Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Like a pebble in a boundless ocean

Boundless Ocean, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii, February 2005, Pentax Optio 555, Exposure 1/800 sec @ f7.0, ISO 64, no flash © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Something about the ocean is both alluring and scary to me. It’s calm, rythmic, lullabye can quickly place one in a meditative trance. But its ferociousness during a storm or tsunami can also make you run for your life.

And then there is its boundlessness, stretching on past the horizon, seemingly toward infinity. With depths greater in some places than our highest mountains, and pressures that would crush virtually all living things.

The ocean has the power to take life, and to sustain life, with food and by providing us with oxygen — more plentiful than the Amazon rain forest, thanks to the vastness of its simple algae.

In short, the ocean is a metaphor for the universe. And in such a universe, what is the meaning of any one of our simple lives. Surely it can be no more significant that the dropping of a single pebble into the boundless ocean, right?

Please consider this story as related by James S. Hewett:

Some years ago Alexander Woolcott described a scene in a New
York hospital where a grief-stricken mother sat in the hospital
lounge in stunned silence, tears streaming down her cheeks. She
had just lost her only child and she was gazing blindly into space
while the head nurse talked to her, simply because it was the duty
of the head nurse to talk in such circumstances.

"Did Mrs. Norris notice the shabby little boy sitting in the
hall just next to her daughter's room?"

No, Mrs. Norris had not noticed him.

"There," continued the head nurse, "there is a case. That
little boy's mother is a young French woman who was brought in a
week ago by ambulance from their shabby one-room apartment to
which they had gravitated when they came to this country scarcely
three months ago. They had lost all their people in the old
country and knew nobody here. The two had only each other. Every
day that lad has come and sat there from sunup to sundown in the
vain hope that she would awaken and speak to him. Now, he has no
home at all!"

Mrs. Norris was listening now. So the nurse went on, "Fifteen
minutes ago that little mother died, dropped off like a pebble in
the boundless ocean, and now it is my duty to go out and tell that
little fellow that, at the age of seven, he is all alone in the
world." The head nurse paused, then turned plaintively to Mrs.
Norris. "I don't suppose," she said hesitantly, "I don't suppose
that you would go out and tell him for me?"

What happened in the next few moments is something that you
remember forever. Mrs. Norris stood up, dried her tears, went out
and put her arms around the lad and led that homeless child off to
her childless home, and in the darkness they both knew they had
become lights to each other!


Anonymous said...

Beautiful metaphor using the ocean as the universe.In the whole all is well.The ocean bed opens up and a new island is borned..while far away big waves are created that swept across islands and shores.Motions bring vibrancy and life forms.Now from the perspective of the small island, the tsunami is destructive and horror.But within the island is the shelter,itself everything is self sustaining, the rivers, the forest,the rain,the living things etc. Ever smaller still the pebbles are insignificant, the cells are insignificant, the atoms are insignificant..but looking within they are all blissful. It is looking without that there is anxiety and unknown..the turbulence.In this way there exist holographically,a tiny field within a big field and a bigger field in a even larger field..a world of fields within fields..but all is peaceful and blissful if one is always looking within, everything is in perfect order.
A toe that is painful is in good order because the body will take action to cure it. The shooting is alright as long as the society feels the pain and sorrow as they will emerge stronger and better. The caste system is healthy to Gandhi because at that time His opponent is the British which is external to the society that he is leading.The caste system actually serve to unite the main society and suite his approach of non violence.
The earth itself is in perfect order as a whole...but itself is just a pebble in the ocean of the universe, always subjected to the turbulence.

Steven Crisp said...


These are wonderful comments that add great insights. Thank you.

Yes, there is great wisdom (and peaceful bliss and equanimity) with the realization that, "in the whole, all is well." Anything may be viewed at a different level of abstraction, and from that, we gain a new perspective. What does this tell us? Of course, that our perspectives are in our minds, and not in the things themselves.

So the universe JUST IS. *We* keep trying to add meaning to that WHICH JUST IS. Why do we do that? I don't know, but it seems to be part and parcel of the "human condition". By adding "meaning" we make ourselves happy, and we make ourselves sad. Think about it -- it really is that simple.

"But oh -- I do not wish to live a life without meaning" would be the typical retort. Once again we get caught in the web of words and concepts and cultural cul de sacs. As the story in the post shows, by any simple action you take, you can make a difference in the world, nay, in the universe itself. Nothing will be the same again. You have directly altered the path that all of creation is on. That has the potential to make a very big difference, indeed.

We really have a hard time comprehending the dynamic range of the universe. As you point out, the universe, like the ocean metaphor, is always subjected to turbulence. Small turbulence creates the tide, which is a part of our healty earth. Larger turbulence creates the tsunami which brings destruction ... and renewal. Of course, eslewhere in time and space there are stars being born, asteroids hitting the earth, etc and these events are catacalysmic beyond our wildest imagination. Such is the dynamic range of the universe. What an amazing place to call home, eh?

So what do you think? Is it possible to live a life "without meaning" ... and still "make a difference?" I believe it is not only possible -- IT JUST IS.

Hmmm, I'm feeling another post coming on ... ;-)

Anoop Alex said...

I find it interesting that this post was created on the very day I did a Google search on "possible to have life without meaning". I was an agnostic who became theistic after what I had I believe to be spiritual experiences. I started belief in a higher consciousness as responsible for the existence of our reality ---- but was unsure if this consciousness, whatever form it took, was a participant in this reality or just an observer. Note that we play both roles as well --- both in our waking life and in our dream life.
I had an a-ha moment in which I heard the words "The future is uncertain. Just be." Then another moment which was incredibly strange but not a-ha type where someone I was talking with on a comments board replied to the comment I was typing but had not posted yet. I can post a link if you are interested. What I assumed from that experience was that we each experience our own realities. He had a post to respond to his, while in mine I had not sent it yet.
Maybe everything I experience is an illusory reality including the existence of other people but for all intents and purpose they seem real so I will believe they are. MAybe there is something like a shared reality. I don't know the answers but I will question. Humans are only creatures that question, not even chimps that learned sign language and respond to questions every ASKED a single question.
I wonder if the experiences I've had are some consciousness trying a cosmic joke on me. I believe it is possible to live a life without meaning. To just accept what is. The question(once again) is can we be happy living a life without asking questions? Just accepting what is. I believe we can but it is tied up with the problem of suffering. When we suffer we ask ourselves if we cna change the way things are. I believe pain is inevitable in life but suffering is an option. This thinking requires a shift in perspective. It is easy for me to spout this perspective since I live a comfortable life where I don't work and all my needs are met. But I believe that I will not suffer no matter what path my life takes. I have utmost confidence in this but will not know until I experience it.
I am currently trying to see if I can learn lucid dreaming to help me answer my questions about my existence. But I am not so attached to this concept that I will be upset if I fail. So far I have had no success but I have only been trying for 3 weeks. I will keep trying until I accpet it has failed and then move on.