In his book This Is It: and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience (1958) Alan Watts discusses the experience of “cosmic consciousness” reported “from all historical times and cultures, of the same unmistakable sensation emerging, as a rule, quite suddenly and unexpectedly and from no clearly understood cause.
To the individual thus enlightened it appears as a vivid and overwhelming certainty that the universe, precisely as it is at this moment, is so completely right as to need no explanation or justification beyond what it simply is. … the mind is so wonder-struck at the self-evident and self-sufficient fitness of things as they are … that they cannot find any word strong enough to express the perfection and beauty of the experience” (p. 11)
I have had that experience of cosmic consciousness on more than one occasion, and indeed, I believe I can intellectualized it so that anyone can have that experience by just adopting the right perspective.
In our normal everyday experience of the world, everything seems pedantic, perfectly normal, nothing going on here. I am now sitting in my armchair at home, on a perfectly normal morning before going off to work to my normal daily job, and besides the writing of this blog, I can report that “nothing happened” this morning, it was just another day.
And yet, there is another totally different perspective that you can adopt any time you choose to. Just ask yourself some basic foundational questions, and you will run right into the wonder of Cosmic Consciousness. What exactly is this “normal” day that is happening here? Well, I am a man, that is, a semi-intelligent ape-man, evolved over millions of years from apes that lived in the trees, who in turn evolved from early mammals who evolved from reptiles who evolved from fish who evolved from slugs and slime and amoebas that emerged spontaneously from the primal goo. Primal goo? Where did that even come from? Well we live on a planet, a giant ball of red hot magma with a huge iron core floating in empty space, with a very thin crust or veneer of solid rock that is wrinkled and rumpled by the convection currents in the viscous semi-liquid magma. Life is sustained by a GIANT ball of fire, I mean really GIANT, humongous, incredibly vast and huge beyond our capacity to imagine it in all its glory. And that ball of fire is fueled by nuclear reactions going on in its core, that have been going on for about four and a half BILLION years! BILLION, I tell you! I’m sure you know how many zeros it has, but I’ll bet you have NO IDEA how long a billion years really is! And that star formed from the collapse of clouds of gas expelled from other stars, which in turn were formed from the hydrogen gas that resulted from the original Big Bang. Big Bang? Is that for real? The entire universe appeared spontaneously out of nothing in the middle of nowhere, and now here it is? Are we supposed to believe that? Is that really credible at any level?
And perhaps the most incredible of all the mysteries of the universe is the fact that a semi-intelligent ape-man whose brain is made of living tissue, can have a conscious experience of himself and of a local piece of the universe as if his mind can extend out of his skull and make direct contact with the world around him. Of all possible things that could possibly have happened, I find myself in a universe that exploded into existence spontaneously out of nowhere. What are the odds of that? And of all the stars and planets in all the galaxies of the universe, I happen to exist on the planet where life emerged spontaneously out of nowhere, picked itself up right out of the primal goo and started evolving. And of all the living creatures that have lived or will live on this planet, I happen to be a human, the master species and ruler of this planet, and living in a time of peace and prosperity as has never been known before. And I was born in the most extraordinary era that has ever happened in the history of the earth, with technology exploding into extraordinary new possibilities, the internet that I saw emerge in my lifetime, uniting the information from all the libraries of the world to a giant super-super-library that we can access immediately from a little device that fits in my pocket!
Not only that, but I also have a job that I go to every day, that pays the bills and lets me enjoy the privilege of sitting in my chair on an ordinary morning of an ordinary day before work, and enjoy a quiet little moment of Cosmic Consciousness right here in my armchair!The ignorant man marvels at the exceptional; the wise man marvels at the common.
– Jonathan EdwardsThe most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
– Albert EinsteinTwo men look out through the same bars: One sees the mud, and one the stars.
– Frederick Langbridge