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A New (And Ancient) Perspective

Updated: Jul 18, 2022


 

"The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe."

- Albert Einstein


“Seeing and knowing the universe gives us context. It can also give us perspective, perspective on all the folly that we are currently engaged in.

It can also arouse gratitude, deep thanks that whoever we are and wherever we come from and whatever ideologies we carry within us, it is special that we are here.”

- Matthew Fox


James Webb Space Telescope''s first image, the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image shows thousands of galaxies of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.

Image: NASA, ESA




Before continuing with part two of the essay "Let us not talk about the climate crisis any longer," I wanted to share a text I wrote last week for the online community New And Ancient Story, a platform founded by philosopher and climate thinker Charles Eisenstein.


NAAS is an online meeting place for people who think, feel and explore in all sorts of ways new paradigms emerging in all domains of human thought and experience: science, art, psychology, mysticism, ecology, new social projects, but also the ordinary day-to-day individual experience of life in all its aspects.

Central to the activity in NAAS is the idea and practice of connecting communication and 'reverence', a word that is difficult to translate into Dutch, but that can be described as a mixture of 'respect' and 'recognition of the sacred nature of every human being'. A practice, therefore, that differs considerably from what we often experience on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Those interested in further information about NAAS can find out about the general setup and possibly apply for affiliation by following this link:

https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/we-can-do-better-than-this/


By the way, under the 'essays' section you will find another text I had originally written for NAAS, namely 'A little story about miracles'.


The text that follows is not really an essay but an intuitive and rather spontaneous stream of thoughts inspired by a habit we developed with our whole family: when we are in our home in a small village in Hungary, we often nestle in deck chairs after sunset in the back of our large garden, at the edge of the forest, to look at the stars and the Milky Way.

I had been very interested in astronomy and astrophysics since childhood, and at some point as a young teenager I dreamed of a career as an astrophysicist. My talent for mathematics was unfortunately insufficient for such a trajectory, but my fascination with our Universe has remained, and I continue to enjoy learning about the measurable as well as the unmeasurable aspects of our Universe.

Looking at the night sky (where it is still visible) provides a perspective that is quite different from the day-to-day frame of reference, and we need that to gain a new perspective on the convergence of crises on our planet.

What science is beginning to tell us about the nature of the Universe differs greatly from what we are used to thinking about this Universe in which we live and of which we are a part.

That will be the subject of the next series of essays I am already working on, a series that will examine our belief structure, or ‘cosmology’.

Since many of the ideas being developed in branches of biology, astrophysics, quantum physics, and other fields are so very different from what we have hitherto thought we knew, I will try to explore those ideas in measured steps.

A cosmology or paradigm (or meta-paradigm) is a difficult thing to grasp because all of our thinking takes place within that framework. It is not so easy to start thinking outside that framework, because our worldview is usually largely in the blind spot of our consciousness.

The text below is an intuitive stream of thought that takes a few steps outside of our usual frame of thinking, but then immediately begins to bear a great resemblance to what humans have believed for most of their existence.

The ideas I touch on are things that, strange as it may sound, are indeed also touched on in scientific research into a new paradigm for a new age. Science and mysticism are growing towards each other again, and it is high time they did.

Those of us engaged in ecology cannot help but scrutinize aspects of what we believe about the world: much of what we do and don't do on our planet is a direct result of what we largely unconsciously believe about our world and our Universe. And if we are to move through this convergence of crises, we will do well to subject some of our deeply held beliefs to a thorough examination.


Throughout this text, the word "inter-being," appears repeatedly. It is a term originally formulated by the Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, and a concept that is also central to the thinking of Charles Eisenstein. Inter-being' refers to the relational nature of being: all being is inter-being, which means that everything is connected to everything at the deepest level. Everything that is, is in essence permeated by, connected to and dependent on the existence of everything else that is. My being exists through your being and vice versa, and through the existence of everything. This concept can be taken symbolically or metaphorically, but I propose to take it in the most literal sense: that everything is truly one. And that is a perspective that, once you truly internalize it, can cause an extraordinary shift in perception, thought and feeling.

This intuitive recognition that everything that exists is one at the deepest level is increasingly confirmed in the most literal sense in the latest findings in biology and quantum physics, among others.

But that, then, is for another series of texts.

Enjoy what follows. It will at times require a stretch in what you can imagine as real.




The centre of the Milky Way galaxy seen from our garden in Hungary, July 6 2022

Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven




THE UNIVERSE, REVERENCE, INTERBEING AND THE DREAM

Hello dear people at NAAS,


That is a mouthful for a title but I would really like to say something about all of the above in what follows.

I was inspired to write this post because of the habit of star-gazing we cultivate in our family, and because of earlier dialogues with several people here in NAAS on the nature of Spirit, on not living in the mind and on the nature of death.

How we see those those issues is in my opinion related to how we experience our existence in the Universe and what we believe about the Universe.

So for starters I would like to present to you: my picture of the centre of our Milky Way galaxy!


This is of course not the best picture ever of our home galaxy, I took it with my phone camera a couple of nights ago.

If you look at this picture on a phone screen it is best to do so in a dimly lit room, otherwise you might not see anything at all.

Taking a picture of the Milky Way with a phone camera is a bit silly, like taking pictures of whales at a distance : in the end what you see is a little dark speck in the image that might just as well have been dust on the lens. Not really a great representation of the majestic presence of whales.

So this picture also is but a very meagre representation of how we and our visitors can see and experience the galaxy every cloudless evening and night here in our village in Hungary. Not only because of the limitations of the camera, also because the Milky Way was at this time not at its brightest, as it was just rising above the horizon and as the moon was also shining. The stars and the galaxy are best visible on moonless nights.


The cloud-like shape in the middle of the photograph, slightly brighter than the surrounding space, is the densely star-packed middle of our very own galaxy. It is not a cloud but billions upon billions of stars like our own Sun. The dark streaks crossing it are vast clouds of intergalactic dust blocking the light of parts of the galactic centre, dust that is also the birthplace of new stars.

To the left and right of the galactic centre you see the disc of the galaxy beginning to spread out diagonally across the sky. In a few hours, the galaxy will have risen to the zenith, and the disc or ‘arms’ of the galaxy will spread majestically across the whole night sky.


This view we have from our garden is surely still modest compared to what one can experience in the desert, but it is quite impressive and awe-inspiring even like this.

The garden of our old farmhouse reaches up the slope of a hill that goes all the way to a forest. When we are in the back of our garden, we are also quite high up above the tiny village, and it’s like we’re in the woods, not in the inhabited world at all. Hardly any light pollution here, nor air pollution.

Whenever we are here (we live in Belgium and Hungary) we have our reclining garden chairs positioned in the direction of the galactic centre, and many a clear night you will find us here, gazing up at the mind-blowing spectacle that unfolds every night.

NASA has it’s James Webb telescope which will go ‘live’ tomorrow July 12, but we have our reclining chairs on the hill. It is the cheaper option but it allows for quite a great show also.


Our observatory in the garden, province Somogy, Hungary

Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven



When we are here looking at the Universe, I like to let my mind wander over the things I am learning nowadays about the nature of our galaxy and of the Universe.

Cutting edge science is beginning to tell a very different story about the Universe than the story we’re used to. In the new (and ancient!) story, the Universe appears not as a giant machine that operates according to ‘blind’ and indifferent ‘laws of nature’, all just accident and random interaction of stuff. No, the new story is beginning to speak of the Universe being more like a great thought, learning and evolving. In the new story, what we are looking at when gazing at the galaxy here in our garden is not a dead collection of stuff but an organism that is self-aware and evolving...


It is easy to be reverent and in awe here, looking at this incredible sight, all the more so when the realisations sink in as to what you are really looking at.

It is beautiful and magical even without knowing any scientific facts about it, as our ancestors must have been equally or much more in awe than we usually are when looking at nature. They were likely more connected to the Energies of it all, and sensed more how all is enchanted and alive and an expression of the Divine.

Still, adding some scientific data can add to the amazement and the reverence, in my experience.

I’ve had a keen interest in astronomy and astrophysics since childhood, and at one point I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. Unfortunately my math skills were far from sufficient for that path, but I like to keep learning about the measurable facts of the Universe as well as about the un-measurable.


So for those of you who are not so familiar with some of the measurable facts, here are some:

The numbers are really incomprehensible: the Milky Way galaxy contains about 400 billion stars, and measures one hundred thousand light years across. The bulge in the middle of the galaxy, which you see in this picture, contains the bulk of the stars in our galaxy, so you’re looking at a hundred or two hundred billion suns here. The galactic centre is about thirty thousand light years away, which means that if I would start travelling in its direction at a speed of 300.000 kilometers per second (the speed of light), it would take me thirty thousand years to get there. It also means that when this light started its journey towards us in our reclining chairs, Homo Sapiens was just beginning to paint on cave walls.

There are not only billions of suns in this picture, also billions of planets and probably even hundreds of millions of Earth-like planets. Regularly new exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) are being discovered by the Kepler telescope, which was built especially for the purpose of finding Earth-like exoplanets. The count is about 4000 now, all in ‘our neighborhood’. Several of those are Earth-like, meaning rocky planets within the habitable zone of their stars, with the possibility of liquid water being present and therefore the possibility of life similar to life on Earth.

Actually, the star nearest to us, Proxima Centauri at a distance of 4.5 light years, has an Earth like planet in orbit, so our nearest life-harboring neighbour might be really close!

Really close being a relative concept on a galactic scale, of course. If they throw a late night party over there, we’re not likely to loose any sleep over it.

It is now thought that most stars have planets, and that one in every five Sun-like stars has one or more Earth like planets in orbit.

That makes for the likelihood of hundreds of millions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone. You might be looking at more Earth-like planets than you can imagine here in this picture.

And if Earth-like planets are fairly common, then life is most likely also fairly common. And if life is abundant in the galaxy, then there must be other forms of life out there that have developed advanced civilisations.


Astronomer Frank Drake set out in the nineteen-sixties to calculate the statistic probability of the presence of other civilisations in the Milky Way galaxy. He therefore developed the ‘Drake Equation’, taking in all factors that could influence the origination of life and of a highly advanced civilisation - also the likelihood that this civilisation might destroy itself.

It is quite a complicated equation with lots of factors that can vary wildly, and the equation has undergone adjustments and changes up to this day. But the outcome was and is amazing: our Milky Way galaxy alone might be home to anywhere between one thousand and one million advanced civilisations.

If we take a median number, then we might assume there are about one hundred thousand civilisations in our galaxy alone. You might be looking at tens of thousands of civilisations right in this picture.


I find these thoughts invariably mindboggling, humbling and also comforting: it really doesn’t look like we’re alone.

It gets even crazier if you consider that our galaxy is just a medium-sized one of countless galaxies in the known Universe - the count is at about four hundred billion now (lower end of estimates is two hundred billion, upper end of estimates is two trillion)- so if we keep the median numbers there could be as many as one hundred thousand times four hundred billion civilisations in the known Universe. I don’t know if there is a name for such a number, but it’s certainly A LOT.

And even if we go way below the minimum suggested by the Drake Equation and assume there is on average only one civilisation per galaxy, we’d still be talking 400 billion civilisations in our Universe.

Scarcity-mentality is not a defining quality of the Universe, that’s for sure.

And we’re only talking of advanced technological civilisations, leaving out all the countless other forms of consciousness that must be out there, like that of dolphins or dogs and chimps and octopuses or trees or mycellium or...or... and all their counterparts on countless other worlds...consciousness takes endless forms, on an endless number of worlds.


And this is just the start, if you will allow me a further stretch of mind, it is beginning to look more and more like our Universe is just one of many universes...

I’m not talking about ‘parallel universes’ in other dimensions, no, in our very own four-dimensional spacetime there are likely many many universes next to our own, each originating from their own Big Bang, each being birthed by something bigger than the Universe, and each learning and evolving... an ever growing set of data is pointing in that direction, and that just adds to the mindblowing incomprehensible multitude of everything in the Cosmos.


For me, that just makes Reverence the default state whenever I look up at the night sky here. Reverence 2.0

The thought that we are certainly not alone and that most likely the galaxies and the Universe(s) are teeming with life and consciousness, ánd are endowed with a form of consciousness themselves, gives me hope that even if we f**k up here on our planet, surely somewhere else someone is doing better at interbeing.


The idea that there are a gazillion civilisations out there also changes the whole game of interbeing, and takes it to another level. Interbeing 2.0.


Not only are we then interconnected in consciousness with all human beings on Earth, but also with all other sentient beings in the Universe - or Universes!

And the notion of interbeing is not only about our one-ness and interdependence with other humans, but also with our connectedness and interdependence with all life on Earth, and so by extention with all life on all the worlds in all the galaxies in all universes in the Cosmos.

And if you see interbeing as being not only interconnected with life-forms but also with the all-that-is (since according to the notion of panpsychism gaining ground in quantum physics we can assume that everything is endowed with some form of consciousness, everything from rocks to water to planets and stars and even galaxies), then interbeing can mean that we are at some level connected to all of the incredible abundance in the Universe(s)!

Cheers to that!


If you can still hold such a mindboggling multitude in your imagination. It is truly beyond anything we’re used to perceiving, but it might be (it is in my perception) the way things are.


Will we be in touch some day with some of the life forms out there in the galaxy or the Universe?

For that to happen, we will need to avoid self-destruction, the last but not least factor in the Drake equation.

If we don’t grow up, we might not make it to the Galactic Party.

And to me it seems like, in order to grow up, we would be wise to keep the cosmic perspective in the center of our attention and awareness.

This cosmic perspective puts all of our human concerns in... well, in perspective.

Michael Singer recounts in both his fabulous books on meditation and synchronicity ‘The Untethered Soul’ and ‘The Surrender Experiment’ how he always kept the awareness of our position on a tiny planet hurling through endless space central in his day-to-day awareness, and in similar fashion we can strive to hold this viewpont central in our mind and heart. It is so important to be aware of the cosmic perspective, in order to see our problems and viewpoints and ideas for what they are: highly relative. That does not mean that they are unimportant. There are important things to be concerned with here on Earth, in your life, family, community, country,...But it means that any issue changes in definition, urgency, power and effect if viewed through the lens of our position on a tiny planet in an incomprehensibly vast Universe most likely populated by countless forms of life and of sentience.

The very concept of a ‘country’ for example, becomes somewhat funny, like a phone-picture of a distant whale. What does the glory of a nation mean when viewed from the perspective of our position in the Universe (or the Multiverse)?

Would war be possible when we are really living the awareness of the Universe? I doubt it. Peace is the only possible path considering the larger picture.


One thing does not schrink in my opinion when compared to the size of the Universe: love.

Love is in my perception the central force that keeps it all together, and love for one person is equal to love for the whole Universe. Love is without scale in this sense. The love of one human for one other human is no less than the force that keeps the Mutiverse running.

And how many forms and expressions of love must there be out there in the Universe.

How many versions of love and of resentment, of pleasure and of pain, of community and of loneliness, of war and peace, of separation and of interbeing? How many ways that sentient beings must be growing in consciousness and ultimately in love, until the whole Universe is steeped in love without end or limit. Until all of the Universes in the Multiverse are nothing but love.

That is an image that I find exhilarating.


As I mentioned before, in the new paradigm on the nature of the Universe as it is arising from cutting edge research, it is suggested that the Universe resembles a great thought or dream rather than a machine. And maybe the Universe is the way the Cosmos is thinking, or dreaming... learning about love itself.

A great dream of dancing light and love.

And maybe, like Ervin László suggests, our role and the role of other sentient beings in the Universe(ses), is to raise Awareness and Consciousness to the level of the Divine Origin.

That would grant our lives meaning and purpose again within the larger reality of an infinite Universe: we are the way in which the Universe becomes aware of itself, and grows in love, in the neverending thought or dream that it is.

If we consider ourselves as parts of a never ending dream, it also becomes easier to identify less with our minds and our thoughts, it seems to me. All our minds and thoughts and feelings and energies are but lovely parts of a Divine and Cosmic organism that is evolving also through everything we live and experience... so you, who are reading this, you are a also wonderful part of the Cosmic Mind and Dream.


And the possibility that we are also part of this great thought or dream after we die, changes the whole notion of death as well. To me it seems highly unlikely that we are here in this vast eternity just for a fraction of the blink of an eye, only to disappear without a trace into nothingness ever afterwards.

To me it seems much more likely that our individual consciousness is integral part of this neverending thought or dream, growing along with the whole from one life to the next, gradually merging with the Cosmic Consciousness that we, as sentient beings, are helping to manifest and grow.

And yes, also in new scientific research (for most people still the benchmark of what is real and what is not) the notion of consciousness continuing to exist after death is gaining attention. What cutting edge science is beginning to tell us is remarkably similar to what humans have always believed. Consciousness is not what we have been led to believe. It is likely everlasting and omnipresent, an aspect of reality that is fundamental even for everything else to be able to manifest. For many of us, it is difficult to believe that our consciousness might survive death. That notion is being associated with all of the religious indoctrinations we are happy to be liberated from. And yet, a new image is arising from research into a new ‘Theory of Everything’, (most notably at the Làszlò Institute) in which our individual consciousness is in fact evolving together with the Universe, from one life to the next and from one Universe to the next. An image that is at first as difficult to consider for us secular Westerners as the incomprehensible size of the Universe(s).

That is something for another wandering thought stream, another night.

Our view of the Universe and of ourselves is changing, and the change will be as dramatic and all-encompassing as the insight that the Earth orbits the Sun instead of the other way around.


So many things to consider, lying here in our reclining garden chairs in our garden.

All of the above may seem like the result of a slightly hyperactive imagination induced by lying in a garden chair for too long.

The world seems smaller to us, in everyday life. We are not used to keeping the awareness of cosmic matters central in our perception.

We need to go to work, do shopping, take care of the kids, and we fill our minds with worries that mirror the Universe in plenitude and endless variety. The world has schrunk in the human mind, being just a sort of backdrop for our worries and thought-loops.

Can we expand our awareness to include the sense of connectedness to the mindblowing scale and plenitude of all-that-is?

Can we feel how each of us is an indivisible part of this whole incomprehensibly vast and beautiful miracle that we can get a glimpse of whenever we glance up at the night sky? Can we reconnect with the knowledge that the Universe is an evolving thought or dream that we are a part of?


When we’re asleep, we’re part of the Dream of the Universe.

And when we're awake, we’re probably still part of that same Dream.

That’s a nice thought to take to bed.

After we’ve gazed at the stars a little longer.


And with this I wish you a good night’s sleep, sweet dreams,

Namaste, be well,

Filip



In this JWST image of Stephan’s Quintet, we see five galaxies, four of which interact. (The leftmost galaxy is actually much closer to us than the rest of the group.) The colliding galaxies are pulling and stretching one another in a gravitational dance. This mosaic, a composite of near- and mid-infrared data, is Webb’s largest image to date, covering an area of the sky one-fifth of the moon’s diameter (as seen from Earth).

Image: NASA, ESA





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