A few basic factoids:
Life on Earth so far spans 3.5 billion years.
It takes place in a Universe made up of roughly (!!) two hundred billion galaxies, each consisting of several billion stars and an impossible-to-even-guess-at number of planets.
That’s the backdrop to our existence. It’s always there, whether or not we include it in our personal philosophy of life. Everybody knows we are surrounded by unimaginable vastness of both time and space, but few people take time out in their busy schedules to wonder what this fact might mean for us in our daily lives.
As well as being unimaginably vast, the Universe is a wholly coherent system and is complete unto itself. No part of it is extraneous, random, or separate from that larger, wholly coherent system.
We are the sleeping cells of a vast living organism, dreaming of autonomous lives independent of the Universe that created us. It’s a rich and vivid dream we are dreaming, but it is only a dream. When a man dreams of being a butterfly, the dream may be quite real to him, but eventually he wakes, and realizes that his body is still that of a man. So it will be for us, who dream of being people, when in fact we are something else entirely.
None of this is news.
Yet the question still haunts us. What are we doing here? What is this dream of existence for? How can we live a life that measures up to that vastness?
If the life of the Universe is our life, seen through a lens wiped clear of delusion, through awakened eyes looking outward on reality, instead of inward at fantasy; how can we become more than just face-blurred figures in a teeming crowd of extras, glimpsed for a split second as the Universe rushes by?
The answer has to do with attention and what we pay it to.
How can we pay attention to the eternal as well as the temporary, to the invisible gold that is everywhere inside the dirt that is really nowhere, since it’s not really dirt, just a misapprehension of the facts?
We hear a lot about attention deficit disorder. There is a deficit of attention, but it’s not the children who owe it. It’s the attention which all of us owe to the reality under our feet and noses, a reality which we still think of (if we admit it’s there at all) as “hidden.” But it’s only hidden because we have forgotten how to look, and because we have used up all of our attention on the wrong things. We have been sleeping for too long. The longer we sleep, the harder it is to wake.
Every moment is a moment of immeasurable value: the value of a single life, bookended by eternities. Each of those moments can either be invested or squandered, but spent it must be. We pay for our lives with attention, and whatever we pay attention to is what our lives will be filled with.
The world isn’t in crisis. We are. It’s an existential crisis that gets worse the longer we avoid it.
It comes down to those few basic questions, questions which children ask but which adults learn to stay away from. Who am I? Where did I come from & where I am going? Why am I here? As adults we learn to stay away from these questions because of the terrifying awareness that no happiness or meaning is possible — for any of us — until we have answered them; or rather, until we have begun to live the answers.
It’s not that nothing else but the quest matters; it’s that nothing can ever be real for us until the quest is over, and we have found the ground which we stand on. Only then can we begin to move forward.
My own interest in doing Beyond Dirt — in making the film and finding out about gold prospecting —is largely from a desire—a need—to look, see, know, and find the ground beneath my feet. To start to pay attention to the gold of what is lasting, eternal and true, instead of what is fleeting, temporary and false.
Gold-prospecting both literal and metaphorical requires a constant overcoming of inertia, a rejection of ordinary, everyday comforts (and values), and a willingness to fail; and to fail ever more spectacularly and distressingly each time. Accepting that there is no substitute for gold means being absolutely honest about what is only dirt—or pyrite or “fool’s gold.” Yet pyrite only fools the fools; for those who recognize it for what it is, it will eventually lead to the real thing. The same applies to “failure”: it’s a state of mind, not a verdict.
None of this is news. If enlightenment entails the recognition of our own non-existence as independent agents separate from the vast, living, conscious super organism of the Universe (and beyond), then supreme attainment of reality is ultimate failure, the total, final, non-negotiable defeat of “ego.”
The story we are caught up in extends over billions of years and spans a near-infinity of stars and planets. We were there at the beginning, and we will be there at the end.
The only question is: are you paying attention?
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