Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wish upon a star . . . ?

I've been reflecting on that mind-blowing series of diagrams that your Buddhist friend sent you from Toronto. Do you remember the ones I mean?
The diagrams that showed, firstly, how much larger our Earth was than Venus. Then, compared to the size of the Sun, how the Earth was a mere pebble. Then, how the mighty Sun itself paled into insignificance beside a vast globe called Arcturus. And, finally, stretching the mind like mental elastic, how Arcturus was a trivial blob compared with the mighty Antares.

Antares . . . ? What is Antares . . . ? More to the point, where is Antares . . . ? How is it that I've lived all these years in total ignorance of an organism so vast as to defy conception?

After reflecting on these mind-blowing images for a while, two thoughts came to mind.

Just for a moment, look out of the window at the sun. All right, it's difficult this morning as it's cloudy, but you get a sense of where it is and how very far distant it is. Now . . . think about the stars, the few that we can still see (despite light pollution) and the many more, way out there, that are literally light-years distant. Can you feel your mind stretching with this sense of infinity and extreme distance? But now, it gets even more exciting. Take a deep breath and envisage the sun and the stars in relation to those diagrams, and in relation to those much vaster, much more distant sentient bodies that I'd never heard of.
Suddenly, we are rubbing shoulders with the stars as closely as tube passengers in the rush-hour. Planet Earth is literally cheek by jowl with Venus. Distance has crashed in on us, and needs to be totally re-evaluated if we are ever to fathom - however imperfectly - a sense of all that lies around and beyond.

That isn't a calm, blue sky out there, keeping us safe within its boundaries. It isn't even an infinity of open, tranquil space.
Let's try to grasp the mind-boggling concept that somewhere, somehow, when we look out of the window we are gazing towards vast worlds, even vaster solid beings and space . . . endless . . . endless . . . inconceivably endless space that links it all.

Now . . . are you still with me? Let's look at it another way. Take planet Earth and put beside it a football . . . and then a marble . . . and then a molecule and an atom . . . and then realise that we are each of us constituted of millions of these atoms, each of which is a sentient being in its own right.
Then . . . but this is becoming impossible . . . put one of those atoms alongside Antares . . . do you see what I mean?

And we have the nerve to think that we can understand all this? And, what's more, that we can analyse and pin down the creative intelligence behind it all? As Shakespeare put it, "Lord, what fools these mortals be! "

But at least we're divine fools . . . and we come from stardust!