boundaries, learning to live together, becoming conscious and not merely outraged at Other. The road becomes, like the trees or the mountains around it, another mark of time, another indicator of an era, another geologic record to be someday excavated by an unknowable future. It becomes the Zen mind, seeking nothing, attached to nothing, yet profoundly aware of each moment brought before it. Cars of a hundred styles and colors flash across its surface; seasons advance, conquer, retreat along its twists and turns. And yet it remains utterly present, indifferent but not uncaring to the world that rises and falls around it.
So, too, do the massive trees I find dancing lazily in the heat. All of them have stood rooted to a single piece of earth for longer than I have lived; most have witnessed more, perhaps, than this road, stretching like hanging hands across a world that has no doubt completely transformed before them…
It is striking for me to imagine that one of these trees is likely my age exactly: that for twenty years, as I have seen and talked and written and walked, this tree (wherever it may be) has remained perfectly in place, its entire journey upwards, its life utterly devoted to a single, unreachable sliver of the sky. The same sun has shone on each of us for those same twenty years; the same energy ultimately pulsates within us. I find myself wondering if perhaps I could have become a tree instead, had I merely learned to drink sunlight; had I merely stayed still long enough. In that kind of life there would be no time, no place, for judgment or reflection--in that life one is a witness, ascending towards the infinite, an inch at a time.
But for better or for worse, it seems we came into being this way-- ten fingers and ten toes and the ability to move, to discover, to know more than the world right beside us. We were not born as the black flies that jab calligraphic brushstrokes across blue air; nor did we begin as bolts of lightning or in the dust of Mars. We begin with staggering potential, weaker at birth than nearly any other organism, yet destined somehow for greatness.
We are born without prejudice, without opinion, without ego. And in that early life we too are the Witnesses, carefully examining every drop of life for significance. Our senses have not yet separated into the five we come to know for the rest of our lives: here, we experience everything at once, as a tapestry of light and sound and movement and texture, an unrelenting current of feeling, called synaesthesia. Our eyes barely focus, so startling is the richness of
every dimension--nor do we wish them to, for in this brief moment of enlightenment we see everything at once, everything as equal, everything as relative. Each movement, each step forward, is euphoric--never before have these motions occurred to us.
Within a short time, we learn that certain behaviors have an effect on the world outside us. When we are hungry or tired, we discover that crying is an effective way to create change in the world, and thus, our only gift from birth becomes our first tool against the world, our first mark of ego, our first separation from that silent Witness. Our eyes learn to focus, becoming adept at filtering out what we deem unnecessary. We rise to the challenge of such stunning complexity and become our own censors, choosing our path through reality and blissfully ignoring all else. With disturbing speed, we learn to disregard three-quarters of our sensory unput. With practice, and civilization, we will learn to disregard even more.
I came to this road to walk my dog, an elderly, shaggy black mop of a poodle by the name of Indigo; I came to relax, to breathe in the summer air, to wander free of confinement or constraint. Toeing this boundary between the natural and the “manumental”, these battle lines drawn in concrete, I am struck by the simple magnificence of what we have become: to be able to experience both unity consciousness and self-awareness in the same lifetime is a gift no other creature can claim. And we have travelled, with our sense of self-- across continents and worlds, to the deepest trenches and highest mountains, leaving our own traces like those of all other beings. Where some creatures form honeycombs or dig into volcanic vents, we lay down roads like this one--and we keep traveling.
But where have we travelled, that we have lost that inner stillness? For once we, too, must have had that gift, that meditative presence, that secret to reverence shared now only among the stones and stars…
It is in places like this where one can begin to remember what that early world was like once upon a time, before we grew into consciousness, before the onset of “I”; when one’s mind slows to the pace of a tree’s wordless sway or the quiescent solidity of the road ahead, ahh! Then one can see a harmony in the texture of light on leaves, a sharp sting of motion across an asphalt river. For though we have learned to compartmentalize our senses, to change our focus, to filter reality through a lifetime of emotion and experience, we forget that the universe is still out there, barking at the gates, brash and inconquerable, refusing to be diminished.
The reality is that we are simply unable to comprehend the intensity of the universe, the sheer ecstasy of its unfolding in every dimension and every atom simultaneously; we are not ready to handle its scale, its spontaneity, its magnificence. And so we created these filters, these five distinct senses, this entire modern world of manufacture and motion, in order to forget that one, saddest fact of our existence; in order to feel superior to the forces that roar and twist and grow around us, superior even to that which we can never know.
But whether or not we are capable of understanding its immensity, we must realize that we too are part of that colossal engine of creation. Whatever you believe is responsible for this experience, right now-- God, Allah, or the chance collision of the right molecules at the right time-- you play as integral a part in it as all else. Whatever we as humans do or create--and whatever we destroy--is all part of the end result. This statement is spoken utterly void of religious or philosophical connotation-- it is a simple fact. Whatever the reason for our existence, what we do is significant--if only as a universal experiment, a temporary test, a flash in the pan. We may be meaningless and we may be of extraordinary significance, but we are clearly pieces of an eventual answer.
I have never understood the debate between evolution and creationism for this very reason. Evolution merely explains how a staggering array of life arrived at this point, through an incredibly complex and beautiful process of continual betterment and natural selection. It says nothing at all of why this happened or what (who?) is responsible. If a single, omniscient God does exist, then the power of evolution--the power of nature to create such stunning variety--is a most divine gift. But I have no doubt that the Universe lives through all of this equally: in one form, as a regal tree; in another, as rain or snow; in still another, as the men whose hands built this road. And as I wondered whether I should return home, my mind flipping towards all the tasks I had to do, I was startled as Indigo suddenly--and completely uncharacteristically-- stopped pulling and flopped down in the grass, glancing pointedly up as if to tell me something. I sat down to hear it.
‘Stay still,’ he seemed to be saying. ‘You can do that later. This is what matters now.’
He doesn’t have long left, we know; and because of this his strange gesture seemed even more relevant, even more heartfelt. I have never felt that dogs could actually “speak” (they lack the ability to communicate in our terms), but his meaning was incredibly clear. Time out.
This Is Only A Test
I lay in the deep grass valleys at the edge of the road, Four Tet’s ethereal “And They All Look Broken-Hearted” flowing across the world through my headphones: I could hear drums echoing off the recording studio’s back wall, except here they was against the back of my head instead. And since I was staring straight up into cloudless sky, it was as if the ground itself was reflecting music upwards, into that unending blue from which all light, all sound, all life ultimately beamed. I was merely an intermediary. I was merely caught in between. The Universe was truly living through me, around me--as above, so below.
And I forgot about the ego, the “I”, this self-centered ideology we’ve barricaded around ourselves, the fear of what we cannot know… because these trees, these hills have all weathered countless other “I”s besides mine, and they leave no hint of those who came before. This road has seen countless other passengers, an endless parade. But all our rushing about has done nothing to quell the vastness of the cosmos, to bring us one bit closer to appreciating this world for its truest intensity. We will keep building our walls, keep focusing our intentions, keep shutting that wildness out. But we know in the end that nature will always overtake us…
Whatever the reason, we were not made to stay still and grow tall; we were made to move. We were made to explore and to know, to see and remember. And anywhere we go on our journey, anywhere we take these roads, is ultimately part of the process that lives through every cell in our bodies, every speck of dust in the cosmos, every sound in the universe. All of it is a kind of music, radiating down from the Cosmos and reflecting off this husk of iron; and sometimes, if we are very lucky, we can hear it--in the splashing of water, the wind over deserts, the cry of a hawk. Sometimes we, too, can be intermediaries in the dialogue between oceans.
If I have learned anything, it is to take the open road, no matter where it leads: to seek as wide a range of experience as humanly possible to see more, do more, and go further than you ever have before. Escape your comfort zone, that tiny piece of planet you sprouted from; don’t let others’ expectations--or your own-- stop you from growing outward.
In a nation (and world!) of productivity junkies, of quick-fixers, of rah-rah motivational coaches whose words fade from memory even as they are spoken, there is a single thought more powerful, more compelling, more empowering than any other before or since. It is the basis of every spiritual teaching, of every self-help toolkit, of every personal development plan. And for some reason, though it is repeated endlessly, it seems incredibly easy to forget. In the rush of everyday life, it becomes easy to simply ignore the most fundamental--and perhaps the only--universal truth:
This moment is all we have.
So take your best shot. Let the Universe live through you. And die fully given.
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