March 12, 2013
I’ve noticed that in this life, you can easily lose your bearings in an illusory flow of time. In a manner of speaking, all that exists is ‘now’. That’s hard to define exactly, but in general, that’s all there is. Now. But it’s very easy for the mind to wander off to different times and places.
If you’re unable to let go of the past, the good and the bad, you won’t be present. Your mind is caught in this rut. It’s not moving, growing, and progressing.
There’s also this onslaught of messages from every angle which try to disconnect us from the here and now. We live in a consumer society and it’s the job of the marketer to make you feel dissatisfied with your life as it is now. If you land this career, then you can be happy. If you can only find your dream man or woman, then you can be happy. If you can just finish school, or earn more money, or lose weight, then you can be happy. If you’re just able to finally obtain that ‘something’, whatever it is, then finally you can enjoy the present moment, just as it is — but not until then!
I grew up in a very religious home, and I remember that as I grew up, I grew tired of living exclusively for the afterlife. By the time I reached my teens, I found it exhausting. This world of ours was belittled to a test of some sort and we’re always being watched. To know what’s right and not do it is a sin! You have to keep your eye on the prize. One day, when we finally die, it’ll all be worth it. We’ll reap the eternal rewards.
I get tired of it. This rush for some elusive end. These empty promises. There’s nothing there.
If there is such a thing as enlightenment, you don’t sprout wings and fly off to some distant cosmos. Nothing really happens. You just realize the lies and empty promises around you and instead focus on things that matter. It just helps you see the present moment in a new way. It sets you right back where you are, but no longer spinning and chasing shadows. You just notice the present moment in a new depth. You notice and appreciate what’s there.
I never realized until just the other day that what keeps me rooted in the present is my quest to understand the universe. At some point many years ago, after reading a lot of philosophy books, I came to question what this reality is. I realized I didn’t understand it. I began some quest to understand what’s going on in an everyday moment, and every single day, with every single book I read, I see the world with new depth, complexity, and mystery. It follows simple rules and it never tries to confuse us, but it so vast, so big, and so detailed that it will never cease to amaze you. It’s the ultimate mystery story. No video game or fiction novel possibly compares to it.
It’s rare to meet another person with this same passion, but occasionally you do. One of my heroes, Richard Feynman, definitely had it. I listen to this video and instantly recognize it. The same thing is brewing in me.
As I walk around the kitchen, I watch the reflections of light off of the stove’s glass top. I notice the reflections and their angles and understand it all. I see some surfaces scattering light in all directions with no reflections, others are like mirrors. I think of all the atoms jiggling and the Columbic forces holding the atoms together. I see the atoms going into excited states and then quickly discharging photons. I feel the force of gravity and know I’m on a giant ball whirling around the sun and that the sun’s distortion of space and time causes this force of gravity. I look outside at the trees, the grass, the insects, and I think of life evolving here on Earth. I think about DNA and genetics and how we could totally rebuild this world.
In some sense, I’m in the present, greatly appreciating some little grasshopper in the backyard. In another sense, my mind is connected to whole flow of evolution, big bang to now, and it all focuses itself on that little insect and I scream to myself, “Marvelous! Simply marvelous!” Sure, we can point out how violent and scary it all is — a giant explosion, all the animals fighting for survival, disease, and so on. But in another way, it’s still very remarkable that we’re here.
In my own case, I can’t help but think about all the potential which exists around me. The more I understand, all these invisible roads appear that I never noticed before. “Hey Jason, you could build this! You could do this! You could redesign this!” The world is built from these little lego blocks following simple rules, and like a small child in a playroom, I start thinking about how I could put the pieces together in new ways.
This is totally different from the cheap sales pitches the world is always throwing at us. It’s not passive. It’s Jason, what will YOU do. What will YOU build. What would YOU like to see. I’m a participant, not a spectator. It doesn’t make sense to ask someone else to do it. It’s not a hope that I attain something one day. It’s here and it’s now. It satisfies me at a very deep level.
I was watching an old lecture of Richard Feynman from the 1980s and he was talking about nanotechnology. It was some sort of ‘Thinking Outside The Box’ conference, or something. It was very informal. He started telling them how you could build tiny little machines with moving parts just several atoms big. Then someone in the crowd asked, “What would you ever do with these things?” He was taken off guard, like he’d never thought of that, and then said, “I don’t know. Let other people think about what they could be used for.” When you’re a child, playing with legos, you’re not always trying to build something in particular. There’s a joy in just figuring out how the pieces go together, which then gives you new ideas in the process.
Thinking about all of this, I brought these ideas up to an old friend of mine and told him about this little revelation I had. He didn’t understand it. This idea of fulfillment through understanding the universe, it just didn’t seem to click with him. He then started talking about a girl he loves, how she’s getting married to another man, and how distraught he was. Of course I sympathize with him.
All I can think to say to that is the more potential roads you’re able to see for yourself, encountering one little road-block won’t devastate you. You just say, “I guess I’ll take this other road instead.” I believe there are many opportunities available to most all of us, but I’ve noticed that you have to be aware of them. In my case, reading and learning about this world is what’s allowed me to see the possibilities for myself. You’ll have to find your own way. Nobody else can do it for you. Most of all, don’t waste your life chasing empty things.