It’s the first day of 2017 today. Smart people are talking about the Anthropocene, the era when humans are the most dominant influence on climate and environment. We are overgrown, into the Gods we feared. Perhaps you always become what you fear. I know that this is a new era. A new time. But in my heart I know that it is always a new era. It is always a new time. The mind and our constructions of reality are so incredibly complex. We are influenced, shifted, pulled and contorted. We are shaped and reshaped from the moment of conception.
The moment of conception. That now now. Where before there was not and then there was. The unpredictability of it. The way the universe seems to all fit, with no gaps, but yet can constantly make room for the new. The expanding universe. That moment of birth happened to each person on this planet. We were not, and then we were. And then we are not again. The universe expands, and transforms. Nothing ever leaves. Like Jorge Borges says in his incredible sonnet, there’ll never be a door. You are inside and the fortress contains the universe.
Is a thought conceived? Is an emotion conceived? Is a friendship conceived? Is love conceived? Of course, yes. They were not, and then they were. And they also die. Arise and fall. Even styrofoam. Even the sun.
I remember sitting on the floor of my little bedroom with my mother and my brother. Each of us little people cuddled under one of her arms, maybe three and four years old. And she asked me first. Who do you want to pray for today? I was just supposed to make a list. I said the names of our little neighbours, of my kindergarten teacher Soeur Georgina. I said my dad and mom and brother. Grandma Vicky, Grandpa Edwin and Maji. And what do you want for them? she asked. I want them to be happy.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to be happy? And how does it relate to the moment of conception, and the moment of death, and the infinite, expanding universe?
Allan Watts wrote, we come out of the world like leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, so the earth peoples. Here is the image of expanding. I love to watch trees grow. The tall pine in front of our home in Ottawa was a slim, bowing thing when we moved in there twenty four years ago. Now its low branches spread wide, and there is a little room under there. I wish I could live in that room. The branches are knobbly and sharp, and the earth is covered in little cones, little eggs, little possibilities of other trees that never were. (Until we get into the multiverse of it all.) The tree reaches, up up into the white winter sky. And each branch like veins has thin perfect patterns of emergence. We are like this too. We have rings and branches, and the new pale green tips of spring. But in our soft flesh we are marked so differently than this sage, gentle, guardian pine.
We are marked in the gastroneurology of our guts, and that forms our instinct. What seems like just the way things are, is really the sum of everything we have digested, emotionally and nutritionally, and how those things have cut and bent and twisted and scraped the genius cilia and neurology of our stomachs. In the gut is the feeling of my existence. My part of the great illimitable, and it comes to me, not I to it, everyday as I encounter that which my environments affords.
We are marked in the metropolitan traffic of our synapses. The pattern of our thoughts make our thoughts. Like the branches of this tree who are bent into their dance of seeming stillness by wind, snow sun and rain, our minds are also bent into the dance by the stream and wind and rivers of our thoughts. And this becomes perception. The way the windows of the eyes are beveled and cracked, thus we see the universe and maybe that’s also how it (we?) sees us. Like Patanjali teaches, the mind is a mirror, like the surface of a lake. Stirred up it sees only itself, but on a clear day, there is the whole sky contained by its reedy banks.
We are marked on our skin. The ways we are touched by the physical world that surrounds us, in soft ways and in hard ways. Some leave scars and bruises, some leave laugh lines and crow’s feet, some leave open pores and ingrown hairs, some leave sun burns and wind chapping and paper cuts and blisters. We also touch the world and mark it. I mark this page. I mark my clothes by wearing them, changing their shape and their scent.
We are marked in our hearts, by the network of our relationships. I am marked by those I love and those I hate, and those I pass anonymously or with irritation and those whose briefest touch is an exchange of compassion. I am pulled by these relationships, not only the human ones but the weather, the food, the sensations, the temptations. We are marked most in our relationships perhaps by loss. By grief. And grief is important in this thinking about expansion. While the universe reaches out beyond itself into the what? Into the nothing. What is the nothing? There is the light, the limitless light, the negative limitless light and then what? Beyond the ring of knowing. There into that it reaches. And those we have loved, whose bodies are part of the earth, whose breaths have been exhaled into the sky, whose thoughts are trailing off slowly, whose detritus and journals and credit card bills are left behind, the being of those, is it there that they go? Into the nothing? Or do they stay within the universe, unknown but knowable? Are they somewhere, the ancestors, within the great expanding space? Are they tucked into the hearts? Are there nine heavens and nineteen hells within the realms of space and time? Or is there an outside of the fortress and to there they go?
What is dark matter? Is that what the universe expands into? Instead of thinking of it as a great big bubble whose edges are expanding, maybe it expands into itself. That’s how I feel, as I age. I feel that I am expanding into myself. I’m not growing bigger. But I am certainly growing. I’m growing into my dreams. As I learn about them, record them, collect them. I have every dream that I have remembered carefully dated and typed since January 2015. That’s a way that I am expanding. They are part of me, not the written down bytes of them, but the capturing. They are not like thoughts, but maybe they are part of the map of synapses? Where do my dreams go after they have been dreamed? They don’t stick like thoughts do. I’m also expanding into myself when I dig into the past and unearth what I had forgotten, re-pattern it, digest it. Is this dark matter? Is there infinite space inside of me, enormous inside my electrons and vast between my mitochondria, into which I can grow with my thoughts, my heart? When I die do I disappear into the dark matter of myself? Instead of leaving the body maybe I sink deep, deep into it, deep into the black hole caverns of which I am made. I imagine my body as a black hole and the flesh and knownness of it as the thin event horizon, the last film which can be discerned.
If I disappear into the heart of the labyrinth, do I reappear at its gate again, ready for another try? Is there an in-between time, a bardo where I am traversing in the dark, looking for my reentry point?
I wonder what it is like to be in a womb, to never have known anything else. I just saw the sonogram of my brother’s second baby. The legs tucked under, just in there, in this little warm wet cave, expanding. Are the egg and the sperm self-aware? Is their moment of union anything like falling in love? Is it influenced by the emotional state of the two human lovers? When they become one what is lost and what is gained?
I remember being little. Reaching up for the kitchen counter. I remember when I could first just reach the faucets without being carried. The feeling of growth was more palpable then on the physical level. But these days I feel my growth on the emotional and psychic planes. Lately what is being born in me is an invitation to be uncertain. To allow the world to be ambiguous. I’ve spent most of my life driven by the desire to control. This has afforded me a life I am very comfortable with. But now I see that to grow beyond what I know into a new part of the universe, a place where something else is possible, I need to entertain the uncertain. I have this consciousness, I have this vehicle of flesh, my short time with these tools. I want to explore! And I have a strong feeling that doing things in the same way leads to the same results and I look around the world and I am not happy. I am not happy with the way things are. Above I asked myself about the connection of happiness to life and death and I want to explore that now.
Start with why I am not happy. I am not happy when I look at the world and see how the oil from deep in the earth is being abused. I am not happy when I see war and refugee camps. I am not happy when I see police murdering those they are supposed to protect. This list is long. These things anger me. I am not happy when rivers and oceans die and when big beautiful whales are choking on their own insides. I appeared in this life. I was not here and then I was. Before that, where was I? My body was part of the earth, my thoughts were part of my culture, my relationships were part of the family and the community into which I would emerge. But then, after being here a while, I began to have a close feeling to this life, as if it cares for me and I for it. I feel close to this world. I am in relationship with the world. When it is unhappy I am unhappy. I guess this is how happiness relates to life. And the urgency of it is the relationship with death.
But what is happiness? A feeling that things are right the way they are. What is the standard for them being right? I guess that comes back to the mind, the gut, the heart and the body. So my understanding of what is right in the universe, and how things should be, comes from the ways that I have internalized that universe itself and how it has turned itself into my body. But the complexity of my body and my self, the infinite tiny influences that shape the instincts, the morals, the perceptions and the gestures that make up me are so chaotic, there is so much that is pulling, moving and twisting me into different shapes, every day. How can this be the determinate of what is right and wrong?
Or is happiness more of a state than a measure? An emotion, more like weather? Like the weather that shaped this tree? Something that influences me more than something I’m trying to achieve. In which case why would I try to be more happy? Wouldn’t it just come and go? And what, if not happiness, motivates me to connect to the world? Why would I try to change the things that seem wrong with the world, unless it was to become more happy? Is there another motivator? And does it come somehow from inside my body or is it something outside, some kind of powerful directive that is part of the universe. But those are not different. Since there was a time when I was not in the universe, and then there was this infinitesimal instant where suddenly I was. Then there is not distinction between myself and the universe. So how can some parts of the universe feel right to me and others feel so wrong?
When we were young my brother and I shared the same two imaginary friends, Good Alec and Bad Alec. I don’t remember Good Alec, but I can see Bad Alec in my mind’s eye. His round face and his dark hair. Where did they come from? Because they did not have material flesh were they less real than us? Were they connected to the world the way I am, were they also expanding into the universe?
What if I did not want to change the ways things are? Should everyone be trying to change the world for the better? Or is everyone always trying to influence the world for the better, but that can be so radically different because of the complexity of it means to be a self?
I come back to the thought of conception again. I feel like there is a powerful resource there. This knowing that there is a moment where something new can be. That new thing is not coming from the mind of a person, or from the push-pull of a community. It’s coming from a kind of beyond, whether that is within the expanding universe or from some unfathomable without. There is a before and an after with conception. And this determines the directionality of expansion, and of time. And it makes me think that there can be a moment, that does not exist now, the birth of an era that is just and healthy and thriving. The technologies and weapons of the world, the oil and war and greed, that was born The birth of new technologies, new energies and territories and hierarchies and ideas are all coming. Can we influence what is born? Is what is born dependent on who we are? Is that too complex to control? New will be born. And it will die. All is born and all will die.