The Pale Blue Dot

In the “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“, we read Carl Sagan musing after gazing at the famous “Pale Blue Dot”  — a photograph of the Earth, from about 6 billion kms away, taken by the Voyager I space probe sometime in 1990.

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are,” Carl observes, “challenged” when we consider our pixel-status in a vast cosmos.

Coimbatore skies — the Bibliophile

The first line of “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion”, a book chronicling the remarkable compassion-journey of Father Gregory Boyle, cautions us against fanaticism, and a narrowness of outlook that causes the heart to harden:

God can get tiny, if we’re not careful.

Peace 🙂

“Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self….Yet……greater than all the words.”

In “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”, we read theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli’s mind-bending line about “Nature….our home”

“This strange, multicoloured and astonishing world which we explore – where space is granular, time does not exist, and things are nowhere….”

From thousands of years ago, we hear a similar mind-bending thought from a sage about the nature of Reality (in the Chandogya Upanishad translated by Swami Prabhavananda, “The Upanishads: The Breath of the Eternal”):

“Smaller than a grain of rice is the Self; smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed, yea, smaller even than the kernel of a canary seed.Yet again is that Self, within the lotus of my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the heavens, yea, greater than all the words.”

Evening skies, Coimbatore, India — the Bibliophile

Max Planck, the Physics Nobel Laureate credited as being one of the parents of Quantum Theory, writes in his 1932 book “Where is Science going?” of “the ultimate mystery of nature” — a mystery“we ourselves are part of….”, which “Science cannot solve….”

In the poem “Mysteries, Yes” (published in “Devotions”), Mary Oliver sings:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.

Peace 🙂

Autumn Leaves, Grass, and the Ideal of Nature

Kahlil Gibran writes of a conversation in Nature (his 1918 work “The Madman: His Parables and Poem”):

“Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, “You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.”

Said the leaf indignant, “Low-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing.”

Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked again — and she was a blade of grass.

And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, “O these autumn leaves! They make such noise! They scatter all my winter dreams.”

Richard Jefferies, the writer besotted with Nature, writes (“The Life of the Fields” published in 1884) of watching “the earth….every blade of grass, each separate floret and petal….” 

“Each gives me”, he tells us, “something of the pure joy they gather for themselves….Feeling with them, I receive some, at least, of their fulness of life.” 

Then, he soars.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time….This is real life, and all else is illusion, or mere endurance. 

Echoing sages, he writes: “To be beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of nature. If I cannot achieve it, at least I can think it.”

Peace 🙂

“Be Water, my friend”

Kate Marvel, climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, writes in a 2017 OnBeing piece that “We should never have called it Earth. Three quarters of the planet’s surface is saltwater….” 

W H Auden ends the poem “First Things First” (in “Collected Poems”) with this immortal line: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

“Water World” — painting by Deepa Krishnan

Shannon Lee begins “Be Water, My Friend: The True Teachings of Bruce Lee” with the following words from Bruce Lee, her father:

Be Water. Be formless, shapeless, like water.

You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.

You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.

You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now water can flow or it can crash! Be water, my friend.

In “The Penelopiad”, we read Margaret Atwood: “Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it.”

Peace 🙂

Everything is sacred

The geologist Hans Cloos wrote in 1953 (“Conversation with the Earth”) of “the harmony between the music of our own soul and the music of the earth.” Sounding like the sages of the Upanishads, he writes elsewhere in book of a path that leads from the “unconscious within ourselves to the imponderable and invisible in the earthly environment.” Hans tells us: “He who walks this trail sees the beauty of the earth, and hears its music.”

In “Underland — A Deep Time Journey”, Robert Macfarlane writes of being deep in a cave and realizing that “Down-here….the boundaries between life and not-life are less clear.” He goes on: “We are part mineral beings too — our teeth are reefs, our bones are stones — and there is a geology of the body as well as of the land. It is mineralization — the ability to convert calcium into bone — that allows us to walk upright, to be vertebrate, to fashion the skulls that shield our brains.”

 As realization dawns that we are, in a profound sense, not different from the Earth, not different from Nature, we see what Wendell Berry means in the following lines of “How to be a Poet” (“New Collected Poems”):

“There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.”

“Sacred Places” — sketch by Deepa Krishnan

In “An Alchemy of Mind”, Diane Ackerman writes of her creed: “All life is sacred.” She explains: “As basic as that is, for me it’s also tonic and deeply spiritual, glorifying the smallest life-form and embracing the most distant stars”, and exhorts us to improve “our behavior toward one another.”

Peace 🙂