I had lunch with a woman whom I hired to edit my writing and to let me know if it made any sense. Among her other criteria was the notion of consistency, and she pointed out that I had seemingly haphazardly referred to life sometimes in Upper Case (Capitalized) as Life, and more often as it is normally spelled, as “life.”
My first response was to think about how I might fix this problem with a global search and replace, thereby rendering my work consistent.
But when I reflected on my intention in capitalizing Life in some circumstances, and then when I began to try to explain it her, I decided that this apparent distinction was at the very heart of what I want to convey.
Along these lines, Eckhart Tolle describes his “awakening”; in the throes of deep depression and anxiety and considering suicide, he had the thought “I can’t stand my life.”
He parsed the words and considered the notion of who the “I” might be that couldn’t stand his “life”, and realized that there wasn’t just one of him—the self, but rather another faculty that was making judgments among a host of conditioned “selves”. His subsequent work is really about the realization that the separate “life” he was judging and hating was an identification with this judgmental intellectual part, but that that wasn’t “Life”. It is a misconception that leads to suffering.
Another way Eckhart Tolle puts it is that he realized he didn’t “have a life,” he was and is Life, which he goes on to explain as the embodiment and manifestation (as are we all) of much higher energies and intelligence than the narrow range of thoughts that we identify with as our analytical minds as “me.”
His example, and the fact that the instruction set for Life (DNA) requires a supercomputer to decode but is based on an astonishingly versatile set of mental constructs (software), is that various vastly intelligent programs run your digestion, breathing, circulation and so on – “you” (your mind which you take as your life) doesn’t run them.
In fact the deeper you look inside, with meditation or simple self observation, you discover how automated and conditioned even your mental processes are, a fact that modern neuroscience is deciphering almost daily. The “self” or “your life” that you take yourself to “have” is a complex amalgam of stories, memories, experiences, warnings and instincts to which you and society have agreed to affix an identity – in my case “Tom Bunzel.”
But this life, in lower case, only exists in the minds of humans who agree, for example, that I’m a writer in West L.A. and for the moment Barack Obama is President of the United States.
Those mental agreements have only existed as long as humans have been conscious and communicated with language.
But Life has existed at least as long as the universe, which our amazing minds have discovered is about 4.7 billion years old.
My cat is Life. She isn’t “Eva” (her “name”), or “my cat” but rather an expression of a confluence of energies and intelligence that we know exists (we know that we “are”) but that any set of words and concepts cannot fully describe or do justice in its “being.” (what it really Is).
When she jumps on my bed and I feel her fur between my fingers the experience is Life happening through me and her—my subsequent reflection (“This is nice”) overrides the experience, if I let it.
My computer, as amazing as it is, isn’t Life—but it is an important part of my life. Like my thinking mind, it’s one hell of a tool.
Some people who need answers in words will immediately ask if my concept of Life with a capital “L” is God. Similarly people inquired of Eckhart Tolle whether his reference to Being as primary before the Ego or the Self is God.
To me, Life, Being, and God are concepts that convey meaning and as such they have power—but none of them exist outside of a human mind the same way that my cat does. And none of them can truly capture the essence of Life…
This was very likely the message conveyed by the living being called Jesus whose birth we celebrated this past weekend. From a deep reading of his story and parables one can gather he too counseled that the “Kingdom of Heaven” could be found within, beyond words or concepts.
Nonetheless the apparent story of his life became the basis for powerful political forces to gain control of nations and ideas. It led to a meaning for God that many people still argue and fight over.
To go back to the dichotomy of life and Life, let’s return to this week, which concludes with a “New Year.”
This again is a concept agreed upon in peoples’ minds—the Sun, Moon and Solar System know nothing of our concept of a new year. It is certainly based on mathematical and astronomical relationships which have been known for centuries, but as many of us reflect upon its meaning, with think about our “lives.”
We construct intentions and resolutions to make our “lives” better, comparing them—and our “selves”– to others and measuring our worth or progress according to the beliefs and conditioning which have shaped our entire “lives.”
But what, if instead, we could devote just some of our attention to Life—with a capital L?
Begin with the miracle that we exist at all. This is something we take for granted but it need not be, and indeed, if we are honest, it will not last forever. The earth will probably exist for another million years, but none of “us” will.
As Eckhart Tolle also points out , “Life” will go on. Your life and mine will almost certainly end in this century.
For many this notion is stark and depressing, but that assessment is again a function of our conditioning and concepts. Ultimately we know it is true—perhaps with a capital T.
It is my feeling, to the extent that I can bring a space between my thoughts and my “Self”, that freeing ourselves from our identification with our small lives, and beginning to recognize the reality of Life as far greater and grander than what we can know intellectually, is the awakening many are now experiencing.
(It can lead to considerable discomfort).
But a big part of this is the sudden recognition, jarring though it can be, that we control very little and are not in the center of Life itself, but a small part of it—just as Copernicus and Galileo put us on a single orbit within the Solar System, and the Hubble telescope has shown us that we truly exist on the outer periphery of just one ordinary galaxy, among billions.
Our amazing minds—through sciences like astronomy, quantum physics and now neuroscience need to comprehend and experience this same gap, and they are approaching it, as their discoveries in these fields point clearly to the limitation of our true knowledge of reality. We know for example on the quantum level that until a mind/consciousness actually does perceive or become conscious of a subatomic particle (through our instruments), its actual location is not known with certainty but only by its potential (an idea).
This puts Life (as conscious awareness) at the center of our being—not our minds.
On an experiential level we also can sense this with our newly evolved global nervous system, the Internet, and our interaction with software—which is an active, intelligent energy expressing itself through electricity—primitive when compared to Life but amazingly effective and powerful in our lives.
Software, as a manifestation of our own intention and thought, is the closest thing we’ve created to a living consciousness or being. If you reflect on this, and compare it to the fact that your own cells, with their DNA, work the same way, as do the neurons in your brain, it can open you up to a different level of understanding and perception.
But the most obvious way to connect with Life with a capital L is to get out of our cities and look at the night sky as it really is—the recognition that this is real must be absorbed in the gut, not just the mind. Indeed, mentally, we cannot take it in—only in our bodies do we sense that we are truly here amid this infinite swirl of energy and intelligence and that like Life, we are not things, but sentient beings expressing a profoundly sacred set of natural laws.
The very notion of infinity is a function of our minds’ limitation—we know there will always be a larger number, and there must also be a further galaxy—but how… It cannot be known by our thinking mind.
It can only be felt. That is why I use the word “sacred”—because our mental distinction between science and religion is also a misconception. There is only one thing happening—and it encompasses everything—including our narrow concepts of science and religion, and even “God.”
So my resolution is to celebrate being here rather than reflecting on “how it’s going.”
Happy New Year – another “day” of Life.