An old Indian parable tells of a night when terrified residents were awakened by blasting and thunderous sounds outside the walls of their city. Six brave, blind scholars had been studying near the gate, so they ventured out to investigate. Each came back with a differing report of the culprit: a giant snake, a strange tree trunk, a massive leaf, a trembling stone wall, a whipping rope. Each description relied solely upon whichever part of the trespassing elephant the scholar had grasped!
This story was shared in the film Awake: Glimpses of Consciousness (2022). It got me thinking, Do any of us really understand our place in the Universe? And how can we, when we have no way to objectively observe it?
Yet both Kabbalah and science continue to show us that we are not merely conscious beings interacting with some vast, lifeless unknown. Rather, we are part of something far greater, a living and evolving process that relies in part upon our own participation in its unfolding.
I remember when this idea first crystallized for me. My husband and I had traveled to Big Sur. I was mesmerized by the immense, dramatic coastline views; I felt diminished and humbled beneath the expansive redwood trees. The wide sky filled with glittering stars inspired a profound realization deep within me. It reminded me of the “99% and 1% realm”: the Kabbalistic idea that our senses allow us to perceive only 1% of what is actually out there. I was struck by the extraordinary grandness in our smallness.
As astronomer and author Carl Sagan noted, “For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live on a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner on an unexceptional galaxy, which is one of [billions of] galaxies.” We now know that there are between one and four billion stars in our Milky Way alone, and an estimated 200 billion galaxies in the observable Universe! This number is nearly impossible to comprehend… but if you were to count every grain of sand on every beach, you’d enter the ballpark.
And not only are we microscopic by universal standards, we’re also exceedingly isolated. The closest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is around 4.37 light-years away. However, since light speed is unattainable (at least for now), getting there on a craft like our Voyager would take 73,000 years! (For you brave readers, consider further: Our galaxy is more than 100,000 light-years wide, and the next closest galaxy lies 2.5 million light-years away.)
If any of this overwhelms you, read on…
Despite the remoteness of our earthly condition, science increasingly reveals the interconnectivity that Kabbalah has posited all along. The Zohar states that each person is “a replica of the universe as a whole.” A recent study published in Frontiers in Physics found remarkable similarities between the structure of the observed Universe and that of our own brains. Among the many parallels: both systems are organized in defined networks, with nodes (neurons in the brain, galaxies in the Universe) connected through filaments. While no one is claiming that the Universe is literally a giant brain, the macro-microcosmic connection becomes increasingly undeniable.
In fact, there is no such thing as an unrelated, completely independent entity in the Universe. Every system is either directly or indirectly connected with every other. Likewise, Kabbalah teaches that there is only one light–the Light of Wisdom (or the Light of the Creator)–and only one consciousness. Rav Ashlag talks about one consciousness as expressed in varying levels in different objects, such as a table, a tree, and a person. Each is different, yet each is integral to the whole. The more we recognize this, the more we can tap into our connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the world. We can let go of some of our more trivial worries, concerns, and strivings–and know that in the end, these annoyances aren’t worth our precious and brief time here on Earth.
As Sagan remarked, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” Without the countless processes that have formed the simple ingredients for baking (including the right amount of oxygen, sun, minerals, chemical reactions, gravity, and so on), neither the pie nor anything else would exist. We are nothing short of miraculous!
Like the ever-evolving Universe, the goal of our lives lies in the process. Sometimes we may think we’ve been led astray, but we are wrong. We are here to grow, to become, to connect and form meaningful relationships, and to realize our singular, essential place in this magnificent scheme.
So today, I encourage you to remember and appreciate the wholeness in all you encounter.
Because while it’s good to be part of a couple, a family, or a community–we are, above all, vital members of a beautiful, shared unfolding… one that has the potential to unify, mystify, and elevate us beyond our imaginings!