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The Living Universe

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By the bestselling author of Voluntary Simplicity (over 150,000 sold)

• Brings together cutting-edge science and ancient spiritual wisdom to demonstrate that the universe is a living, sentient system and that we are an integral part of it

• Explores the power of this new paradigm to move humanity toward a sustainable and promising future

Science has traditionally regarded the universe as mostly made up mostly of inert matter and empty space. At one time this point of view was liberating, part of the Enlightenment-born rationalism that helped humanity free itself from superstition and fear and achieve extraordinary intellectual and technological breakthroughs.

But this paradigm has outlived its usefulness. It has led to rampant materialism and environmental degradation—if the universe is essentially dead and we are alive, then the inanimate stuff of the universe should be ours to exploit. But we now know that not only is the view of a dead universe destructive, it is also inaccurate and misleading.

In The Living Universe, Duane Elgin brings together evidence from cosmology, biology, physics, and even his participation in NASA-sponsored psychic experiments to show that the universe is permeated by a living field and that we are always in communion with that field of aliveness whether we are conscious of it or not. This is a world-view that, as Elgin explains, is shared by virtually every spiritual tradition, and the implications of it are vast and deep. In a living system, each part is integral to the whole, so each of us is intimately connected to the entire universe. Elgin eloquently demonstrates how our identity manifests itself on a whole series of levels, from subatomic to galactic. We are, he writes, “far more than biological beings—we are beings of cosmic connection and participation.”

To confront our ongoing planetary crisis of dwindling resources and escalating conflict, we need to move past an ideology of separation, competition, and exploitation. Duane Elgin asks us to see humanity sharing in the same field of aliveness, to discover how to live sustainably and harmoniously within the living universe.

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10 Chapters

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ePub

 

Chapter 1: The First Miracle

ePub

Nature is incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on,
There are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine beings
More beautiful than words can tell.

—WALT WHITMAN1

American Indian lore speaks of three miracles. The first miracle is that anything exists at all. The second miracle is that living things exist. The third miracle is that living things exist that know they exist. As human beings conscious of ourselves, we represent the third miracle.2

In celebrating ourselves, it is important that we not overlook the first miracle: the natural world which is our home. When we overlook the first miracle and do not feel at home within the larger universe it is impossible for us to feel at home within ourselves or with one another. The journey home, reconnecting with the first miracle of the universe around and within us, is a theme woven through this book.

In our long evolutionary ascent toward the third miracle of knowing ourselves, we have been pulling back from our connection with nature and the first miracle. I believe this has been a natural and purposeful process. The human family is on a collective journey to awaken and, in the initial phase, our evolutionary task was to separate ourselves from nature and to develop our sense of individuality and empowerment. We have now succeeded so well and become so empowered that we are disrupting the climate, depleting precious resources, spreading weapons of mass destruction, and overpopulating the Earth. We are hitting an evolutionary wall and being pushed by necessity—and pulled by opportunity—to make a great turn in our evolutionary journey. How do we find our way back to the living universe? How can we visualize ourselves at home in the universe?

 

Chapter 2: The Science of a Living Universe

ePub

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science
becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws
of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of men. . .

—ALBERT EINSTEIN1

This chapter applies the tools of science to explore the possibility that our universe, taken in its totality, is a living system. I am not seeking to prove that the universe is a living system; instead I will show that, by drawing insights from different areas of science, the available evidence points strongly in this direction and offers a compelling invitation for deeper engagement and inquiry.

In thinking about how the universe could be alive, we naturally turn to the living things already known. It is understandable that many of our theories on the nature of life are based on animals and plants; however, to confine our understanding of life to these familiar forms is to confuse the material expression of aliveness with the energy of aliveness itself. The form is not the aliveness, but its container. We need to broaden our inquiry into the meaning of life.

 

Chapter 3: Spirituality as Intimacy with a Living Universe

ePub

At bottom, the whole concern of religion is
with the manner of our acceptance of the universe
.

—WILLIAM JAMES

Who we are depends directly upon where we are. Are we an inseparable part of a greater aliveness? Or are we a small speck of life that is surrounded by a vast sea of deadness? How do the world’s wisdom traditions view the universe and our relationship to it? Do they see this world as a place of deadness to leave behind and move beyond? Or, do the wisdom traditions see the universe as a miracle of stunning aliveness? When people around the world and across the centuries offer their in-depth accounts of the nature of existence, what descriptions of the universe emerge? When sages and saints across cultures and history have come to a place of profound centeredness and quiet, what has become self-evident to them regarding the nature of the universe and our place within it?

For more than three decades, I have been exploring how the world’s wisdom traditions view the universe. At the outset, I did not know what I would discover. Although views of the world’s spiritual traditions are fairly well known when it comes to themes such as love and compassion, it was not clear to me how they regarded the universe. Might wisdom traditions regard the universe as something “out there” and largely separate from the spiritual quest “in here?” Or, is our relationship with the universe seen as integral to our spiritual awakening and development?

 

Chapter 4: The Mother Universe

ePub

We bear the universe in our being as the universe bears us in its being.
The two have a total presence to each other and to that deeper mystery
out of which both the universe and ourselves have emerged
.

—THOMAS BERRY1

Reflecting on the birth of our universe from nothing nearly 14 billion years ago leads us immediately into the depths. When we further contemplate that creation did not end with the Big Bang, but is a continuing process that even now sustains the entire universe, we are led into the realm of wonder and awe. How amazing: An invisible life force is creating our universe and then holding it within its spacious embrace for billions of years, while growing ever more conscious forms of life that are eventually able to look back and appreciate their origins. This is an ongoing miracle of such staggering proportions that there is a natural tendency to pull back from a full encounter with it. Let’s not pull back, but dive into the depths and explore the deeper foundations of our existence.

 

Chapter 5: The Soul’s Body and Our Cosmic Identity

ePub

Once the journey to God is finished,
the infinite journey in God begins
.

—ANNAMARIE SCHIMMEL

A striking new image of humans is emerging: We are far more than biological beings—we are giants living in a universe that is almost entirely invisible to our physical senses, that is emerging as a fresh totality in every moment, and that is sustained by the flow-through of stupendous amounts of energy. Because the totality of our universe is being continuously created anew, we ourselves are being regenerated along with everything else. Cosmologist Brian Swimme explains that the intimate sense of self-awareness we experience bubbling up at each moment “is rooted in the originating activity of the universe. We are all of us arising together at the center of the cosmos.”1 We thought that we were no bigger than our physical bodies; now we find we are beings of cosmic connection and dimension who are part of the continuous re-creation of the entire cosmos.

To explore the nature of our soulful identity, let’s consider insights from psychic research. As I described in Chapter 2, in the early 1970s I was involved in futures research at the think tank SRI International, reporting on changing trends and how they might impact government agencies and corporations. At the same time, in another part of this sprawling think tank, the engineering laboratory was conducting psychic research for NASA. Although I do not consider myself as possessing any special abilities, experiments at SRI gave me unique opportunities to learn about the intuitive capacities we all possess by being a part of this extraordinary universe.

 

Chapter 6: Where Is the Universe Going?

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The universe is a single living being embracing all living beings within it.

—PLOTINUS

Is there a discernible direction to the unfolding of the universe? If so, where is the universe going? How do we fit into its unfolding? Is our evolution as a species in alignment with the developing universe? To explore these core questions, let’s first consider the nature and expression of life in the universe.

At the foundation of existence is a pervasive life force—unstoppable, unquenchable, untiring, and forever manifesting itself. Not only does this life force burst irrepressibly into the everyday world and then tenaciously cling to existence (think of grass growing through cracks of a busy sidewalk) it is also found nearly everywhere we look. Living forms have been found beneath the polar ice caps, in high deserts with no water, beside erupting volcano vents thousands of feet under the ocean, and in pools of water as caustic as battery acid. Communities of microbes have also been found more than two miles underground in pockets of water that have been isolated from sunlight for at least two million years, living only on the chemicals in the rocks and the water that was likely carried there by meteorites. Life presses at the edges of material existence at every moment and in every place, seeking opportunities to emerge and find expression. No matter how remote or harsh the circumstances, the life force will seek to express itself and to organize itself into some kind of sentient entity.1

 

Chapter 7: Humanity Is Halfway Home

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. . . we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

—FATHER GIOVANNI, 1513

Where are we on our journey of collective awakening? As beings with an evolving reflective consciousness, how fully have we realized who we are? To answer that question let’s move from the scale of an individual to that of an entire society.

Our journey of awakening into our living universe is not exclusively the journey of the individual; inescapably, it occurs within the context of society. With rare exceptions, our personal awakening does not happen in isolation, but is strongly influenced by the larger culture in which we live. Culture and consciousness co-evolve. It is difficult to step outside the perceptual paradigm of a culture and beyond the prevailing norms. Soul and society tend to grow together.

To explore our collective journey of awakening we can use the simple but powerful lens of one of the world’s fundamental archetypes—the hero’s journey.

Because we are all living and growing in the same universe, it is understandable that we would awaken and develop in a roughly similar manner. We are all climbing a common mountain of consciousness, seeking higher ground. Although there are many paths to the summit, familiar routes and approaches emerge.

 

Chapter 8: Six Vital Tasks for the Journey Home

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Take courage. The human race is divine.

—PYTHAGORAS

The human family faces a demanding journey. Because we are experiencing a systems crisis, everything is happening at once. How do we sort out what is most important for making our way into a promising future? Having pondered this question for more than thirty years, I suggest that the following six tasks are vital for making this unprecedented evolutionary turn to begin our homeward journey.

1. Co-creating our story of awakening

2. Cultivating reflection and reconciliation

3. Living simply and sustainably

4. Creating new kinds of community

5. Becoming media-conscious citizens of the Earth

6. Bringing our true gifts into the world

If we are separated from the universe, we are literally lost. When we don’t know where we are, we cannot understand who we are or the nature of the evolutionary journey ahead. This journey is not a return to the past. We cannot go back to some nostalgic golden age of a previous era; instead, home lies ahead in a new relationship with ourselves and the universe. Chapter 6 described a great transition for the Earth that is already underway. On the other side of our growing systems crisis, the world will be a decidedly different place depending on our actions now. We will have either an Earth ruined through conflict or an Earth restored through cooperation.

 

Chapter 9: Living in a Living Universe

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Reading about the living universe and what it means for our lives offers one level of learning. A deeper and more powerful level of learning unfolds when we bring these insights into our lives through direct experience and shared conversations. To suggest a few possibilities, I’ve drawn themes from the book and placed them in two sections—meditations and dialogues. I encourage you to explore and expand upon these as a way to deepen your engagement with our living universe. For additional resources, see my website at www.awakeningearth.org.

Ultimately, the goal of meditation is simply to relax into “ordinary reality” which, as we have seen, is quite extraordinary. Because the universe is alive, when we slow down, calm down, and come into the moment, we are opening into a subtle field of conscious alive-ness. Instead of striving to reach some imagined state of awakening, in meditation we relax the thinking mind, rest in the simplicity of the moment, and allow the miracle of a living universe to present itself in our direct experience. We don’t have to do anything. We are only required to be open in our experience—to be curious and awake to everyday life—and the first miracle of a living universe will become self-evident in our awareness. In that spirit, here are a few meditations drawn from this book that can support our awakening to a living universe.

 

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