‘It is not therefore the business of philosophy, in our present situation in the universe, to attempt to take in at once, in one view, the whole scheme of nature; but to extend, with great care and circumspection, our knowledge, by just steps, from sensible things, as far as our observations or reasonings from them will carry us, in our enquiries concerning either the greater motions and operations of nature, or her more subtle and hidden works.’
Sometimes, I’m carried away by the awesome realization that I’m part of so many things that are larger than myself. In fact, I feel quite mystical at these times.
I’m part of a particular family; part of many communities of friends and of people who share passions and common goals; part of a cultural group; part of the whole human family. I love and am loved in return. I cooperate with my husband, with my family and friends with my coworkers, with the people I interact with everyday, be it in everyday life, in romance, in play; in conversation, in sharing meals, in commerce, in navigating traffic, and in other countless ways. I share in the business of life and in the struggle to survive, which for human beings necessitates this high level of cooperation, because with our relatively weak teeth, slow gait, blunt ‘claws’, big clumsy bodies, and expensive brains, we are much more vulnerable, as individuals, than most other animals to predation and hunger. So I share in this great community of empathy, some to a greater or a lesser degree, and we all do what we can to be good and decent people, at least much of the time.
I’m part of the history of human thought, part of the rich legacy of human curiosity and wonder over the millennia, whose love of learning and of doing our bit more to expand human understanding makes us, as Carl Sagan so beautifully put it, ‘..a way for the universe to know itself.’ And every one of us who takes part of this quest to understand the world get as far as we do only because those before us passed down what they learned and what they invented so we can build on it. No one human being can, on their own, invent languages to create and organize ideas, observe the full vastness of the universe, and form the myriad theories that make up the incredible body of knowledge we can access and enjoy today. But millions of human minds, sharing in this knowledge quest, have achieved a level of understanding that our ancestors could never have dreamed of, and our descendants will do the same. When we think about it, each of our individual minds is filled with the words and ideas created by others, which we rearrange and build on to create our own, which we then pass along. In this sense, it’s hard to tell where our own minds end and others’ begin; we all share in one human stream of consciousness, millennia-old, from which we draw, and into which we contribute, constantly, all of our lives. This is one sense in which we’re immortal.
I’m also a part of the great creative outpouring of humanity. We all participate in this, some as the makers, some as the enjoyers, most of us as both, to some degree or another. I am inspired by the beautiful, interesting, innovative, and curious things others create, which inspires me to create things I think are beautiful as well. I dance to music others make, some of us make our own, and some of us sing along and pass the songs on to our friends and to the next generation. I cry and laugh and smile and immerse myself as I read the stories and hear the jokes and watch the movies that our fantastically, restlessly, endlessly creative species never stops coming up with.
Finally, I’m part of the great workings of the universe, of the great process of evolution, where all the stuff I’m made of was forged in stars and crafted into what eventually became me, by the myriad forces that arranged every molecule in my body, in new formulations in each successive environment through the ages. Every bit of me used to be something else, and I’m intimately related to every single other thing in the universe; every human being, every plant, every insect, every thing that lives and moves is my cousin.
I often hear people expressing discontent, that they’re searching for something that’s missing, that they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. So we join cults, buy self-help books, immerse ourselves in various ‘spiritualities’ and ‘philosophies’, even immolate ourselves and destroy each other for the sake of some extremist ideology, in restless pursuit of that quest. It’s all too easy, in day to day life, to forget the all the amazing, myriad ‘something bigger”s that all of us are a part of just by virtue of existing.
I’m now in a happy time in my life when I’ve learned to recognize and appreciate this fact more than ever before. These days, I have other ways to more fully participate in these ‘something bigger”s. I have an insatiable hunger for reading and learning in the last few years to a greater degree than any other time in my life, and since I left the stifling religion of my childhood, I’ve found the entire range of ideas available for my consideration, and the whole of humanity and of all living things is my spiritual community. I’ve taken a job in a new field so I’m learning something new every day, I’ve taken up writing and spending more time creating and developing my art, and trying to be more prudent with making and spending money so I can help out my family and travel more. We all have our own ways.
Being a part of something bigger is the simplest thing there is. It’s realizing it that’s the hard part.