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Our Position in Space and Time


    Volker Brendel:  The following remarkable words appear at the beginning of the second paragraph of the American Constitution: "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..." The sentence continues in familiar terms, speaking about fundamental rights that were envisioned for everyone in the new land. These rights have been spoken about many times and will not concern us directly this morning, but rather I would like to comment on these first seven words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Obviously, there are two critical words in this phrase: truths and self-evident. What is self-evident? Well, it would have to be something that cannot be reduced further by reasoning and is not up for discussion. It's a fundamental unit on which to build, and rightfully these foundational insights are labeled "truths." The Constitution would not be the same if the emphasis had been on opinions. For example, let's say starting with "After long discussion we have come to the following opinions ..." Self-evident truths have a completely different ring to them, something that is not subject to the vagaries of discussion, discourse, and opinion but is indeed something on which to rightfully build, potentially for eternity.

    It might be a good question to ask what is a reasonable set of self-evident truths? You can ask this question of yourself or conceptually think of going around and asking other people: "What self-evident truths serve as guidelines in your life?" As human beings we are naturally curious, and we like to question, seeking answers to issues in law or in science, philosophy, and all other endeavors of human activity. Ultimately, we would like to get to foundational truths to order our lives. In science, this so-called reductionist approach has been highly successful. We are familiar with the outcome of the approach in physics and maybe its applications in engineering. The simplest example may be the laws of motion from classical physics, as well as applications of force fields like electromagnetism. After much experimentation and lots of clever thinking, sets of equations were derived that have explanatory and predictive power for all future such experiments and in that sense, constitute understanding of this realm of physics. However, we might ask whether there could be some place in the universe that had different laws of physics. How could you possibly reduce the laws of physics to something that undeniably works in every corner of the universe? Clearly, we cannot prove such an assertion, but rather must rely on our own experience in the realm we are familiar with and ultimately on what we would call self-evident truths. Now we pretty much unconsciously rely on this assertion that the laws of physics apply everywhere. Many of you will have traveled in recent times. I had a plane trip not too long ago, and there is no second thought given to our reliance that the Bernoulli equations that tell us that the plane will not fall out of the sky given a certain speed will hold after takeoff. There are no local laws that take over when we cross state boundaries or international airspace! More simply, even whenever we take a car ride, we have confidence that the combustion engine will work, that the steering mechanism will be the same no matter exactly where we are, and that everything works as planned. There may be local ordinances that govern the lawful speed of travel, whether a turn on a red light is allowed or not, or even the side of the road to drive on. But clearly these are different types of considerations. These are local ordinances, having nothing to do directly with the laws of physics. We completely rely on our experience that the laws of physics apply everywhere. It is inconceivable to us that it could be otherwise. However, thinking consciously about this, is it not conceivable that in a galaxy far away things could be different from what we know in ours? Certainly, we can think of such possibility.

    Interestingly, in almost all cultures we make allowance for what might be called miracles. What is a miracle? A miracle would be an extraordinary event like walking on water or raising the dead, something that seemingly defies the laws of nature. We might question that and find different explanations for whatever happened during the miracle, including possibly rare events still governed by the laws of physics. But at least in widespread thinking, on close examination, we do allow for the possibility of miracles, something extraordinary, and thus we actually have even in the scientific realm an example of something we need to take as self-evident truth. There is no further reduction possible to say that under all possible circumstances in all corners of the universe our familiar laws of nature will hold. We take this assertion as a self-evident truth and very successfully build our lives on that foundation.

    Now in my set of accepted self-evident truths would be the assertion that all life is one. That assertion would be even harder to prove in a classical reductionist sense because life is so abundant in diverse forms and expression. There are millions of different species and thousands of different ecosystems just on this planet, never mind the whole universe. And yet, wherever and whatever we study of life, some similar principles are found, and that's why we may have confidence in that statement that all life is one. The more we look, the more we find connections between all the life forms in the local ecosystem, all the lifeforms interacting with us, and all the different ecosystems interacting with each other on the planet. Recognizing that, we see that studying one aspect of life is studying the whole, and contributing in our expression of life here and now is contributing to the whole.

    In recent times, going back maybe the last 50 years or so, the slogan, "Think globally, act locally," has been popular, at least in circles familiar to you, I suspect. Similarly, there would be the attitude of "Think seven generations ahead, act now." These slogans put us into a spot that we could label "here and now," a spot in the continuum of life expressing itself through vast space and time. So, what is our neighborhood like in this space-time continuum? What is here (local) and now?

    I think our usual expression is confined to a relatively small notion of that neighborhood. We know that we can push with our hands, whatever we can touch; we can perceive whatever is within the range of our vision; and we can influence people within the range of our voice by speaking. That is a relatively small neighborhood, particularly when we refer to One Life expressing itself throughout the entire universe. Maybe we have a notion that we can express ourselves in these very fine, small local spots and thereby affect our community; that maybe we can do this for the short lifespan that we have, and that's our role in life. Certainly, there is an aspect of that that is true and closely related to the usual interpretation of thinking globally and acting locally. Obviously, our behavior in our community these days is rather directly related to communities potentially far away. For example, through our consumer choices, as we purchase intelligently and responsibly here, the repercussions may be fair labor practices in places halfway around the globe. Our use, or not, of plastic bags has a direct influence on the health of the oceans now and in years to come. So there is this aspect to thinking globally and acting locally.

    We can also seek to expand our vision of where we are. Again, thinking of studying life, life being one, and therefore learning from all aspects of life as an aspect of the whole, we can observe very well in the springtime a different notion of "local." For example, insects and birds reappear rapidly in this part of the world. Insects have remarkable senses of smell and can travel fairly large distances to find pollen. Birds migrate very large distances to reappear here. Our friends in Colorado each late summer are visited by Bruno the Bear, a brown bear who smells fermenting fruit from miles away and then re-visits their fruit tree orchard. How large is our human neighborhood really? Maybe we are limited in terms of smell and sight, but what about other dimensions of our expression, and what about our stature in time? All these questions are related.

    Recently I had occasion to help a friend, and I think it was fair to assess this help as being quite generous. At some point my friend made a comment along the lines of me paying it forward in some sense and that there would be a debt to pay and thanks to be given for a long time to come. Roughly speaking, that was the expressed sentiment, and it was interesting to observe that my immediate thought was that "Oh no, I'm actually paying backwards!" This was quite heartfelt, because my friend has lived a remarkable life of service, with not only contributions to me but to many other common friends and to her community, and so my small contribution at this particular time of need would very aptly be classified as paying back. But then again, was it actually paying back for something my friend offered to me throughout time? Certainly, part of that could be in the equation, that there is also the paying back for services rendered by this friend to other friends in whose debt I am. Long story short, the more you look at a situation like that from many different angles, the boundaries of who is to be thanked for what and over what time frame, all these boundaries simply disappear, and what is left is the expression of One Life throughout time and space, all working to one creative purpose! It is wonderful to give thanks, and it is wonderful to contribute—no taking away from that. What I am indicating here is that from the perspective of Life, it is all part of this one beautiful creative process, and with ease we can give, and we can take, and we can contribute and see how everything works to the benefit of the whole.

    Now what about this notion that we can do this while we are here and then we are gone and other people have to take over? Well, again there are aspects of truth to that: there is something to be done while we are here in form, and we better take advantage of that privilege. All the same, there are repercussions of what we do that last well beyond our time in this particular physical incarnation on earth. To give you an example from my own experience, recently our friend Rod Shorter passed away. Some of you will have known him. He was a great friend to me when I first came to the United States in San Francisco, and there are many anecdotes that are alive and well in my memory of this beautiful man. But ones that have come to me many times over the years are memories of Rod Shorter giving grace at dinnertime. These dinners were usually in a community in San Francisco, with several people sitting around the table, and there was something so penetrating and real in Rod's expressions during those few moments that those memories have stuck with me forever, more so than larger events. So, are those memories, vibrations I would say, present any less so now that his physical form is no longer with us? The answer is no, no change. This is a fine example for how a small or seemingly small expression of life and truth honoring our Creator may have repercussions that certainly were not intended or anticipated at the time, but such it is with an act of true expression: they last, and they reach very far.

    I know Bill Isaacs mentioned Rosa Parks in his last presentation. We have examples of such more prominent cases, and they are wonderful, and there is much to learn from them. What I am addressing this morning is really a question of our own stature. What is your stature in space and time? My answer is that your stature is huge. Given all the insights we have on how life works, what life is, our expression in each moment and each circumstance is the voice of God, the voice of the Creator. We have our own challenges in being clear in that expression. Given our human nature shells, not everything that comes out would be considered the pristine expression of the Lord. While that may be true, it is what it is right now. Isn't our attitude and our desire nonetheless to express our finest in every moment, in every circumstance? Obviously, it is, and we don't need to speculate about the creative force released through that, but we can trust that it's not in vain. We don't need to predict the target of the force, or the timing of the force, or the reach of the force, and that is probably for the better, at least for our egos. Let our expression remain true to ourselves, without thought of reward, just being who we are, expressing our beautiful selves in the moment here and now.

    Well, is that a fanciful vision, or is that the truth? I say, it is a self-evident truth, accessible to anyone to explore for him or herself, to touch and feel and sense and come to their own conclusion that this self-evident truth that I proclaimed, if you will, is a self-evident truth for them. In the larger context, the Truth is true and Life prevails, as we've heard, but it is our recognition of what is true that determines our experience of Life and ultimately our usefulness to the Creator. So here we are in this present moment, wherever we find ourselves, and I say with a large stature. Let's not deny it, let's express ourselves and celebrate everyone else doing it in their own ways over time in many different spaces, to our benefit, to others' benefit, to the benefit of the whole. It is really a wonderful paradigm to live by.

April 2, 2017

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