Connecting in life

As a young man in Montana, I used to drive with my then-girlfriend out of the small city in which we lived to a small pond. Away from the light-pollution of civilization, we would sit with a blanket on the warm hood of my car and simply gaze up at the night sky. She, a devout Catholic, and I, a stern atheist, could come together in speechless awe as the light from countless billions of stars fell upon us.

It was a wonderful time: this combination of youth, love, wonder, and possibility. And it spurred in me a renewed interest in figuring things out in life. At the time I was a essentially “college dropout” – having left business school to work a 9 to 5 job until some better idea came along. And that idea, when it did finally arrive, was to return to school. To find something I could pursue with a passion. To understand the world beyond my youth, my city, my mountains and Montana’s big skies.

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
― Carl Sagan

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked in an interview with TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” This is his answer.

Many people feel small,
because they are small,
the universe is big.
But I feel big,
because my atoms came from those stars.

There is a level of connectivity.
That’s really what you want in life.
You want to feel connected.
You want to feel relevant.

You want to feel like you are a participant
in the goings on of activities and events around you.

That’s precisely what we are,
just by being alive.

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

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  • Patia


    I often like to think how about how small and irrelevant I and my problems are on the grand scale of things. This is the exact opposite idea, and yet somehow the same.

    • Justin Whitaker

      :) Yep, somehow the same indeed. I like the notion of stepping outside of our normal way of seeing ourselves in the world… Anything that ‘de-centers’ our idea of self should have this effect, I think.

  • अदीन

    What I’ve found it very liberating and deeply sacred viewing this “self” with whom I identify as not little and isolated but part of the whole. The solids and liquids that I ingest enter from ‘outside’ and at some point return to the ‘outside’.

    I’ve likewise found it helpful to regard my “self” as one of billions (if not more!) conscious life forms inhabiting this Multiverse through which It becomes aware of Itself: this thought to some extent frees me from the notion of any ‘outside’. That thought opens up my being, making me deeply contented, much like sitting on the hood of a car and contemplating a Montanan night sky.

    Thanks for sharing that experience.

    • Justin Whitaker

      And thank you for your thoughts, अदीन. Outside, inside, all just concepts we lay over the seamless flow of life.

  • Dave W

    Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is holding on to the sense of awe, the dizzying impact of scale, and the feeling of wonder–> without ‘spirirtulaising’ the experiences and introducing some kind of metaphysical essence into the equation..

  • Tim Illencik

    I remember learning that every atom in our bodies came from the stars and sitting there in awe. Amazing stuff that we don’t think about often enough.