Standing on the deck long after the sun had set, I stared up at the night sky.
To imagine the radiance of our sun, and then to imagine that some of the countless specks of light embedded in the vast darkness above are burning with a brilliance thousands of times greater than our our own sun, is to begin to comprehend how irrelevant we, our planet, and our solar system are. To a being on the other side of the universe we are aliens; imaginary, invisible, and completely unnecessary.
Every war mankind has fought, every argument ever won, every civilization that’s arisen and crumbled back into the sands of time, every species that’s evolved and suffered extinction, none are more than footnotes on pages of the greatest books in the greatest libraries in human history. How much more is there to know, how many things are more important than what we’ve ever encountered, how staggeringly large and deep is the history of the universe; and yet, how small am I to have such thoughts?
I imagine a being standing on a planet that orbits one of those specks, looking back across the same vast space and wondering whether I exist. That being lives a life, is part of its own history, understands its own science, and cherishes its own perspective. Then I imagine a thousand more beings revolving around their own suns, ignorant of one another, each possessing the same depth of existence – yet wondering if anyone else is even out there. It’s like we’re in our own fish tanks, staring at reflections of ourselves, unable to envision what exists beyond our own glass box but convinced that there’s more out there. And each tank has its own unique story, understanding, philosophy, science — its own existence.
Gazing at the night sky not only begs the human mind to consider the vastness of the known and unknown universe, it also reminds us that we are unimportant to the grand scheme of things. Both ideas are vital, for no self-important person (perhaps no person at all) ever advanced our species spiritually or mentally. Self-important people advance themselves, their friends, maybe their civilizations or ideas, maybe even the world, but only physically. And what good are a thousand new toys if we never learned how to play nicely?
But the expansion of the mind, the understanding that a human’s tiny perspective can absorb new ideas and understandings — and can understand that there are things it does not understand — this must somehow be the pursuit of every good human being. Whether a person seeks to expand their understanding of another person, of a scientific principle, of a spiritual paradox, or seeks to expand the actual way that they view the world, there can be no growth without stretching the mind out to include as many understandings and entities as possible. This is a lifelong pursuit, as no person is large enough to absorb all things, but the pursuit can be fueled and strengthened by regularly gazing up at the night sky.
In the end, how vast and spacious the universe is! How incomprehensibly small are we! And yet each of us insists that we possess some patch of dirt, some grain of truth, something greater than our neighbors; we insist that this enormous universe owes something, anything, to us. And when we experience, however briefly, the reality that each of us is so very minute, what other possible reaction can a person have but to open themselves up to embrace as much as they can? Beneath the canopy of what little we can see of our galaxy, we are all charged with embracing our smallness as we strive to comprehend as much as we can, starting with the other small mind standing next to you.