Beyond anthropocentrism, and James Gang
Well met, dear friend!
Those of us who live today have the difficult task of using our intelligence to search out new ways of approaching old conflicts and struggles. We have a long list of historically dubious claims to contend with; some beings are of more value than others, only certain beings are able to enjoy life without inordinate discomfort, the natural world is not as alive as humans are, and other such nonsensical ideas. We are also equipped with tools that thousands of generations of our planetary progenitors did not enjoy; the opportunity and capacity to use our brainpower in ways we have yet to comprehend. There is no un-doing all the hurt, pain, and violence of the past. But we are in a powerful position to heal and create an environment where people, animals, plants, and all other forms of life can thrive unhindered by the narrow and short-sighted perspective of hubris and self-aggrandizement.
Were it possible to visit the cosmic library that housed the collective wisdom of existence itself, would we as human beings be motivated to look beyond the scope of what is already known to us? Our limited capacity to orient to life is apparent in a multitude of ways, from our species chauvinism to our extractive relationship with the natural world's resources. We seem to be locked into the prison of our senses and thoughts - which are often self-reflective. We think based in what we perceive, and we search for what our thoughts tell us is real. For example, the "visible spectrum of light," is a shorthand way to say that what we understand of light and the observations we can extrapolate about what light is, how it behaves, and how we interact with it is based entirely on the perception of our organs. Our understanding of light, then, really tells us very little of what light actually is. It may be intellectually obvious to point out, but existence, and our experience of it, is not limited to the physical senses of our bodies.
There are large gaps in what exists, and what we know about what exists. We operate with a blissful sense that we are in control of our lives, that our mental calculus impacts only our own experience, that the weight of human actions and decisions is independent of the cosmic power that creates and sustains existence. We cling fervently and with such deathly intensity to what little we think we know about our place within this dance of unseen forces and mysterious happenings. We kill each other, animals, and desecrate the benevolent host of this living planet under the construct of our own thinking without questioning whether our search for material comfort comes at the cost of our relationship with what truly nurtures and sustains life itself. We take for granted that the same cosmic power that makes galaxies also makes the atoms of our bodies, but also makes up the energy of our thoughts, feelings, and sense of self. We forget that at the substratum of our own being we are openness itself. Under the seeming solidity of our bodies is the space between electrons, protons, neutrons etc. Under the seeming solidity of our thoughts, perceptions, ideas, feelings is the space between molecules rubbing up against each other in an apparent movement of some kind. The backdrop of all this movement is the open field of awareness itself. Even our own perspective is an opening for awareness temporarily moving through the space of what appears to be a unique and self-contained being.
If what is written above is slightly (or completely) confusing, it's likely you are not alone. In fact, appreciating and experiencing the openness and uncertainty of the human experience is disorienting to say the least. It reminds me Nietzsche saying, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” But this dissolution of the hard stance of anthropocentric living is not only humbling, but also allows for the free flow of wisdom, love, and joy to pass through us. All the world's wisdom traditions are deeply devoted to leading us into that place of freedom from self-deception and self-limitation. The process is only part of the journey of living, beyond which we begin to recognize that the entire cosmos is available and continuously reaching out towards us, should we be courageous enough to reach back. If our world understood itself as a collection of beautiful and united expressions of the same cosmic intelligence, we would understand the real feeling behind the beautiful James Gang track, "Collage."