It Doesn’t Help Me to Think
There Is Something Outside

In my life there’s nothing helpful about seeing anything
outside the universe that is creating it. The universe itself
is this single integrated activity. It doesn’t help to
think there is anything outside that is causing that to
happen. Now, it could be, of course, but for me all of the
miraculous things that have been attributed to any God
are completely included within the universe.
The universe appeared from nothing and created
itself in that way. This satisfies all my hunger for the
miraculous. I don’t need a bigger story than that.

There Is No Assigned Role

I don’t think we have any role that has been assigned us
from anywhere else. Our choice may be similar to the
role of the first photosynthesizers which inadvertently
created all of this oxygen thereby causing the first mass
extinction and giving rise to the aerobic epoch. We may
be giving rise to the radioactive epoch or some other miraculous
thing, that after five or ten million years, will
fully populate itself and every niche will be full. I feel
that our role is innocent. I don’t hold the view that we
are some terrible scourge or cancer, although to ourselves
and to our own future we may be. It has never been
clear to me whether those early anaerobic photosynthesizers,
who generated all of this oxygen, survived themselves
the process. Some things obviously survived because
here we are talking about them.
Robinson Jeffers says that as we speed up, we start to
radiate and shine.1
“You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy.”
“…Meteors are not needed less than
mountains: shine, perishing republic.”*

So as we speed up and glow like a meteor there are no
moral questions except within our own frame of reference.
In the larger frame of reference creation and destruction
are equal, there is not a moral side of creation.
If the anaerobic bacteria had been wiped out by photosynthesis
we wouldn’t be here. History is written by the
victors and who knows who the victors will be. Cockroaches
may look back and say, “It was kind of sad for
them but it was really good for us.”
To the universe, humans are not needed more than
ants; I feel one of the mistakes we are making is to think
we are the reason all of this took place, that we are the
point of the story, the stars of the show. We are not. We
are swirling around like everything else. We may be in a
position to forestall the closing of the Cenozoic period
and preserve the Cenozoic remnant including ourselves
for another fifty or one hundred million years before we
become extinct and before the ants or whoever comes
next take over. I’ll vote for that personally. I feel like our
story has just begun. The dinosaur had one hundred
fifty million years. Why should we give up now because
we want another hair dryer or whatever the story is? If
we only understood who we are from a bigger perspective
than we might be in the position to change our destiny
and so change our role.
The idea found in Thomas Berry’s writings is that
our purpose here is to celebrate. That is a profound understanding
as long as it doesn’t lead to a sense of denial
that here we are – mammals that have just created
the conditions for the end of mammals. There is something
profoundly regrettable about that. I feel that any
celebration we do has to be tempered with a strong
commitment to our incarnation. It is not enough to
escape to that largest view and to tower beyond tragedy.
We have to take strength from that largest view and
dive as deep as we dare into that tragedy to attempt to
avert it or at least to warn our people. I feel a little bit
cautious about endorsing the kind of joy that comes
from the big picture because I think it is too easy for us
to hide there. That is definitely an option but I don’t
think that’s our role.
For us to produce less of ourselves would require that
a whole new level emerge. That may be what we are witnessing,
the birth of this new level. It’s not only the reproduction
but also the accumulation. We are trying to
surround ourselves with this kind of security that is an
honorable acquired trait. There were those at the time of
our ancestors who did not have this in a strong degree.
Their babies did not have babies and so they are not
around to inform the gene pool. We are descended from
those creatures that did whatever they had to do to have
lots of babies, following the fundamental commandment
to survive, the urge to be. Now our minds tell us in
order for that urge to exist, to fulfill itself, we have to do
exactly the opposite of what we have done for over a million
years. To make that connection between our understanding
and that most primal and fundamental of all
urges is even deeper than the urge to reproduce, because
the urge to exist existed before there was any sex. It is
not a precedent situation and I haven’t received any insights
or information that we are going to make it.
There is nothing else to do unless you decide to oppose
that urge to exist. I believe our best chance is to
want that as much as possible. But, of course, that opens
us to the sorrow and pain to a deeper extent. Thich Nhat
Hahn says the most important thing we can do is hear
within ourselves the sounds of the Earth crying. If we
are prepared to realize that we are not going to be destroyed
or crushed by the suffering of our world, and if
we are prepared to experience that suffering, then we are
not afraid to go to that place of really wanting us to continue.
It’s like being in love with someone who is going
to be hanged in the morning and choosing to love him/
her all the more rather then to pull back.
I don’t think guilt is helpful to our survival. I also
don’t think lashing ourselves, or despising human beings,
or comparing human beings to cancer, or to bacteria
on a petri dish, eating itself out of existence, or other
such images are useful. I think we need to bask in the
glory because it might give us a picture of how good it
might feel if we can make it out of this next siege.
We are sometimes accused of not liking human beings.
We did a calculation on how many human beings
would fit on the planet over the next two hundred years
before we wipe ourselves out. Then suppose for the sake
of argument that the optimum number of human beings
living sustainably on the Earth at one time is, say,
100 million and that this number of human beings will
continue to thrive here for another billion or two years
before the sun heats up sufficiently to make mammalian
life unlikely on the Earth. In this scenario, we would get
orders of magnitude more humans on the Earth. So, it is
really the “business as usual” crowd who are misanthropic
and we who are the true “humanists.” We love
humans, we’d just rather have them spread out over hundreds
of millions or billions of years rather than squeeze
as many as possible on the Earth for a few generations
followed by none at all.

Death Is More Beautiful Than We Can Imagine

My first thoughts of death are by Walt Whitman, where
he speaks of “sweet, peaceful, welcome death.”* My second
thought is that my father died last year at the age of
ninety eight and was cremated. I felt it took such a lot of
fossil fuel to cremate my father and the worms were
cheated. I made my will to have my son and Ruth bury
me naked without a sheet, without a casket, without a
box, with no formaldehyde or any chemicals. I want my
naked body to go back to the Earth. I have taken a lot
from the Earth already and I may take more before I die,
so I want to give back at least a few kilos of compost. I
want to feed some worms. I’m looking forward to it but
am in no hurry. To me it is like going back into the miracle
from which I emerged.
I am not enamored of pain. I’m not enamored of suffering.
Pain and suffering often accompany the degeneration
of the body and so on. I wouldn’t mind dying in
a painless way. It’s not like I’m some kind of hero, but the
death itself, I think, is going to be magnificent. It won’t
be magnificent for me because I’m not going to be there,
I’m just going to be part of the magnificence. There are
just these moments, like during the seven years of meditation
when I was younger. I had two or three moments,
which I imaged, were just like death. I wasn’t there and
nothing was there except the magnificence. I remember
at one point realizing that the first thought that comes
is the death of the moment. The first thought is when I
disappear and all that remains is e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Of
course there is no “I” to own this. The “I” is too small to
own it anyway, that’s why the “I” has to disappear. To be
sentenced to e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g for eternity doesn’t seem
too bad to me.

*Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and Other Selected
Prose (New York: Random House, 1950), P 42.