From cars to conscience, we've lots to care about.
I recently submitted an entry to Awakening Starseeds II, a compendium of awakening experiences. I had written another similar piece in the first Awakening Starseeds book, “Be Embodied.” (You can find it here at EarthlyReligion, under Writings, under Stories.) I was honored to be asked to return. I’ll post it here and add a few comments for this month’s entry.
I Did This
By Byron Bradly Carrier
“I did this,” says Steve, my professor-of-botany friend. The “I” he unabashedly affirms isn’t just him in his current body. It’s all his ancestors, human and pre-human, inherited into his structure. Every human ancestor from his father and mother and theirs, every human and pre-human animal and organism that managed to stay alive long enough to pass on progeny are included in his newly incarnated “I.” He honors and identifies with the “I am” each and all had to be for him to be.
Steve and I affirm the logic of evolution. We are the descendants only of those organisms and creatures that succeeded in their niche. They lived enough to pass on their skill or advantage to their offspring. The accumulation of ability is built into us – from cells and bacteria to plants to animals to humans – each new birth only from successful parents, from cells to people.
I call this “The Structure of Success.” We are built only of the winners, the survivors, those who persisted and prevailed. Failures are not part of our package. Like all animals, we’re assembled of what works well for our niche. We have eyes to see because some ancient cells were chemically informed by the difference between dark and light, which noticed edges and movement. Such seers lived longer and ate better. Their offspring had that slight advantage, which kept improving, providing intelligent sight increasingly for many sorts of creatures from mollusks and bees and eagles to humans.
A dear friend was once offended that I think humans are animals. She’s very spiritual and no doubt values how advanced and able humans are compared to other animals. But like them, we have the same sorts of bones and organs, eyes that see, livers that filter, lives to protect and satisfy. Built into our human form and frame of mind are the earlier kinds of life we come from.
Brain science talks of the primitive reptilian part of the brain. It’s older, deeper, and below the mammalian midbrain, a more social and caring part, which itself is below the creative and compassionate upper brain of our recent evolutionary inheritance. Our animal frame then hosts the super abilities that human culture instills and allows. Some see this as so advanced it is separable and beyond our earthly root, a soul with yet another life coming or an afterlife.
It’s common for humans to feel like they’ll go on past death and maybe meet their dearly departed loved ones again. Religions claim expertise beyond the mysterious veil, assuring adherents of a Saint Peter’s Book or an Akashic Record. Then there’s those powerful experiences and cosmic coincidences that tend us to think these mere animal bodies are not all that’s involved here.
My father liked Cosmic Consciousness – A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1901) by Dr. R. Maurice Bucke. Like this Awakening Starseeds series, it recounts various inexplicable events and sudden awakenings that transform people’s lives. My life has been in part involved with curiosity about such metaphysical possibilities. I worked at a funeral home, studied Jung, went to India, met with the gurus, listened to my congregants and friends, meditated for fifty years, took entheogens, and studied the science of consciousness.
Through it all, I have become increasingly amazed at and enamored with the literal awakening star-seed we each and all are. By this, I mean what Carl Sagan would get – that we’re assembled of the stuff of a preceding sun that went supernova, creating the larger atoms that clumped into molecules that take on functions in cells that adapt and integrate into organs that serve the living creature we are. Our whole planet is an awakening starseed, incarnated sunlight.
The recent understanding of our cosmic origins, the seemingly endless amounts of time involved, the perhaps infinite array of worlds far, far beyond us, the plausible logic of evolution, the dim reckoning of how brief all of human history is compared to what we’ve lived through – this becomes a new religious story far more astonishing and beckoning than our former religions told.
Our place in the larger scheme of things may be insignificant, but it’s precious to us.
Precious and precarious. What if we were able to send out robots to scout the farthest reaches of the universe in search of other life, maybe companions, only to discover we’re utterly alone? What if life existed only on Earth? Would we then more dearly affirm our foothold on the heavens, us with soles seeking souls?
Awakening comes in many forms, shining into our stories this way and that, born of something far beyond us that we’re born of and into.
I’m confident Steve wouldn’t try to assert he did this alone. While individual effort is crucial, we are helped all along by our ecosystem, culture, parents, and stories. The more advanced a life form we are, the more we’re interdependently enmeshed in complexity and community. We are one, alone in our efforts, and we are one with our human, animal, and cosmic community.
Whether there are 4-D and 5-D realms to discover beyond the 3-D life I affirm here – if they exist – is a possibility to explore from a healthy, sustainable 3-D planet Earth. I doubt we’ll access other realms and better creations if we don’t honor and care for this one. We honor the Creator by valuing Creation, coming gladly alive in our place in it, the embodied bones, blood, and brains of our awakened starseed.
We can rightly say “I did this” when we see that “I” is part of a long process of a larger oneness. I didn’t create that original sun that went supernova, but I get to claim my unique way as a recent co-creator in the same ancient and awesome home as our newer sun enlightens. When your eyes shine, that old sunlight comes to life, enlightened again. Will we live up to the structure of success built into us, move with confidence, ability, and care?
That’s for you to answer from your never-before, never-again, precious lifetime, a unique starseed alive on our home planet in these vast heavens. When you say, “I did this,” what will that be, and what will that have been? What a glorious opportunity we each and all have for gratitude, enjoyment, and service in the larger one we are: our story, our context, our culture, our ecosystem, our home.
Well, there we have it, our unique chance to add to the long biological history of sentience and agency, now part of our cultural opportunities. Every incarnation of any sort of life took effort and had rewards. We’re built only of those who persevered and passed on progeny. We’ve inherited bits and better pieces of every organism back to the beginning of life.
I also did this: changed the worn-out steering box on my old, tough, reliable 1966 Ford 250. I had long ago swapped in a four-speed transmission for the former three-speed, which needed a slightly different drive shaft. All that followed on replacing the former engine which cracked in a hard freeze. Did the front brakes recently, too. I call my truck Merkley, like our senator.
You see, being a theologian/minister isn’t all glory and free money. Cosmic starseeds still take effort. For me, just like for my parents and theirs, and back into the unknown but vaguely appreciated ancestors, it takes effort.
It also takes effort to not react when triggered. It takes effort to remember compassion even for an antagonist. It takes effort to get below defensiveness and into heartfulness. I like to think I can usually do this, but I lose it sometimes too. It takes effort to hold back, or come back with an apology, or to give the mutual gift of forgiveness. Better to feel proud of doing it skillfully rather than regret to know “I did this” for failings and guilt.
Late in life, having tried my best in some fifty years of UU ministry, it is time to activate an aspect of that life-long calling. I had once wanted to be a counselor or therapist, and I entered seminary with hopes to develop such helping skills. Having taken my college degree in psychology and philosophy, I have watched the field from the edges. From Jung to Amen to the gurus, I’ve paid attention.
I have often felt disgruntled at how shabby, expensive, bureaucratized, and slow mental health services are. Plus, like in the new school of Positive Psychology, I’m interested not just in getting out of neurosis, but building what is already good towards even better. How healthy and happy can we be?
Consequently, I have begun studying coaching, hopefully gathering state-of-the-art information and skills to further my interest in brain science as a crucial part of our overall health and well-being.
And in that vein, I am impressed with an evolution of a theologian I admired back in seminary – Alfred North Whitehead – whose work John Cobb has furthered as part of an overall Well-Being Economy. Such use of positive psychology and inter-relational theology serves not just in private coaching situations, but on a systemic basis. How to be fair, healthy, and flourishing in our economy and ecology? How good could it get were we to care and cooperate towards that? How to have this more universally, for the “I” you are, for the “we” we are?
Stay tuned. I’m doing this.