Saturday, September 25, 2010

Think Cosmically!

Good day to you, NIP

            Are you a stargazer? I am. I’ve always been fascinated with the sky. Not in the sense that called me to be a pilot or skydive, but just the innate majesty and mystery that it holds always speaks to my soul. I was reminded of this the other morning when I first woke up and took the dogs outside. It was still pitch black outside and the moon was bright and full. Venus was sharing that same blueblack canvas and I couldn’t help but stop, take a deep breath, and soak it all in. The beauty, the moment, the promise of that new day, all of it. Since then I keep coming back to a thought—we should think cosmically more often.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” which is great advice to live by, to be sure. But why stop there? Why not think “Cosmically?” Take the entire universe into your perspective and see what it does for you. I guess I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot over the last 6 months or so because of what I wrote in the speech to the seniors at the banquet:

There isn’t much that religion and science agree on, but I think there is one fact upon which both the theologian and astrophysicist would concur—life is a miracle. A miracle that almost all of us don’t even bother to acknowledge in our daily lives.

I really believe that. As much as people often think that the two paradigms of science and religion are incongruent, the reality is that no matter how you interpret the life we have, the point is that we are alive. Why is this not a gift in and of itself? When you really stop to ponder the infinitesimal odds of the existence of life in general, you realize how truly staggering it is to be alive. On the broadest scale, we are but specks of cosmic dust. The more I focus on this idea the more I’ve been able to appreciate life for all that it has to offer. The small gifts and blessings that I get to reengage each day are that much more meaningful when I really keep that sense of the miraculous alive in my mind. I can’t tell you how much more I smile now over simple things. I’m sure to some people it may sound na├»ve to “cultivate my garden,” as Candide would say, but I would counter by asking them to try it. Even for just a week. You may want to try after reading this letter. All I know is that the more I pay attention to my immediate surroundings and realize how truly miraculous even that moment is, the better I feel.

            Not that long ago—an hour perhaps—Erin and I went for our weekend walk with our dogs, Cleo and Brit. I was about to write this letter, in fact, but I chose to go with her and the girls.  It’s as if my body craved that walk. I knew I would enjoy it because I would have the chance to get some fresh air, stretch my legs, talk to Erin about whatever, and just enjoy what life had to offer. Walking out the door oriented toward the present moment made the walk incredible rather than ordinary. As I took my first steps I filled my lungs with a semi-cool air and felt that same air rush over my arms as they swayed back and forth. I’m sure these intense physical sensations are no doubt a by-product of my yoga and meditation practices, which have both helped me learn to stay in the present moment. Before I knew it, I was smiling and had recited my gratitude mantra with the first five breaths, which really helped me focus on my experience. The walk was both relaxing yet invigorating. We saw several people along the way and bid them all good morning. One woman at a bus stop, in fact, gave us a pamphlet about Jesus and my mind turned to a specific line from the Gospels.

            As you may or may not know, I was a Religious Studies major while I was in college. Though I would not call myself religious in any conventional sense of the term, I have an immense respect and curiosity about the religious expression of humanity in all its forms. That said, when I saw the pamphlet about Jesus I acknowledged her with a “God Bless” and a smile; more importantly, though, it made me reflect on the passage in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is within you” (in some translations of the Koine Greek it becomes among the people ). I think that’s what I notice more and more each day. We have everything we could ever want. This life literally is heaven on Earth if we really see it that way. I’m not trying to downplay the violence, apathy, and other corrosive forces in this life/world, but I also see how those are the negative effects of bad choices. Perhaps if we all tried to reorient ourselves to the magic of everyday life we’d find a lot more reasons to be not only grateful, but happy as well.

            Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian novelist, is typically remembered for his classics such as War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilych. What many people don’t realize, however, is that late in life Tolstoy became a Christian mystic who disavowed the Russian Orthodox Church in favor of a more personal vision of Jesus and his social ministry. He disagreed with the combination of state and religion, and thought war was an affront to true Christian values. In response to his detractors, he wrote his spiritual magnum opus—aptly named after Luke 17:21—The Kingdom of God Is within You. This book, which focuses on Jesus’ main love ethic and egalitarianism, later inspired Mohandas Gandhi who read it as a young man while still living in South Africa. The two great minds eventually began correspondence with each other with the last letter being written by Tolstoy to the Mahatma in 1910 before his (Tolstoy’s) death. I read the book a decade ago and it left an impression upon me then, but I should perhaps re-read it to see how it would impact my thinking currently. I’m sure it would have even more relevance now as strong as my convictions have become about creating the meaning within our own lives. And the easiest way to do so is by acknowledging the miraculous on a daily basis.

            I know this may sound difficult—and to a certain extent it is. We all face the “daily grind” and have a tendency to concentrate on other concerns that have no bearing on the present moment. I think this is why it is so strenuous to sustain our focus on the present. Even with a disciplined mind, it takes patience and practice to reorient oneself to a new perspective consistently. But by constantly reminding myself what an incredible miracle it is to be alive, I find it becomes easier and easier to do so. Well, at least for short bursts like our walk this morning. As you learn to expand your worldview to a true macrocosmic scale, you’ll probably find yourself with a lot more joy in your life and a lot less anxiety. After all, how can one awkward moment, social gaffe, or minor worry distract you for long when it’s immediately in the past if you’re willing to leave it there? By focusing on the present and the genuine miracle that is life, what discontent you may have had will eventually fade in time. Just think of each new day as another chance to try and be that better person you want to be, to keep striving, and to give it your best effort regardless of the endeavor. After all, you never know how many new days you’re going to get. May as well take advantage of each and every one with the same zest that you had for the one before it. Some people say miracles don’t happen every day; I say one begins every time I wake up.

Keep focusing on the miraculous, NIP!

Pax vobiscum,

- Ryan  

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