Each of us is rather caught up and fixated on our own personal life – making it through today, cleaning up from yesterday, and getting ready for tomorrow. There’s barely enough mental bandwidth to pay attention to all the details and passing concerns. Catching up on global events is out of the question, and thinking about what’s going on around our planet and across the universe – well, don’t get me started.
But now that we’re on the topic, let’s take just a few minutes to ponder what really is going on – not just for me or you or even just on our planet, but what’s going on everywhere, for everyone, and for everything in existence.
Such deep and far-reaching questions have been a significant preoccupation of our species for many thousands of years, and our answers have been offered up in the form of great narratives.
For the longest time, these narratives were metaphorical in nature and organized around dramatic storylines, known in Greek as myths or “plots.” More recently, which is to say during the last 2,500 years or so, our narratives have been in the form of mathematical (or rational) explanations called theories, also from the Greek referring to a way of “looking at” something – from a distance as it were.
Poets and scientists have been understandably critical of each other’s narratives, with poets accusing the scientists of disenchanting the universe, and scientists accusing the poets of enchanting the mind. It has occurred only to a relative few on both sides, that maybe each approach has a legitimate place in our human quest for understanding.
In other posts I have tried to make this very point, suggesting that while scientific theories seek to explain – literally to “lay things out” logically before the mind, religious myths have sought to reveal – or “pull back the veil” on a hidden reality which our mind cannot grasp.
In what follows we will take a step back, and down, into the creative imagination where this quest is rooted and energized. My diagram is intended to provide some orientation as we go along.
I’ll ask you to imagine yourself, perhaps in silhouette, standing at the very center, with that black vertical line serving as your axis. Integrity refers to the force or principle that enables something – you, in this case – to “hold together as one.” Each existing form is governed to some degree by this principle of integrity, centered in itself and also, by virtue of standing in its own center, separate from all others roundabout.
Your centered existence and existential center is where you are grounded in being. Ontology is the study of being, of the power-to-be (or be-ing) that sustains your existence from within. You are a physical, living, sentient, and self-conscious person: each step upwards into yourself corresponds to an evolutionary stage in the formation, and transformations, of the universe.
Scientific theories offer objective explanations of this grounding mystery as examined from outside, while religious myths serve as subjective revelations of the Mystery experienced and expressed from within.
Coming back to you at the center, we need to acknowledge a second force or principle which is acting in creative tension with that of integrity. Synergy refers to a fusion of two or more things coming together, getting engaged, “hooking up,” and combining their energies in a higher wholeness. As a force, synergy is constantly moving things into relationships where a more complex order of existence, as well as an expanded horizon of awareness and life, is possible.
The Greek term cosmology literally means the study of order, of the larger patterns that lure individuals beyond themselves into engagements and organizations of increasing complexity. Once again, scientific theory formulates an objective explanation of the cosmos, leaving out as far as possible the perspective of any human mind (i.e., the observer), while religious myth contemplates the higher wholeness from this very self-conscious perspective: what it is to be in and belong to the whole.
Because you are self-conscious and the cosmos includes you, it is perfectly logical – but more importantly, deeply insightful – to say that the universe is conscious of itself in you.
The story of your life, then, is a narrative account of your origins (where you came from and how you came to be who you are) – what is known as etiology or the study of causality. Single sperm and egg cells, each centered in its own integrity, came together and merged into a synergetic whole. This microcosm of a fertilized egg proceeded to divide, converge, differentiate and unify at ever-higher degrees of complexity, specializing according to a genetic code into the physical, living, sentient, and self-conscious human being that you are.
This story of causal unfolding flows very naturally into a complementary story of directional aims and evolutionary purposes, or teleology in Greek. Coming together, participating in, and contributing to higher orders of complexity and wholeness might lead to us expect that the ultimate aim of your existence is to endure forever inside the grand harmony of the universe.
But there is a spoiler principle yet to be accounted for, and its work is to break things down into more stable arrangements and energy states.
This is the principle of entropy, literally the tendency of all things to “turn in” on themselves and disintegrate into their more elementary components. If you’re still paying attention, then you will recognize the force of entropy – this breakdown of complex arrangements to simpler and more stable ones – as the gradual arc of your mortality. Higher-order participation is slowly released, engagement with the world relaxes, and the integrity of your own existence as a self-conscious, sentient, living, and physical being starts to loosen and degrade, one level at a time, until your time is up.
At that point, who you are will go out like a candle flame, leaving what you were to further dissolve into its elements, eventually to be taken up once again into the grounding mystery of something, or someone, else.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” as we read in the Book of Common Prayer. The interval between is the miracle of your life, and here you are at the center.