[This is part of the draft introduction to a work-in-progress called You Are Here. A Travelogue. The whole work is attempting to map deep time, big history, evolution, our common story since the Big Bang through the three big realms of the cosmos/matter, the planet/life and human history/mind. Not sure I’ll ever finish this project. Anyway, it all starts, or startles, in the meditative Now. The photo is of our farm dam at dusk, two shores of light and dark, yang and yin, beginning and end, above and below…held together by, one with, an expanse of aqueous emptiness…]
Here. Here now. Just sitting. Within the wordless, stillness, awareness, there is: breathing, rising, falling…There is change/no change, no inside/outside, no thought, no time. Emptiness. ‘The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return’.
There is, quietly, a shift, a ‘startle’, a distraction: thoughts, change, memory, sequence. Perhaps a bird call, then named, catalogued, a bird imagined. There is still intermittent awareness of sensations, thoughts, forming and passing like clouds in the boundless sky, waves on the boundless ocean. Clouds and sky, waves and ocean, thoughts and awareness, birdcall and sitting, forms and emptiness, both and neither.
Then, watching, awareness ends.
Is there a ‘cause’, a ‘reason’ for this ending? One does not know, unaware of why one ceases to be aware. Conditions have changed. There seems to have been a wave, a movement arising, a movement away from watching and awareness, a severing or dis-traction, a pulling into and away, a grasping (‘greed’) or rejecting (‘fear’), an identification with a sensation or thought. A ‘fall’ into ‘world’ and word.
So now there is an ‘I’, and this ‘I’ is what has merged with, has apparently become, these fleeting sensations, memories, thoughts. I have become ‘clouded’, become the rapidly expanding and interconnecting networks-of-networks of associations-and-responses, a network of apparently discrete ‘things’, a temporal self with memories, feelings, words and the ‘ten thousand things’ crowding in. A universe has arisen.
There has been a subtle ‘big bang’: together with everything else, I am the universe birthing and dying itself out of itself, the beginning of branching and exfoliating, changing, matter-body-mind and space-time self-organizing and self-evolving from and to some awareness, some ‘void-and-energy’, beyond time-and-space, beyond thought.
And now I am an apparently individual form of space-time bending back on itself, self-reflecting, thinking, writing, and my living body-mind doing all this is stardust born in the first stars a mere cosmic breath of 550 million years after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago or in later exploding supernovas.
I now remember that the calcium in the bone of my finger typing the keyboard was forged in the furnace of early stars ten, a hundred, even a thousand times bigger than our sun. The water in my cells may have originally come from inside comets and asteroids that rained on the earth four billion years ago and produced the oceans, the source of life.
My brain began many millions of years ago in that ocean in some cellular or amoebic sensation that evolved further up into an invertebrate nervous system or a new vertebrate’s spinal column, moved all this up in the dance of evolution through the reptilian territorial brain, formed a lovingly hierarchical mammalian limbic system, blossomed out the abstracting bud of a primate cortex and self-reflective neocortex perhaps already in the first hominins just three or four million years ago or else the first homo species just two million years ago. Interiority has grown deeper, differentiating, integrating, encompassing more and more of the previous differentiations and developments.
However, my body-brain – including its thinking here written onto this screen ‒ is in truth not ‘mine’ but a collective artefact and expression of the universe, one even literally still informed by all previous evolution and history, still nourished and influenced by the first archaic bacteria living in my gut (the ‘microbiome’ and ‘enteric nervous system’).
I am a human being. I am a human individual born in the middle of the twentieth century, about 13.8 billion years after what we currently call the beginning of the universe in the Big Bang, about five billion years after the formation of our solar system and four and half billion years after the origin of planet Earth.
Now this individual is sitting at a computer writing this text. Three concepts in that sentence: individual, computer, writing text. Three concepts that each embody overlapping, over-determining, interdependent deep-time histories: cosmic, planetary, socio-historical, embody the majestic evolution of inorganic matter into life into mind/spirit.
This is ‘now’. In the transient form of this individual, the universe is stepping back a little and writing a text about itself on a sunny winter’s day in a house in a village in the southern highlands of New South Wales Australia on planet Earth on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy in what we, seeking orientation in the immense vistas of universal evolution, call winter 2016. To be able to do this, or for those bees to be still busy on the rosemary bush outside my study window, has taken the whole evolution of the universe. There is wonder, gratitude and joy in all this, in this tat tvam asi (That Art Thou), in the re-membering that is as normal as its forgetting:
And if I forget how many times I have been here, and in how many shapes, this forgetting is the necessary interval of darkness between every pulsation of light. I return in every baby born. (Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo about Knowing Who You Are)
So let us begin the mapping of the evolutionary process of deep time. The fluctuations within waves within larger successive waves within even larger successive waves, seemingly going on for ever, backwards, forwards, never clear and distinct and separate but always overlapping, reverberating, refracting, retracting, merging.
Can we attempt to see the ripple of the present moment ‒ in-formed by and with past waves and pregnant with even larger future waves perhaps already drawing it out, co-forming it, as ‘chaotic attractors’ ‒ ‘backwards’ and ‘forwards’, ‘down’ and ‘up’, within the great waves of human mind and socio-historical time which contain within themselves the wider waves of organic planetary time which contain the even wider waves of inorganic cosmic time, and all of them contained right here and now within an evolved mind writing and an evolved mind, dear reader, reading?
The mind may tremble a little at the immensity of the task. And yet, such is our basic premise, all these waves are mere fluctuations, shining ripples, fleeting illusions of what we call ‘time passing’, change and ‘evolution’, on or within, out of and into, the deep ocean of the inexpressible Timeless, the Form-and-Emptiness, the mystery of the dynamic eternal stillness and its ‘startle’, the sheer ‘thusness’, ‘isness’, the ‘nowever’, say, of a frog leaping:
frog leaps ‒
sound of water
– Matsuo Basho (1644–94)
But not too fast. First, I do not ‘have’ myself yet, and neither do we. The inner cannot know itself without the outer, the enfolded implicate without the unfolded explicate. You have to go away to come home, lose yourself to find yourself. So there is a bit of journeying to do, a be-coming, a going-out-of-oneself into the world that is itself in the process of becoming, e-volving, of coming or bending back into itself:
I am. But I don’t have myself. Thus we are in a process of becoming. The ‘am’ is inside. All of the internal is dark in itself. In order to see itself, not to mention the surrounds, the self must go out of itself. Must get up and go on its way to see anything at all, see itself among its peers, whereby an ‘I am’, no longer resting in itself, becomes a ‘we’. […] This learning takes place completely in the external, it journeys within it, experiences within it, and only experiences its interior by means of this external. Humans in particular are dependent on this continuous journey outwards in order to even be able to come back to themselves, and thus to find within themselves that depth which is not there in order to remain within itself, unexpressed. In order to just become sensitive to itself, the mere ‘am’ has to dress itself in something taken from outside. Literally as well as figuratively, a human being is born naked in its own skin and needs alien garments to warm itself in its own proximity, indeed even to emphasize its very own existence. (Ernst Bloch, Tuebinger Einleitung in die Philosophie)