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The Big Picture

In another essay, "Mindfulness as Larger Mind," I explored the mysterious terrain of intuition as a larger mental context from those we normally inhabit.

Diane Ackerman, in her wonderful book, A Natural History of the Senses, describes the launching of a space shuttle and her train of thought that flowed from that. "You know what home is," she wrote, and described all the related feelings and concepts the word conjured for her. Then she wrote about her first flying lesson, and how it affected her perceptions of the earth, of Earth, even. "How can you understand the planet without walking upon it, sampling its marvels one by one, and then floating high above it, to see it all a single eye-gulp?"

Beyond that, even, is the view of the earth from space. To see that "big, beautiful, blue, wet ball" and know that that is home, that that is indeed who we are, is a leap of perspective that is not just visual. "It will change our sense of what a neighborhood is. It will persuade us that we are citizens of Earth, her joyriders and her caretakers, who would do well to work on her problems together."

The idea of community was once a passion of mine. I yearned to be in a place among people who all recognized the interdependence of living things—fauna and flora and everything between and beyond. That sense of relatedness among people gave me my first glimpse—only a glimpse—of a kind of ultimate meaning. 

Transcendence simply cannot be described adequately in words.  The "big picture" is far beyond words, and yet words are all we have to try to communicate the experience to one another. The best we can hope for is to say something like, "You know the feeling you get sometimes that there's more to life, more to experience, than the milieu you live in everyday, with bills to pay and family to love and a job to do?" Because we can't describe the experience precisely, it's as though it doesn't really exist, and is somehow only in our own imagination. We depend upon our religious leaders or our philosophers to come up with words to tell us how to think about these mysteries. Because "thinking" is really a function of words, that may give us a handle, but it does not—not ever—reveal to us the really big picture. I've read a mountain of books by this time, and through them I may understand a little of how ideas fit together (those that do, anyway). I can write all the stuff that is on my Web site, this billboard of my ego, but I'm not giving anyone the experience that I'm talking about. We can be led, if we're lucky, to an overlook of the mind, but once there we have to open our eyes and just see.

Diane Ackerman exemplifies the experience eloquently: "The view from space is offering us the first chance we evolutionary toddlers have had to cross the cosmic street and stand facing our own home, amazed to see it clearly for the first time." That's true, and not only in the visual sense and not only relating to other human beings and our environment.

As Ken Wilber reminds us, if we are lucky and if we are observant and if we are patient, we can "transcend and include" our current world-view, whatever it is. We can then see from a longer perspective that does not deny what we knew before; it only puts it all into a Bigger Picture. We can do this again and again and again, . . . forever.

 

July 3, 2003

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