A New CosmologyFebruary 22, 2012 Leave a comment
This post comes via our friend and colleague Danny Martin, with whom I have recently had the pleasure to present at the Bioneers by the Bay Conference. Another of Danny’s posts appeared here last fall on deep listening. As you will see, he is an old soul, a wise man in the best sense of the word, and his words a beacon for our collective future.
I am privileged to be one of four conveners of The Berry Forum for an Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, NY. Thomas Berry who died a couple of years ago was the prophet of a new era that he called ‘The Ecozoic’ which he described as an era founded on mutually enhancing human-earth relations. The other evening we hosted a wonderful speaker – Father Joe Mitchell from the Earth and Spirit Center of Louisville KY – who elaborated on these ‘mutually enhancing human-earth relations’ by speaking about cosmology. In case you’re wondering, cosmology is how we understand the world we live in and our place in it. And this understanding has implications for everything. Just think about it: it’s only a few hundred years since we thought the earth was flat and the center of the universe; it’s less than a century since we realized that our Milky Way is not the only galaxy; and it’s only about fifty years since we came to understand that the universe emerged from a singularity – what some call the Big Bang – and continues to unfold and ourselves along with it. Partly as a result, it is now dawning on us that what we call the universe is one, interconnected reality that we are all part of, and that therefore constitutes our essential identity. I say ‘partly’ because such awareness doesn’t come simply from information but requires the experience of awakening, the way we do through contemplating a beautiful place or encountering the wonder of a new baby or falling in love with someone who a moment before was a stranger. When this happens you wonder why you hadn’t seen it all along.
The realization that everything is one interconnected reality means that we are not separate from other things, that there is no ‘out there,’ that what we call nature includes us. The implications are enormous, of course, for if we are this universe then how should we live; how should we live with other people – our neighbors who apparently are ourselves. One teacher has suggested that we love our neighbors as ourselves; he added that our neighbor is everyone (today we could add everything). So what does all that mean? Well, for starters, it means that we should treat everything as if it were our own body – which in a sense it is. I wrote a paper a little while ago on morality as ‘enlightened self-interest,’ suggesting that, since everything we do we do out of self interest (think about it), morality should focus on fostering the awareness of what constitutes this self. We get glimpses of this when we realize we would do anything for someone we love: a partner, a child, a friend. When we fall in love we fall into this other person; they become my self.
Joe made a very interesting point when he talked about how difficult it can be to promote a new cosmology – a new way of seeing the world – because people resist it, realizing (instinctively perhaps) that a new cosmology means a new everything: new values, new morality, new laws, new institutions, new leadership, new relationships. He talked about a comparable period when Galileo experienced resistance from the leaders of society to the new cosmology that he was promoting, and that, incidentally, we take as obvious and natural today, namely that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. He described Galileo only four hundred years ago trying to convince leaders in both the scientific and church communities to look through his telescope and see for themselves how the planets moved and not simply around the earth. But they refused, perhaps realizing the enormous implications of such a shift in understanding: Bible, authority of church, morality, etc.
It struck me that this is the real issue of today: a new cosmology. When people talk of a shift in consciousness it is this very concrete new awareness that they are referring to. For it is this awareness that will finally change everything; in fact it is only this that will bring the changes we know we need to make in order to make the world a better, more livable place for everyone: more sustainable, more just. And of course, we resist it: like the leaders of Galileo’s day we refuse to look at the data that is already there, sensing that it will shift everything.
As I drove home from Joe’s talk I said to my friend Peggie, given how much we have come to know in recent years and how the growth of knowledge is accelerating, what will we know a hundred, even fifty years from now. And how natural will it all seem. And how ignorant and naïve we will appear to our great grandchildren. Perhaps the most creative thing we can do now in order to make our world a more sustainable place for everyone and everything is to encourage each other to look around us and also let in the new knowledge we now have; take a peek through the telescope and get the new cosmology by falling in love with the mystery of it all.