Not Much Troubles Me. Should That Trouble Me?
I pick up the latest issue of Astronomy magazine and note the article by the leading British Astronomer Martin Rees. The article’s title gets my attention: Is This Our Final Century? The article begins by speaking of threats from without – such as asteroids impacting the earth – perhaps one a couple of miles in diameter which hits earth every few million years or so (we’re due), or perhaps a much more likely strike of an asteroid only a half a mile in diameter which would, Rees notes, if it landed in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, devastate the east coast of the United States and much of western Europe. Or what if the one with only one-tenth this dramatic energy such as the one that crashed near Chelyabinsk (hence called the Chelyabinsk Meteor), Russia on February 15 had hit New York City instead? Do these possibilities trouble me? Should they?
On the other hand, Rees notes that a much larger risk comes from within. He refers to the power of nuclear weapons to destroy the planet – which did, of course happen on a small scale in World War II – and could on a large scale any day this Century. There was even concern during work on the atomic bomb – some scientists on the Trinity project felt there was a chance that a nuclear explosion of such a bomb could ignite all the world’s atmosphere and oceans. But the scientists went ahead with the bomb, and, devastating as it was on many levels, it didn’t ignite the atmosphere. And today there are similar concerns about our research using particle accelerators that can generate unprecedented concentrations of energy (See CERN and Large Hadron Collider) . Some scientists ask whether or not these new intensities of energies that enter the arena beyond what we know, “could trigger a phase transition that would rip apart the fabric of space itself.” Does this possibility trouble me? Should it?
Of course we have the more insidious threat of global warming, a slow irreversible cancer eating away at life as we know we it. Does this trouble me? Should it?
Or take the rich world of religion, philosophy, psychology, and spirituality down through the ages. Some religions and spiritual paths purport cosmologies that give purpose to human existence. Few totally agree with each other, however, and each level of consciousness within any one religion or path relates to a different level of human consciousness with different interpretations of the meaning of life. Some scientists race ahead of these evolving realms of spirituality, confident that in time all will be revealed and understood from science; others (those in my camp) think it arrogant to believe we shall understand that much of anything. This group notes that we seem to have growing awareness of how little of the cosmos we really do understand. What we do not know seems to grow exponentially relative to what we are coming to know. Am I “comfortable” living in this vast Mystery with so few (or rather, so many versions of) answers to fundamental questions of purpose and meaning? Does living in Mystery trouble me? Comfort me? Should it trouble or comfort me?
Or take the distinguished physicist Joel R. Primack and his lawyer wife, Nancy Ellen Abrams, authors of The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos and, later, The New Universe and the Human Future. (See videos by Joel and Nancy) In these books they attempt to unify science and spirituality, suggesting that Double Dark Theory (Dark Energy and Dark Matter interacting to give us the Cosmos we see, which is but 1% of the total of what is) does give us a scientifically-based spirituality. At one point they speak of the Andromeda and Milky Way Galaxies merging, and the authors note that afterwards the sky will be dark with no visible stars – “Distant descendants’ own deepest photos of space will show almost nothing – it is possible that no intelligent being in the distant future would ever be able to figure out how the universe operates.” They point out that perhaps only we on this planet can figure this out, and because of this capacity to observe and figure out things, we and this moment are at a unique point of time in the history of the cosmos. Does this wildly expansive verifiable model of the cosmos trouble me? Inspire me? Motivate me to some action? Should it?
In this very expansive context, for whatever reason, I observe that for 13 years I have been drawn to one particular spiritual path, Pathwork. It is a spiritual path built on the Now (yes, Pathwork introduced the concept of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now 20 years before Tolle’s well-written book). Pathwork encourages an expanded experience of consciousness and offers an elegant cosmology that arouses my curiosity and excitement. I have little to go on as to why I am drawn to Pathwork, experiencing a sense of its “truth” only intuitively through its deep resonance with my unique inner soul and my soul’s conditioning over, perhaps, lifetimes. And other paths and worldviews resonate with other souls. And logic is not the effective differentiator or determining factor of what is “True.” We as a species seem to argue, defend, resist, or accept whatever path or worldview fits our sensibility when we agree or triggers our Bullshit meter when we don’t, but we seem hopeless to defend effectively our view against any other view. So eventually we lay down our need to be right and become curious about what makes others, and ourselves, tick, or be motivated, or at peace. Yet because of differences on these religious and spiritual fronts we on this planet so often go to war, or at least feel somewhat ill at ease with all the differences. Do these wars trouble me? Should they?
And then add the vast inequalities on the basis of economics among nations. Narrow this down to the widening gaps of haves and have-nots in any one nation, and we have a powder keg for seemingly senseless destruction, civil war, and consequent suffering. Does this trouble me? Well to some degree, but in my sense of overwhelm I usually stick my head in the sand.
Narrow further to my own family, dealing with challenging complex life situations that tear the souls and soul apart: challenges on seemingly all fronts. And again I seem to succumb to the overwhelm rather than jump in and take at least a small step to help. I am not even sure what would help, and so I back further away. This begins to trouble me, but apparently not enough to change my response.
This covers some of the waterfront of what could trouble me. In the face of all of this I seem to disassociate and build my own isolated world. I choose where to put my energies – of late in the organization of Pathwork and the Sevenoaks Retreat Center. I get busily consumed in this work, and it becomes a respite, a seemingly justifiable escape from the world around me. Why justifiable? Well I’m too busy to consider such a question. I close my eyes to even the dysfunction of these organizations I serve. I march onward. This “marching onward” at least keeps the other troubles around me safely out of the way in my unconscious.
Then ten days ago the challenges in my Pathwork organizations crossed a threshold for my engagement. For my emotional health I could no longer tolerate this engagement. In one fell swoop, in a single weekend, I resigned from all leadership roles. This creates a bit of uneasiness in the organization and in me. I settle down. And the organization settles down. But shortly after resigning I see how I have, as in the past, identified with my roles in this organizational structure. And now without these clear roles I am floundering for still another identity. Does this trouble me? Should it?
A sudden sense of having wasted my entire life surfaces. Do I leave the planet any better than I found it? Was that even important? Does any single life really matter in the end? An existential purposelessness sets in. I pause. And as I do, another possible piece of the puzzle comes into place. This existential purposelessness feels like the dark night of the soul spoken about by John of the Cross and other mystics. For me a part of this dark night of the soul is evolving from “special Gary” who will take on any problem or issue to “common Joe” who will simply be with what is and perhaps offer compassion. Perhaps compassion is my purpose. Perhaps compassion is the doorway to awakening. Perhaps in compassion both everything troubles me and nothing troubles me. Perhaps I am awaking.
Shared in love, Gary