Note: Off We Go, Part II, Meditation and Conscious Awareness is a refreshed chapter three of my new book Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness.
Off We Go Into Ultimate Reality
Life isnt like that, as you already know. Starting points are helpful illusions, but there isnt one anywhere, just this persistent present. So, for this exercise in getting your whole self out there, let the whole notion of starts and finishes blow away like dust.
Lets say youre walking in a park. Lets make it a really great one, one with plenty to see, touch, feel and send out your own vibes. Lets make it Central Park, its rectangular fields, forests and roads gobbling up quality real estate from Midtown all the way up to Harlem.
Youre walking along a boulevard on one of the ripest days in autumn. Elms release colorful leaves above your head. Theyve fluttered down and been brushed to the edges of lawns and under benches. Others are strolling with you between the shadows of trees that catch the raw sunlight. A three instrument jazz band is playing New Orleans style, upbeat and easy, close to the spirit. A trumpet case has been left open in front for coins.
A few people relax on benches on both sides of the boulevard. Some watch and some look inward. Ahead, rollerbladers challenge each other on a paved area marked off by purloined traffic cones. The jazz fades behind you, and a solo guitar wedges into the city sounds being humbled by nature, weaving through baffles of trees, bushes and grass.
Image credit: Central Park Fantasy by Deborah Julian, used with permission
Now, you revel in the pleasant details of the park, feeding your brain delicious material for building an evanescent present, and youre doing at least three other things.
Youre making memories by distributing your perceptions to fizzy storage throughout your brain, a process that cant stop and is complex and limitless beyond anything anyone can hope to describe. Its also 100% genuine, original you. Nobody has the same history you have.
Another thing youre doing is projecting the future, taking off from the present your senses feed you, blending your beliefs, hopes and expectations.
So, What Are You Doing In Central Park?
You make judgments. Choices happen. Choice is constant.
The most interesting thing youre doing is telling your story. Most of your story is taking place at a slight distance while you watch. You are, also, imagining, Youre shooting for a cohesive whole. Otherwise, no one will ever believe you.
This is complicated. You have to keep your eye on the ball. Provided there is a ball, of course. You may have to invent one.
For simplicity, we skipped all those other flourishing functions, those details like breathing, pumping blood, dividing cells, deploying RNA and growing toenails.
Best estimates say you have at least fifty-trillion cells. They all must be doing something, like a playroom packed with energetic kids, but with somewhat less chaos. Lucky for you, the majority of things going on are invisible. Being aware is one thing; keeping track is another.
Two other ideas to keep in mind, if you have any hope of making the best of this thing that has you locked up, this peculiar, fuzzy, liquid, amorphous state of matter known as your life:
First, since reality never pauses, nothing in your amalgamated self does either. Oh, sure, you ease up a bit. You take a bench and watch the world go by, still active, but not so much so. You probably do the couch potato dance.
But millions of simultaneous transactions orchestrated in your control center brain and in trained cells in the rest of your body dont take a break with you. If that stops, so do you. That is, you die. Stands to reason, then, that the more transacting that takes place, the more alive you are, and as youve learned, there are degrees of being alive.
The other thing of which you should keep aware is that youre connected to everything else, affecting and being affected by all there is, and none of that pauses either. You cant get out of it. More than connections, really, youre immersed in everything, and everything is immersing itself in you.
Got the big picture? Can you hold it for the next couple of hours?
No, of course, you cant. Youre busy. You have delicious Pinkberry frozen yogurt to lick from your cone before it decorates that webbed area between your thumb and index finger. You have to savor the taste of those coconuts stripped from a far away tree, just for you.
Its worthwhile, now and then, as you relish life, to get used to giving yourself simple reminderslike, here I am in the middle of this incredible soup and, for just a few seconds, Im going to try to absorb everything. Now, back to that Pinkberry.
Luxuriate in at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted meditation each day. Its like some sweet oil massaging connections between your amalgamated self (the one your parents named) and all the rest, keeping your balance with the larger soft machine. Sitting in the audience once, I heard Marianne Williamson quip that shed no sooner skip her daily meditation than skip showering.
Marianne, if her book jackets are even close to accurate, is classically beautiful and elegantly groomed. She hasnt missed many showers. Same for meditations.
The Moment by Moment Life of Conscious Awareness
Moments get by you as you take on this one and that one and this one, ad infinitum.
Moments are time slices isolated and recorded, snapshots that freeze past events, handy little devices evolution came up with to give us illusions of anchors.
Consciousness, as we know it, depends on our not skittering around in a Higgs boson field without finding a home. Moments arent real and have no other worthwhile purpose.
Other forces people, trees, rocks and sand flow everywhere around you. Well, since the Sixties, anyway, were used to saying flow, but what happens may not be anything as smooth as that. There probably isnt any movement, because movement needs time to exist. Its probably more like sparking and fizzing.
(Just to keep things clear for now, without taking the conversation too far off track, you can see that conscious awareness must be outside time, even reality as we know it. At the top of the heap, your mind sits still, single and apart.)
You probably didnt think too much about it. A zillion things to pick from, you probably pay attention to more practical realities. Can we change our mix of perceptions to make room for richer flows that sink in without dulling, percolating into conscious awareness?
A loaded question, but imagine how much more fun youd have in the deep end of the pool, floating, no hope of feeling the bottom with your anxious toes.
You continue walking in Central Park, enjoying a promenade busy with people and toned by nature. The wind is smooth across your face and full of scents. The leaves make sounds like laughter. Your toenails keep growing. If youre luckier than me, you may also have hair on the top of your head growing effortlessly too. Hundreds of varieties of bacteria thrive on your hands alone. You have Hundreds of varieties of bacteria ?
What were learning about our place in the universal biology redefines everything about being human.
Excuse me for sounding like a professor, but our lives are fundamentally and necessarily symbiotic. Thats how we grew into the scheme.
Well-known examples are cultures of bacteria playing vital and healthful roles in our intestines, helping us digest, converting food to energy and waste, throwing away the excess, in return for an all-day smorgasbord. Bacteria also help build our immune systems, and researchers are pulling back the curtain on other contributions.
This motivates researchers because the sheer volume of germs we host over a hundred varieties just on each of our hands alone tells us our microbiomes must do something mutually beneficial, even essential. Otherwise, they wouldnt be there with so much abundance and verve.
Estimates are, of the total cells that actively make up any human organism, somewhere north of fifty-trillion, more than ninety percent are not human. Of course, that depends on the meaning of human, which might not be so obvious anymore.
For now, we make the cut based on DNA, even if its starting to make more sense to build definitions based on what cells do, not their mechanical cores. If theyre vital to our bodys survival, why not call them human? What if were just bacterial housing projects, viral and fungal universes on the side, since were so outnumbered?
Central Park as Ultimate Reality
So, we, creatures strolling happily through an autumn afternoon in Central Park, leaves floating by us, you and me, are mechanical-electrical entities, soft machines in which the DNA of less than ten percent of the primary working parts contain our human identities.
As for the rest of the population, mostly bacteria, but also fungi and viruses, what we call germs, we dont know much about their roles or how the vast community known as you coordinates the business of keeping a human operation running. We do know, in spite of advertising to the contrary, that our symbiotic partners are mostly harmless, more likely to build than ignite the immune reactions we call illness.
The reason, by the way, you dont recognize the dominance of nonhuman cells is that the cells with human DNA are much larger. Though lesser in count, they take up more real estate. Dont make too much of this. We may just be a hotel for a microbiome convention of roughly eighty years duration.
As science continues looking at nature, the smaller size of germs may be seen more as more efficient, not meeker or weaker.
Maybe microorganisms get things done without gobbling up and becoming stuck with maintaining so much space, and our human cells are like landowners with acres of lawn space we never use but we have to cut the grass and trim the shrubs anyway.
We do know it all mingles in a universe rich with tolerance. Some intelligence seems to boss the many trillions of cells that must cooperate to survive as you and me, but after centuries of arguments and discoveries, were as clueless as we can be about what that smart CEO might be.
If God is your best guess, youve got bigger problems. Thats like interrupting a baseball game to bring in a pinch-hitter without telling us who he or she is. It just switches the problem while loading it with volatile new chemistry.
The Evolutionary Toolkit
Evolution is natures way of helping us thrive. It isnt nature, just an attribute that may or may not jostle for power with others. We have to wonder what inspired the invention of creatures so diversely symbiotic that hundreds of types of cells mix and mingle successfully without pause, conference calls or meetings.
We manage the complexity of 10,000 Times Squares at midday in every second, and were efficient as all hell about it. When we look for miracles, its hard to beat the one in which were living.
It may be that most microorganisms, idlers in a family plagued by slackers, do nothing but feed, clean up and reproduce. Maybe they do the cellular equivalent of watching television and snacking while everyone else runs the business.
Microorganisms known to cause illnesses and death have been caught doing nothing of the kind, neither asleep nor idle, not causing a fuss about anything.
More ambitious bacteria counteract the destructiveness of neighboring bacteria. This has to be something evolution designed for the benefit of all, allowing them to thrive, doing their thing in style outside our control, enjoying the party but not letting the host get killed while serving the main dish.
Taking clues from DNA of some other mechanism, scientists may tell the story of us, the germs with which we share space and how we came down historys trails together. For now, knowing what we know and awaiting more discoveries, we shake our heads in wonder at the whole energetic complexity that makes up us all, fascinated by how much we have left to learn.
Our Microbiome, Where Macro Meets Micro
At the physical intersection where micro meets macro, a metropolis of cells with various, related and unrelated sequences of DNA, all juggling work schedules in approximate harmony and, if not harmony, at least coordination create an aggregation of stuff ultimately known as me and you.
I bring this up for a reason. This making up of clustered organisms, living things, must be a result of what happens in the materials and energies beneath our awareness, the quantum and potential materials we believe make up everything at a basic level where were mostly blind and all the rules change.
If history is our best teacher, we might as well take for granted that something else, something startling is going on deeper even than that scarcely fathomable soup about which advanced science now speculates.
We know we interact with germs, with materials in the wind, with objects we touch, smell and see. The complexity defies claims about time, logic and present moments.
All things fizz and spark. All mix, and each does so at its own intelligent pace. We can thank evolution for the gimmick called time because its given us the ability to observe nature by making it seem to stand still when we want a closer look.
Its not likely that any intelligence anywhere else operates according to an awareness of time in the same way we do. Clock time is irrelevant to the rhythms of a cat, for example. A cat doesnt worry about what the boss will say if shes late for work or when a favorite TV show will be on, and chances are, a cat will not feel disoriented when her wristwatch gets stolen.
Your cat may figure something out about time by watching you and seeing how it influences your habits. Dependent, theyre tuned in, but dont wait for the next tabby with a Timex. Time has served us well, but it also misleads us about how reality works. It probably creates more stress than the bumbles and fumbles of our elected political class, implausible as that may seem.
Our afternoon stroll in Central Park demands cooperation of uncountable working parts and management greater than anything our minds can visualize. We may get a sense of it, even a decent grasp on some of the mechanics, but as when we try to see the universe, our brains are humbled by the size of things evolution hasnt given it the capacity to grasp. We have a choice between wonder and dismissal to close the gap.
Thanks to the creation of tools, quantum computers and digital analyzers, for example, we may never have to stuff a completed cosmos into our craniums. Our already outsized heads may not have to outgrow our necks power to support them or our mothers capacity to release them into the wild.
We may learn to outsource speculation and analysis and need only to be satisfied with the reports. This, too, probably mimics a reality we have some rough ideas about.
Even a sidelong glance at the miracle of a machine you are and your potential for more ought to make anyone proud to be in your family. Some families went into other lines of business, populating broad plains with grasses and hills with trees, for example, and can claim magnificent achievements. Interwoven in our family histories are results from forming communal bonds with many of them, with fruits for energy and nutrition, with wolves for structuring communities, fungi for mixing with grasses to give us bread, and so on and on. The story of evolution is immense.
Even as we expand, we prosper alongside and in collaboration with other families as well as quite different branches of our own. Were like a championship sports franchise that wins with help from other teams, the bleachers and the clouds.
Contributions come from many sources. All those other families, those grasses, mosses, trees, fish, insects and rodents, all of them won too. Make room at the banquet table for more guests. Some may be unruly.
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