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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Bliss of Impending Doom

OK, I'm hoping that post title grabbed your attention. I promise, however, that it's no ploy. By the end of this post, you really will see how there can be bliss in the knowledge of impending doom, even in the knowledge of ultimate destruction.

What got me thinking about doom was the title of a New York Times article today: Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years."

The article begins:

In the end, there won’t even be fragments.

If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers...
I know that 7.59 billion years is oh, you know, a looooong time from now, and I have always known that the universe is not static and that our sun will eventually die, but the article's specific description of our world being dragged into a fiery inferno really got to me. I imagined my favorite places--the Texas Hill Country where I live, the Rennaissance glories of Florence, the Sonoran desert of Arizona--utterly gone. I imagined the books I dream of writing turned to dust, but even the dust of my words gone. I imagined the bit of earth that will embrace my bones evaporated from the universe. Earth--all of it--will be gone, and all that will be left is a cold, vacant bit of space.

This is a reality that many of us not only don't think about, but we almost can't think about, either because it's too unsettling or too large to truly encompass with the mind. (7 billion years?) But it is reality nonetheless. This inescapable nonexistence is as true as the existence you and I know and live today.

Depressed yet? I hope not. What you should be feeling is lucky. That out of all the time the universe has existed (estimated at 13.7 billion years), out of the entire time Earth has existed (about 4.5 billion years), out of the entire time life has been on Earth (1 billion years later), and out of the time anatomically modern humans have existed (beginning about 200,000 years ago), and out of the amount of time we have left on Earth (about 1 billion years from now, when it starts getting too hot to support life), that you made it into existence to experience human life, human consciousness and the world around you. And I consider it a bonus, really, to have landed in a time of relative human freedom and in a world that has eradicated much of the disease that has caused so much widespread suffering and death in the past.

I've written about this before, but once you consider this timeline and where we fall on it, we can come to no other conclusion that we are blessed to have this opportunity to suffer and laugh and love and bear children and even to have the honor of leaving a human life. Indeed, I would argue that we are obligated to whatever divinity exists within us (and the above scientific facts do not dissuade me of the divine nature of our existence) to give thanks for and enjoy our life and our awareness.

Bear with me here, but do you have any wedding china you don't use? Or an outfit that is "too nice" to wear? Or a room that is off limits except on special occasions? Or a heart that is afraid of getting hurt?

Consider this wisdom from Achaan Chah Subato, a meditation master, who Steve Ross quoted in his book Happy Yoga:

One day, some people came to the master and asked: "How can you be so happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness, and death?" The master held up a glass and said: "Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly."
Your childhood is history. Your heart is already broken. Your home has already been bulldozed. Your life is already over. Your planet is already gone.

Accept these things, and you will finally begin to live. Doom is always just around the corner, but there's nothing you can do to stop it, and everything you can do to find your bliss in the short and finite time you do have.

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4 comments:

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

Funny, I was just thinking last night about what a relief it is when you know the blade is going to drop... rather than laying on the guillotine waiting and wondering if you'll be spared at the last minute. Perhaps this is less existential than what you were thinking of, but I nodded with appreciation while reading the post. Now that my company is finally imploding and I know I need to find a new job (or career), I feel sort of a sense of freedom. Maybe I already used up all the worry cells in my brain during the last several months. :) And of course, I do cherish the friends I made and the things I learned while things were going well.

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Sara--
no, I know exactly what you mean. I was at a job where we all knew layoffs were imminent, but it was only when we finally got our pink slips that we realized we'd be fine. Waiting for the ship to sink is so much worse than already being in a life raft.

I would love to hear more about what, in general, you need to know to find your new career. If there's a topic I can address here at GB, let me know.

And congratulations on finding that freedom. I imagine it feels quite good.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

--Tiffany

Erzsebet said...

I've just finished reading the conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth . Many passages address dealing with how to approach living once you accept suffering and death, not as atrocities, but as organic and unchanging parts of life. Here is a quote that is in alignment with this post: "And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder...".

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sara -
It was exactly one year, two days ago that I lost what I thought was my perfect job due to layoffs. My entire site was closed, and it was painful, despite knowing in advance that it might come to pass. When the shock passed, I realized the layoff gave me the opportunity to make some life changes, including moving to a new place that I love. At this first anniversary, I can say that the disintegration of my life as I knew it provided the fertile ground to shape the life I now have. I wouldn't go back, even if I could. I keep in touch with a few people from that job, but have met many new, amazing people I might have missed meeting if it weren't for the changes the "cataclysmic" layoff engendered.

Good luck,

erzsebet