Home' Nova National : December 2010 Contents invariably upholds the status quo, the
superiority of men over women and the
divine rights of the aristocracy over the
working classes. He enforces obedience
through conscience and guilt, and through
beliefs such as Hell and reincarnation.
We know this particular God well.
We can also think of God as a
guardian angel or protector. God in this
interior sense is a valid global symbol for
our intuitions, our immune systems and
our instinct for survival. Finally, there is
God as the ultimate transcendental goal
of Light, Love and Eternity, the end of all
bad things and the retirement home in
In contrast, the word "universe" or
"world" seems to refer to something so
concrete and practical that it gives all the
appearance of being a fact rather than a
belief. As a child, I read Time Magazine
avidly and was well informed about
world affairs. I felt I knew the world well
travelled a few years later, I was utterly
shocked. The world was nothing like what
Time Magazine had led me to believe.
It was not that Time and I had divergent
perspectives on the same realities -- no
mental gymnastics could hide the fact
that we really saw different worlds.
I now see a multiplicity of worlds
wherever I look. I now see that the worlds
of men and of women, of children and of
old people, of Europeans and Asians, of
birds and flies may use similar building
blocks, but they are clearly different
worlds. Nor do I see them all as equally
valid. Millions of people are caught in
delusional, self destructive worlds that
are just plain bad and wrong. Personally,
I would like to privilege the world of
white, educated, European males as
being the most correct one, but I know I
can't get away with that.
Because I like my concept of the
world to be influenced by science, it
changes at a dizzying rate. Nor is this
situation likely to settle down any time
soon. The great scientific jigsaw puzzle of
trying to harmonise all knowledge now
seems a fantasy of the past. There are now
strong hypotheses that say we will never
© NOVA DECEMBER 2010
'My conceptual universe
appears to be vast...But
the world that really matters
to me happens moment
by moment on a much
arrive at a final integrated vision. We will
never be able to say, "This is the universe
and how it works." Our minds like
predictable certainties and laws, but the
world doesn't seem to operate that way.
In the face of this dynamic confusion,
I often wish I could revert to Annette's
simple vision. I wish I could say that "my"
world is "The world" and leave it at that.
As a meditation teacher, however, I know
there is a high prestige, opt-out position.
The formula of the mystical vision is
that "All is One". This argues that we are
all part of one divine, universal, eternal,
blissful consciousness. If we can tran-
scend our egos and become enlightened,
all pain and suffering will be revealed as
self induced illusions and evaporate into
This idea may be a useful metaphor
of a certain psychic state, and it may
prompt further enquiry. Otherwise, it
seems narcissistic, the fruit of too much
navel gazing. "All is One" means "My
truth is everyone's truth" or "I am the
universe". This grand vision is actually a
very small world, the size of one man's
head. Its quality of thinking feels more
infantile than adult. Because this is such
a difficult position to maintain against the
evidence, the mystics of the past tended
to be crotchety men who hated dissent
and who were disgusted by the messy
confusion of life.
I think even Annette would find this
attitude silly. At six years old, she would
have realised that she is no longer the
centre of the universe. Nor would she
assume that people who disagree with
her are deluded or spiritually immature.
She would be far too grown-up for that.
The value of any concept comes not
from its accuracy, but, rather, from its
practical applications. Any idea, no matter
how noble, is just an indulgence unless it
influences our behaviour. My conceptual
universe appears to be vast. It contains
quarks, evolution, krill, galaxies, death,
history, any number of stories and huge
amounts of junk.
But the world that really matters to
me happens moment by moment on
a much smaller stage. Infinity is the
days. Eternity is the 20 or 30 years I can
reasonably expect to live. Love is not my
boundless true nature, but the somewhat
fumbling way I relate to the people
around me. Wisdom is making reasonable
guesses about what to do in any particular
This is the world in which the action
occurs. We each have a world like this,
constructed over decades and unique
to ourselves. It could be the only kind of
world that matters.
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