Finding the Universe - A Meditation
Three thoughts come together in my mind right now…
The first - I am reading, The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf right now, and in the prologue she quotes John Muir saying, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
The second - I recently moved to New York City, which if you haven’t heard, is not a forest wilderness.
The third - How am I (how are we) who live in the city, to find our way into the Universe?
Those are my burning thoughts today. We can simply leave them on the table and you can carry them for yourself today as you search for the Universe, or if you want, you can jump all the way into the rabbit hole and see where the thread of other questions leads…
But what if I live in the city? If the Universe is to be found through a forest wilderness, but half the world’s population lives in the city, is half the world’s population (half of us!) missing out on finding the Universe? What is the tangible difference in a life between finding and not finding the Universe? Was Muir wrong? Is there a more clear way? Do I just want there to be a more clear way because I do not have easy / clear access to a forest wilderness? What about the access of people who have never been outside their own urban neighborhood? Have they never found / will never find the Universe? I have heard some seedy things about John Muir, was he a racist? How can such appearing differences exist in the same mind; racism and Muir’s more well known thoughts of nature? What do we mean by “Universe”? Do we mean God? Truth? Enlightenment? Heaven? The World? Peace? Are the other ways to find it? If not a forest wilderness, can the Universe be found in a tree, or a flower, or a stone? What about a train ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan? The face of a stranger? A pile of rain soaked trash against a rusty garage door? The poet William Blake thinks we can find the world in a grain of sand… Are the Universe and the world the same thing? If not, how do we define each? Why should we search for them in the first place? What beauty or truth do we discover by finding the Universe or the world? Aren’t we unavoidably in the Universe and in the world anyway? Isn’t the world where pain and suffering exist? When I was a kid in church I was told I was not “of this world”, so should I not search for it? Or am I supposed to remove myself from it, only to find it again? Or can you be in the Universe, but be asleep, not truly being? Do we have to choose to be? To find the Universe, must we do it on purpose? Or can it be found by surprise within trying, like so many other truths or like falling in love? Must I raise my awareness to be ready to find it on purpose or by surprise? If so, how do I raise my awareness? Is there a value difference in how I find it? On purpose or by surprise? What about what stage I find it - Going my whole life without it then finding it at the end, or finding it early and living with it for a long time? Will I even know the Universe when I find it? What if I already found it and didn’t know it, then gave it away or lost it? Might it be better to have given it away to someone I love, as a gift? If I gave it away or lost it, can I find it again? Can I find it only once? Should I search for the Universe by myself, or it is better to search for it with others? Can I find the Universe in anything, but a forest wilderness is just the clearest way? What if I don’t like the forest? What if it scares me, or has hurt me, or I’m allergic, or can’t afford it? Can I find the Universe elsewhere? Is the Universe in the room with me right now? Is the Universe inside of me right now? Am I, are we the Universe? Or perhaps, is the Universe seeking me? Maybe the Universe has a spirit and a life of its own, and because I live in the city and don’t live near a forest wilderness it has put on its walking shoes and is taking the R train to Union station to meet me right now? Or maybe the Universe has been here all along, waiting quietly for me to notice? Or maybe because we as humans have taken away so much forest wilderness, the Universe is getting harder and harder to find? Is it possible that at some point, if nature is changed enough by myself and other people, that there will be no ways to find the Universe?
Where / How / Why / With Whom will you search for the Universe today?
All photos taken in an afternoon via train or by foot from my apartment in Brooklyn