What is a sense of place, anyway? What place? I tend to focus on the human scale, most of the time, as most of us do. But the universe is a place. Your body is also a place. To a mitochondrion, a cell is a world, and you are a vast, unimaginable universe. (Thank you, Madeleine L’Engle.) Less poetically, but still true, to the myriads of microorganisms that live in your gut and on your skin, you are an ecology…and if that ecology of tiny citizens gets out of balance, it can make you sick.
As above, so below, y’all.
I frequently do a meditation where I visualize an image where my heart is, and expand it outward to the size of my body, the room, the state, the continent, the planet, and finally the solar system…while imagining the slow, remote dance of stars and galaxies all around. I decided to see what would happen if I contracted it. First to the size of a red blood cell, then to an organelle, then to a molecule, an atom, a subatomic particle…
Let me tell you, that was weird. It’s harder to visualize, because we in general and I in particular don’t have as clear an idea of what some of those things look like. I do know that the subatomic level of reality is pretty strange (har), with things sort of popping in and out of existence chaotically. Expanding outward to a view of the cosmos to me feels peaceful and serene, but contracting to try to visualize quarks and electrons and bosons is intense but a little unnerving. Of course, I bet we seem pretty chaotic to a star: What is up with all of that “life,” “death,” appearing and disappearing, replication and mutation stuff? Freaky.
I could see patterns. Density and space, circles and circumferences…the similarities of a single atom to a solar system, for instance. When I finished, I felt momentarily both infinite and very small. The meditation is valuable for the shift in perspective alone. One of the reasons why I have the particular nature spirituality bent that I do is that I find that the world itself offers challenges and insights unavailable from the works of human beings. Religious texts and teachings, even if you believe them to be divinely inspired, are filtered through human sensibilities, language, culture, customs. Looking to nature for insight is more like reading the lesson directly from the divine notebook. It also places us in a more sensible relationship to the universe at large…neither all-important nor insignificant, neither too large nor too small. Of course that perception is shaped by the position of the observer; it’s possible that there are bignesses and smallnesses that we cannot perceive, that our whole universe is a tiny dust mote in some grander reality, or a holographic projection from somewhere else entirely. I am the consciousness at the center of my own reflections, and that means there are some things I see clearly and others I cannot see at all. That too is a useful thing to know.
OK, I have to go wash some dishes now. Chop wood, carry water, feed the cat. The infinite universe shaped like a black-and-white domestic short hair is meowing at me.
If you like bogglement before breakfast as much as I clearly do, I highly recommend starting with Powers of Ten and then doing a little research to fill in what we have learned since the film was made. Bon voyage!
“The further in you go, the bigger it gets.” – from Little, Big by John Crowley