When is the last time you felt truly awed?
I mean not the garden variety awe of seeing a fast car race down the street or a kitten video – but the spine-tingling, jaw-dropping, eye-popping moment, something you will remember all your life.
Well, let me tell you my experience: a couple of years ago, I went to a mountain hut in winter. It was this beautifully placed hut on a hilltop surrounded by mountains, miles away from any civilization. As we shut off the lights, I saw a beautiful star of strange greenish/red hue. I looked more closely, my eyes adjusting to the darkness in the room, it was more than a star -it was a beautiful diffuse gaseous nebula(cloud of gas and dust in space), much dimmer but stranger, beautiful and larger than any star. As I gazed – I felt goosebumps on experiencing the immensity of space and all the infinite stars and nebulae and still unknown wonders. And even today I remember the moment, almost as vividly as I did that night.
Try it sometime – just below the three stars of Orion’s belt – lies this beautiful Orion’s Nebula and see if you can feel the Universe peering down on you.
This sense of awe that stirs in us is hardly unique, poets have been inspired to songs on beholding snow-covered mountains, sages uplifted to divinity in the lap of pristine forests, or when the moment hit you, could feel it viscerally in your bones that there is something much complex and larger and beautiful than our mundane concerns.
Remember the first time you saw the wide blue sea, or smelt the fragrance from the earth as the rain fell, or experienced your first snowfall? Wasn’t it awesome, the connection, the exultation we felt when we were in these moments?
What is this deep magic that runs its course all around us – something intensely beautiful, immense, delightfully complex surrounds our existence, something that we are mostly oblivious to. We live our lives jumping from one distraction to the next, watching one screen or the other, fretting about work to get things done, or feeling hassled at home to clean, cook, care – hardly breathing for a pause – but there are some moments where this intense Beauty intrudes on our consciousness – forcing us to take notice despite our childish preoccupations.
Where do we stand in relation to this incredible beauty in the natural world? Well let’s do something – stick out your hand and watch it intently – what do you see? The hand of course, now watch a bit more and the fingers, nail, tiny hair become more prominent. Touch your hand and we can feel the skin, press it and we can feel the bones, hold it against the light and we can even see the reddish blood that we know is coursing in our hand
Just beneath the surface of our skin, we find bones made of calcium and phosphorus, muscles and tendons made of nitrogen and carbon, blood with iron at its center carrying oxygen. where did these elements come from and what magic arranged these elements into something so intricately beautiful and useful as our hand?
All elements in our body can trace their origin to the dying giant stars. Over billions of years, stars convert their Hydrogen gas in complex and beautiful cycles to create all elements that we know – Calcium, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Iron, Gold …
Over a millennium – these elements work their way, to make new worlds like Earth and all its varied lifeforms and ultimately – you and me.
In the 1980s, astronomer Carl Sagan hosted a television series called “Cosmos”, in which he described our origins from stars as
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Isn’t that remarkable – that we are made of matter that was once created in the fiery hearts of stars, our lineage can be traced back to giant stars that existed in a bygone age;
When Yashoda Ma chided baby Krishna on eating dirt and of course, as all children, he denied any wrongdoing. She asked him to open his mouth and beheld all kinds of stars, planets, all wonderous and indescribable – must have quite been a sight!
Our bodies– maybe not as incredible as what was in Shri Krishna’s mouth, but it too has a similarly wondrous composition that was once a star, today in this moment, is you!
Have you looked up at a starry sky ever? If you have, it’s a moment where literally the stardust(you) is marveling at its distant relatives. Like a child looking up to the pictures of his grandparents adorned on the walls of the home – we gaze at stars at wonder, the deep feeling that arises in our hearts is altogether familiar and unnerving. The eloquent philosopher Alan Watts said it best:
“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”
― Alan Wilson Watts
Everywhere we turn our eyes – we find these cycles of interconnectedness. Gaze skyward and we see our progenitor stars, look down on Earth which like a Mother with its seas and land is a larger version of our human body. Look inside your body – and it’s a microcosm of the outer world – with all its organs and cells – it resembles a Universe by itself
No wonder the peerless sage – Adi Shankracharya said:
-I am Brahman
Our ancient sages and scientists and philosophers of modern age claim the same self-evident fact –
We are of this Universe, in fact – we are the Universe
When you look up to see the stars, look outdoors at the trees, or look at your family and see other people – you are looking at the unbroken chain of creation, which shares the same building blocks, the same genetic material, the same symmetry and proportions in their shape.
All exist as one – the sense of separation exists only in our minds.
Our heart and our liver may look and function very differently but belong to the same person – a healthy liver creates a healthy heart; they function in a collective symphony.
Similarly, a tree and a human belong to the same continuum of existence, healthy trees and ecosystem create healthy humans.
Once Mulla Nasrudin, was walking down the street at night when he met his astronomer friend
Mulla asked his friend – “What are you up to so late in the night?”
His friend said – “I am looking at the celestial plane, with all its stars and planets …” and before he could complete his sentence, the poor man had stumbled on a rock and fell into a ditch
Mulla Nasrudin burst out laughing, which angered the eminent scientist.
“How dare you laugh at me Mulla, don’t you know who I am, I am the famous scientist …”
Mulla calmly replied “My friend, how can you have knowledge of heavenly things above, when you know not what lies beneath your own feet.”
Like the absent-minded scientist, we go about our lives not knowing what lies in front of us. The people in our lives, the natural world that surrounds us, this incredible force that binds us together.
Most of us do not realize this incredible gift until one by one – these are taken away from us – our friends get separated, our parents pass away, our ability to marvel in nature gets harder till one day our bodies can barely step out of our beds.
Let’s pause for a moment to not think of ourselves as “Us and Them” but instead try and experience this deep interconnectedness between the beautiful bodies we inhabit, for now, the lovely friends and family that are around us, the amazing natural world we can enjoy, the starry skies, the blowing wind, the rain, the birds that chirp, the rivers that flow.
And we might just begin to experience what this Deep Magic is all about and our place in this beautiful tapestry of creation.
Let us be gentle with others, be easy to forgive and quick to laugh, laugh at our silliness, preserve the natural world, let us leave this world with all its people, rivers, birds in a better condition than we found it first – for they are all part of us
Guru Nanak in his deep wisdom said
“Pavan guru paanee pitaa
Mata dharat mahat
Divas raat doe dai daia
Khelai sagal jagat …”
-Wind is the teacher, Water is the father,
and Earth is the great mother.
Day and night are the two nurses,
in whose lap the entire world plays …
Nanak being the great Guru could see the indivisibility of the natural world with our place in it, let’s accept our place in this world and exult in the beauty that is around us, that is also us!
As our beloved Om Swamiji ends most of his prayers with these shlokas.
This contains the wisdom of ages – all we must do now, is to acknowledge who we really are
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam
That (Universe) is Complete, this (You) is also Complete
From Complete manifested Complete (You came from the Universe)
When you take Complete from Complete,
What remains is also Complete