That Time I Made it to the Center of the Universe & Learned the Meaning of Life

One evening, not but a few months ago, I was transported to the center of the universe. How I got there I’m unsure. It didn’t matter at the time. All that mattered was that I had made it, and now I stood (or floated?) before the very consciousness that embodies the entire universe. In the starry darkness, I knew that this entity existed and flowed out of the even darker circular void directly in front of me, like a black hole in reverse.

This consciousness didn’t speak, but it communicated with me. I could hear its ‘thoughts’ in my own mind. It invited me to ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask. I paused for the slightest second, a pattern of hesitancy that had grown with me my entire life. Hesitancy, self-doubt, shame, humility. An entire lifetime’s worth of weight. But the next second I became weightless, and I asked my question without speaking. “What is the purpose of all of this? What does it mean?” It wasn’t particularly eloquent, but it was the question I most burned to understand.

I could sense a palpable compassion beaming from that dark center of the universe. It wrapped me in invisible arms and responded calmly but forcefully, “Love. That is all. Love is all that matters in life.”

If this were a scene in a movie, I would have scoffed at the cliché of it all. But in that moment, it wasn’t about the words that were conveyed. It was the feeling that suddenly overtook me. The consciousness entity began to pulse, radiating a soft, all-encompassing warmth that could only be described as Pure Love.

It washed over me, through me, into my cells, calmed my brain, and opened my own heart to the ultimate answer of the universe. I hung there in suspension, absorbing these waves and realizing that the one thought running through my mind was, “Yes. This is it. How could I have not known?” I felt no desire to be anything, to do anything, to accomplish anything. I already had. I was there, radiating with the only true energy that exists.

It was so powerful I would have cried, except there was no need for tears in such a loving state. It wasn’t ecstatic; it was serene, gentle, and timeless. It was as if I had returned to the ultimate womb, rolling in warm waves of love and gratitude with no expectations or projections or worries. This was the most powerful feeling I had ever felt within my body, and it came not only from that conscious entity but also from within myself.

As quickly as the love manifested, it washed away and I had fallen back into a series of nonsensical dreams, eventually to wake and recall just the slightest hint of that ultimate feeling of love. Technically it was all a dream, of course. I don’t believe that I actually travelled to the center of the physical universe. But this was one of those dreams that stays with my body for some time, like the remnants of light that slowly dim after switching off an incandescent bulb.

And while dreams are an expression of the mind, they certainly give us opportunities to connect subconsciously with deeper physical, mental, and emotional frequencies then we may be consciously aware of. I remember one time when I was caught up in a particularly tragic dream in which I was sobbing profusely, and I awoke still sobbing with a pillow soaked through from my tears. The emotion was real then, just as real as the ultimate love.

What I mean to say is that while I didn’t physically travel anywhere at the speed of light that night, I have no doubt that I traveled deep within myself and somehow penetrated a thickly guarded barrier behind which rests an everlasting fountain of love. I can’t help but think that we all have that fountain, that core, that energy, deep within us, buried under years of trauma, exhaustion, abuse, betrayal, and general adulting.

What I felt was real, unadulterated love. It was breathtaking. It made every cell in my body buzz with a knowing that calmed all questions, all doubts, all yearning. That feeling only lasting a few dream moments, but my own mind, my own body created that feeling – it throbbed in my stomach and radiated through me as if burning away all pain and suffering – so I have to think that feeling is possible to achieve in ‘waking life’ as well.

And I suppose that’s the whole point of this thing. To find whatever means allows you to dig through all the material distraction down to that little pulsing core of love. It has no doubt that it exists, so why should we doubt it? Even now, as I struggle to remember just how joyful and fulfilling that love energy of my dreams felt, I know it’s still in there somewhere, calmy waiting for me to rediscover it. It’s not the center to the universe that will answer our ‘whys’, but a journey to the center of ourselves. The universe may begin and end and begin again, but the energy that drives it exists always. And that energy pulses through each of us.

I don’t have the answers (not that we need any) to how to find that love, that completeness, again. I don’t know if I’m on the “right” path, or if I’ll ever find my way back to the center of the maze again. But I did find it, once. I have to think that’s something. Even as I doubt myself constantly, some part of my being is saying, “Look! You have it! It’s right here.” And maybe I’ll trust that voice again one day.

Have you ever found that center of the maze? Perhaps you are lucky enough to be sitting there calmly even now! I’d love to know how others experience ‘purpose’, ‘meaning’, and ‘love.’ We are all winding through this journey both together and alone. For that I am grateful.

Thoughts in the Wind

A fierce wind rattles the window, forcing itself through invisible gaps into the room where I lay. I pull a blanket up further over my chest and listen to the gusts howl, and feel the errant drafts cross my cheek. Wind carries life and death with it, and life waiting to live. Minuscule seeds; insects; bacteria; viruses; all held aloft for miles and miles on their airborne journey in hopes of fertile ground.

I, on the other hand, am water. My veins transport fluids that also harbor life and death; life giving nutrients, dead cells to be disposed of. I feel heavy and uncoordinated. I yearn to flow and ooze into a mold that will unburden me, that will give me a shape so I can stop wondering what it is I am. But the liquid also cools my mind, and though my vision through it is hazy, it magnifies certain images so that I may examine them in all of their horrifying beautiful detail.

When the sun burns with its fire of life, its heat courses through my watery veins and reminds me that liquid has no shape; it is a shape-shifter. We have the magic to define who and what we want to be – if we can see beyond the illusory bounds that try to contain us. We are water people reliant on air, and fire, and earth too. Through our breath we bring in the knowledge of the universe, and through our feet we touch the wisdom of our own soul.

Fear is always easiest. It lives and breeds like damp moss on the underside of anger’s sharp rock. But a river flows freely across boulders and down deep ravines toward the sea without fear or anger. It flows with courage of self-knowledge. When it is no longer a river its energy still spreads and carries life and death, just as does the wind, and the soil.

It’s time to burn the lifeless shells within which we’ve hidden for lifetimes. The heat of creation is waiting for us to forge ourselves into vessels of peace and actualization. Will I let my ego evaporate with the beads of sweat on my brow? The fire may burn and scar, but we will be lighter for it, ready to scatter new seeds across the plains that will nourish those who come after us, if we are willing to tend to them. What will sprout from those seeds of intention?

Do you even empathize? How empathy training and communication can save us from ourselves

One word keeps surfacing in my mind over the past several weeks as headlines reveal the latest stream of human rights and environmental atrocities undertaken by our own government. Empathy.

As I learn of children being separated from parents in the name of border control, presidential decrees opening all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, and the dismantling of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, I can’t help but wonder—what place does empathy have in our current society?

This word, coincidentally, popped up on a number of articles and videos I’ve seen recently. Obviously, I’m not the only person distraught both by these troubling media headlines and by people’s callous responses to them. Whatever the ultimate consequences of our current political leaders’ actions, they’ve certainly shone a spotlight on just how wide the spectrum of values is in our country, values that run much deeper than political views alone.

Fear Leads to the Dark Side

In a 2017 HuffPost piece titled I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People, author Kayla Chadwick expressed this growing angst over a seemingly unbreachable moral divide among U.S. citizens:

“I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.”

Chadwick implies that today’s conservative values reflect a lack of empathy for those in need (especially those outside your immediate family/ingroup), instead emphasizing one’s own financial wellbeing over others. While I agree it’s pretty obvious that the current Republican administration is driven by self-aggrandizement above all else, I don’t think it’s fair to attribute our country’s steady loss of empathy and compassion to one particular political party. To me, lack of empathy seems to correlate with a much more deeply rooted tendency that knows no political boundaries—greed.

Greed is closely allied with fear; i.e., the fear of losing possessions, losing power, and losing one’s sense of identity. “Our society is paralyzed by fear, making our compassion paralyzed,” says Dr. Joan Halifax, a medical anthropologist and Zen practitioner. Halifax argues that compassion is an inherent human quality, but stimulating this compassion often relies on activating specific conditions.michael-fenton-512963-unsplash.jpgIn other words, you can’t force someone to feel empathy. But what you may be able to do is provide the right enabling conditions that allow feelings of empathy and emotion to emerge. This concept of ‘compassion cultivation’ isn’t just the fancy of new-age healers and Buddhist monks. Plenty of scientific and medical studies have shown that feelings such as compassion, altruism, and empathy can be enhanced via specialized training—and that the results are beneficial to the individual as well as society at large.

Stanford University’s medical center, for example, has a Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education that hosts workshops and other specialized trainings that teach participants ‘how to train your mind to intentionally choose compassionate thoughts and actions and develop skills that help you relate to others—and yourself.’ Their courses, designed by clinical psychologists and researchers from Stanford, include lectures, discussions, meditations, breathing practices and more to help people reduce their anxiety and build their emotional resilience in professional and personal environments.

This type of self-introspection training stretches far back to ancient eastern philosophical traditions, including Vedic and Buddhist teachings, centered on compassion via mindfulness and equanimity – meaning that you can cultivate feelings of compassion by listening to your inner voice, strengthening intuition, remaining calm in the face of adversity, and being present in each moment.

Empathetic Science?

In this era of runaway capitalism and blatant disregard for scientific consensus, what does it mean to be a scientist and a concerned citizen? Historically, being a credible scientist meant remaining objective and apolitical. But can scientists afford to stay disconnected from today’s critical ethical and moral crises? Or can they maintain credibility and perhaps even build more trust in science by engaging more fully in ethical and moral debates?

According to climate scientist Sarah Moffit in a recent interview with Grist Magazine, being a scientist and an advocate do not have to be mutually exclusive. “I think you can be both rigorous and objective and be human at the same time,” she says. “And I have come to a place where I’m no longer willing to divorce my humanity from the science that I have participated in and am stewarding.”

As a science communicator, I’ve come to see my role as a science empathizer and a human empathizer. In other words, I am committed to accurately communicating about scientific research, and equally committed to understanding human values and concerns—ideally breaking down barriers of understanding.

My goal is also to make us stop and think about the way our worldviews and cultures shape our assumptions about reality as much as (or more than) factual knowledge does, and how these assumptions often lead to misconceptions, fear, and prejudice. Many research studies have proven that our perception of ‘factual truth’ is shaped by our partisan beliefs and bias.

Even our ability to discern whether a statement is fact or opinion is based on whether we agree with the statement. The more we can reflect on our individual subjective experiences and how they affect our connection the world, the better we will be able to empathize with the views and experiences of others. We don’t have to share the exact same values to respect and empathize with others—we only need the capacity to be self-reflective and to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Science, philosophy, and intuition tell us that cultivating empathy and compassion is beneficial to our own health and wellbeing (including immunity, psychological health, and spiritual growth), that of our friends and family, and that of society as a whole. What greater reason could there be to emphasize these qualities in a time when they are needed perhaps more than ever?