I’ve just learned from Wikipedia (yes, maybe not the last word on any given subject, but for me unless highly controversial pretty much the first, and even when controversial still the first, just a bit more cautious before citing…) that the famed Mesoamerican Long Count calendar begins on this day, well, this day in 3114 before the Common Era.
Of course because one version of the calendar ended in 2012 it became a vehicle for people looking for end times as well as for those who like to make money off people looking for end times.
And it looks like some people did very well with this end time…
Of course ends of the world abound. Religions love ’em. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, following, it would appear, Zoroastrianism, time runs on a straight line toward one great end. But there are other ways to engage the idea. For instance in Buddhism and Hinduism end times tend to be the end of cycles in what appear to be an endless spiral.
In contemporary popular culture we’ve introduced any number of variations on the theme. We continue to get various second rate prophets regularly predicting ends with varying degree of media hype. Also, some New Agers buy into end times with considerable enthusiasm. The Long Count calendar being a most recent version. But, also I recall 1987’s Harmonic Convergence, one of the more benign versions of end times as great shifts.
Even secular versions proliferate. I vividly recall friends stocking up on goods in anticipating of airplanes falling out of the sky for Y2K. And, even I find my heart strings tugged by the idea/prediction of the Singularity propagated by Ray Kurzweil and others, that moment when artificial intelligence achieves sentience. A moment where I personally would hope our new overlords at least find us amusing…
So, there we are.
I suspect most end of the world schemes are projections of our individual body knowing we all will die, that each and every one of us will indeed come to an end of time, and space, and, well, pretty much everything…
And without a doubt there are ends coming. The Buddha was brutally right when he said everything composed of parts will come apart. And, we are all made up of parts.
Some hope for an escape pod, the most common fantasy is that there is hidden somewhere in us an alien which is really “me,” not really from this place, which will at the appropriate time, escape this mortal coil and go on to a rightful place…
Heaven. Hell. A new life.
It brings to my imagination the movie When Worlds Collide. It was made in 1951 and had a half life on television re-runing a number of times during my childhood. I recall the tingle of hope as the passengers on the escaped rocket ship crash lands and in full technicolor (considering we didn’t have color television, either I saw it in theaters as well, or my lovely and ever imaginative memory has filled in the color…) everyone walks into the landscape of their, our, new home world.
Now, I think we can take this all in a number of ways.
We can just embrace each new end time as true. Make peace with various storm deities or stock up on guns and energy bars. But I have to admit this doesn’t work for me.
Another is to dismiss it all. I have inclinations in that direction. I know I’ve pretty consistently made fun of my friends who bought into the Harmonic Convergence and then again with Y2K and, while I didn’t seem to have too many friends into the Long Count apocalypse, I didn’t pass on the chance to mock it.
But, then I think of the Singularity. And the hard fact we all do die.
And, I find myself forced to look a bit deeper, and even, maybe, a tad more compassionately.
And there is something important within this intuition of an end.
Here we are in fact swimming into deep waters.
Reality is in fact more complex than any of our stories about it.
While death is an inevitability,
each moment seems in fact to live for ever in some very real sense.
There is just now. It is not the past. It is not the future.
The half life from past to present can be sliced to infinity even as the half life from now to the future can be cut infinitely.
Also, I suspect, strongly, the relentless singular direction of time is only part of the truth. Time and matter seem to be part of one thing that taken together doesn’t actually look like matter and time rushing from the past toward the future…
And, more important, these things are not simply ideas we can play with, they point to something our human mind/bodies seem able to know in a sense similar to how we know a broken arm or a kiss.
The secret is found in presence.
When we don’t turn from the end, we in fact also find the beginning.
And in that moment,
In that fraction of a moment,
Just around that corner from not noticing to being present.
In this moment
In this moment
The open heart.
The wise heart.
And in a heart beat.
Like in that old Chinese picture,
we can return to the world, this world, not another,
with bliss bestowing hands…