On Life

A PLEDGE (80’s)

from 6/12/13 by Nick Page
I had an absurd thought today.   I was listening to a brook, water passing by.  There were atoms, molecules in the rushing water that had probably been in my body at some point.   There were molecules that had been on every continent of the Earth, in every conceivable life form.
I imagined some of the molecules waving at me as they passed by.   This is absurd of course.
Then I looked at all the green life around me, what Hildegarde called O NOBLISSI VERDITAS, O Most Noble Greenness.   I imagined molecules trying to contact me.   Absurd.
If all the atoms of the Earth’s surface have been everywhere on the planet, then perhaps there is a communion of sorts between these atoms.   If all the atoms have been connected at one point or other, perhaps there is some distant form of memory.
Atoms, old buddies, communicating with each other, perhaps morphic resonance, perhaps consciousness.   (“Morphic Resonance” is a term used by Rupert Sheldrake, a British scientist who hypothesizes that there are waves of consciousness.   As an example he has researched how dogs come to the door when their owners are still five miles away on their way home.   His book “Science Set Free” challenges the unquestioned dogmas of science.   He argues that if science is to progress it must ask unpopular questions like “What is consciousness?”

On 3/25/14 the Boston Globe published an editorial about the new COSMOS TV series.   In it they chastised religion for it’s blind following of dogmas and held up science as the absolute truth.   This is my unpublished letter to the editor in response:
Thanks for bringing up the COSMOS “controversy.”   The debate between religion and science has been around since religion and science, as has the belief that “I’m right and you’re wrong.”   I see little difference between the rulers of Galileo’s day and the Neil deGrasse Tyson’s of our day saying that their truth is bigger, their truth is better.   In his book THE GOD DELUSION, evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins argues that any adherence to religious dogma is folly.   In England Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist at Oxford, countered Dawkin’s book with THE SCIENCE DELUSION (in America the book is called SCIENCE SET FREE).   Sheldrake challenges science including the dogmas of unchanging constants (gravity, speed of light).   Sheldrake argues that science is about asking questions and yet the BIG questions are taboo.   What is consciousness and what is the connection between spirit and energy?   I would argue that we can find the truth in both religion AND science, not one or the other.

Transcendence by Nick Page 6-24-12
Transcendence is when receiving the light and giving the light become one.
Transcendence is when forgetting and remembrance become one.
Transcendence is when joy and sadness become one.
Transcendence is when compassion and selfishness become one.
Transcendence is when bliss and pain become one, where peace and tumult become one, opening, closing, hate and love, up, down, in, out, coming, going, true, false.
Transcendence is when the bright light of awe and the dark despair of hopelessness become one.

Six Possible Paths to World Peace  by Nick Page12/26/09
1) Punch your enemy in the nose.
2) Pay a friend to punch your enemy in the nose.
3) Let your enemy punch you in the nose.
4) Pay your enemy not to punch you in the nose.
5) Invite your enemy over for pizza.
6) Don’t have enemies.

based on the great words of Thomas Jefferson

When in the course of conscious events
it becomes necessary for one living Creation
to unite the common bands that for too long have separated us
from one another,
And to assume among the powers of Creation,
the inseparable cosmic dynamics of nature,
A compassionate response requires that we should declare the
causes which impel us to such unity.  (declare the causes: Global warming, Unhealthy diets, a general disdain for the blessings of life).

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that Creation is in all things,
and that all things are created with equal Magnificence,
that they are endowed by Creation with certain inalienable responsibilities;
To live in mystery and awe,
To live in compassion as co-Creators,
and to give thanks in the pursuit of wonder.

For this we declare our INTERDEPENDENCE,
That snail and breath and star and water are interconnected,
That children and mountains and laughter and strength are interdependent,
That we, the living, are co-Creators in one Maagnificent Creation.

A PLEDGE by Nick Page (1980’s)
I pledge my allegiance to the moon and stars,
and to all the living things,
One world, magnificent,
with wonder and compassion for all.

LIFE AND DEATH  by Nick Page 3/3/05
When I began writing this essay on a Valentine’s Day flight from Minneapolis, I was writing my thoughts on death.  But by the end, it was clear that I was, in fact, writing about life.  I had been thinking of people I had known like Steve Cummings who had given the world so much and had died so young.   For those unfamiliar with Steve’s work, he was an Arlington based musician who composed music with children and who was dedicated to building bridges with his music.   He co-wrote “We Can Do It All, Peace,” a song that Louise Grasmere sang with us at our PEACE concert.

When I was a child, I asked my mother what happened when you die.  She answered, “Your body goes into the ground where it rots and is eaten by worms.”   Needless to say, these were not words of comfort.   I grew up in a strongly humanist family.   We were Unitarian Universalists.   I am still a Unitarian Universalist and I am still a humanist.   I believe that there are scientific (though not provable) reasons why things happen, but I also believe that traditional science has not yet opened its’ eyes.   Mechanistic thinking cannot explain life or the mysterious forces around and within us.   Only by exploring consciousness and spirit, can science truly progress.

I should also say that I am a humanist who believes in all the Bibles of this world.   The truth that the ancients spoke of is the same truth that I speak of.   They used different words from different experiences to describe their Gods.   It is the same God.   My thoughts in this essay are not saying that other religions are wrong.   My thoughts are simply my way of understanding the same truth, but from my own perspective.  I will speak of Heaven in a way that could be offensive to some.   If it is, I apologize.   For me, there is no force that is separate from any other force in the universe.   Everything is connected in some way.   So for me, God and Heaven are here with us now, not separate entities.

Buckminster Fuller said, “God is a verb, not a noun.”   New Paradigm scientists remind us that everything is a verb.   The atoms swirling in a piece of paper are atoms in the act of being paper.   A piece of paper is a verb, not a noun.   In the last thirty years I have joyfully researched new paradigm sciences; reading the great thoughts of Brian Swimme, Bucky Fuller, Beverly Rubrick, Fritjof Kapra, Robert Wright as well as theologians and philosophers like Matthew Fox and Jean Huston who present powerful re-visions for the patterns in Creation.  My first Mystic journal from the fall of 2004 explores these thoughts more fully.

So what is this sticky thing called “death?”

Understanding death has to do with understanding life, particularly what is alive and what is dead.   I am fond of the Elisabet Sahtouris quote, “The Earth is not a planet with life on it; the Earth is a living planet.” (Gaia 1989)   The New Paradigm sciences teach us that life could only have evolved from a living universe.   A self-organizing pattern began in the “beginning” that was a living force.   This great living web is eternal.   We, as individuals, did not become alive at birth.   Both the egg and the sperm that we came from were already alive.   The life was already there.  The life that is in us is billions of years old.   Life is truly eternal.  It does not end.   Before we were born, we were part of this web and when we die, we go back to the web.   Life goes on.

I should be clear that I am not discounting spirit.   “Spirit” is a multi-use word that many humanists avoid.   What I am talking about is DNA, living systems, patterns within the universe – patterns that give us purpose.  And I am talking about consciousness, a force in the universe that we take for granted, but is far more significant than we realize.  From a purely humanistic perspective, one can extend one’s emotions to embrace and feel the unending magnificence of the universe.   This for me is embracing the spirit imbued in all things – not something separate from life, but the living web itself.   For me, the act of singing is a way of embracing spirit.

Compassion is at the core of the basic patterns of this living universe.   Some have figured out the mathematics of this compassion, a basic formula called the non-zero sum paradigm.   Zero sum systems compete against each other with the net result being zero.   In other words, nobody wins.   The competition is so fierce that universal failure is guaranteed.   But this is not what Non-Zero Sum paradigms are about – this is not how the universe and life work.  As far as we know, the universe began with a big bang.   In every moment of existence there has been more universe than there was the moment before.  If the basic pattern of the universe had been greed, the Big Bang would have burnt itself out and that would have been it.  Life on earth began as single cell molecules.   Except for some catastrophic events, there has been more life on earth in every moment than there was the moment before.  In every moment there has been more diversity of life than there was the moment before.   There has been more beauty in every moment.  If the basic pattern of the universe had been greed, then life would have ended there.   It would have just been bacteria.   Robert Wright’s NON-ZERO book tells two stories.  The first is a history of humanity, showing how in every stage the Non-Zero sum formula guaranteed the flowering of human awareness and expressivity.  The second story is the evolution of life leading to human consciousness.   Brian Swimme said, “The universe evolved to create the child and the voice of that child became the unlimited expression of the universe.”  We evolved from stars.  We are stars made aware of ourselves.

We humans are like the universe that made us.  We behave like the universe.  The universe’s purpose is our purpose.   Think of the walls of an elementary school where there is more art and beauty on the walls every day than there was the day before.   Think of all the people writing songs and composing music.   There is more music every day than there was the day before.  So what is our purpose?  Every day create more wonder.  Every day create more peace.  Every day create more beauty.   Lenny, my trusty car mechanic, isn’t a composer or anything fancy, but everyday he helps people in his own way – making the world better.

Each of us live out our purpose every day – small things and great deeds.

The beauty we create, the joy we create, the peace we create – these become part of the great web of life.  A work of art, a song – these become part of the web.  The actions we do, our interactions, our teaching, our work – everything we do becomes part of this web.

Brian Swimme said that if you leave hydrogen alone for a long enough period of time, it will create great symphonies.   This is a profound statement.   It could be true only in a universe based on self-organizing compassion.

When we die, this living web lives on.   It does not die.  So that anything we create, whether it be an artistic expression or simply a smile passed from stranger to stranger, lives on.   And for those who created life and/or raised children, this compassion is magnified (I love that word) because each of those children keep the web alive and contribute their own beauty to the world.   Having children also guarantees the unending nature of life; the life that was in our grandparents lives on in our grandchildren.  Mother Mary said, “My soul doth Magnify the Lord.”   Each of us magnifies and expands on what was here before us.   Each of us gives back more than we receive.

So when we die, our gifts to this great living web live on.   I think of my friend Steve Cummings who passed away a few years ago – and I think of his songs and I think of his son Kobi and of all the gifts he brings to the world – and I know that Steve lives on.

I think of the fireplace that my great grandmother built for the Janet Cottage in Vermont and I know that she lives on.  And I think of all the things that we, the living, will leave: my music, my wife’s poetry and art, my mother’s quilts, my father’s message of Natural Democracy and all the gifts of my parent’s grandchildren.  We can die knowing that we served our purpose.  There will be more joy, more beauty, more peace because each of us were here.

This is the end of the essay as written on the jet on Valentine’s Day, 2005.  When I read it to Nita, my wife, she reminded me that not all of us have such positive effects on the world.  Some people, sometimes in the name of goodness, actually do great harm.   My view of the universe often overlooks a universe of great destruction where a star can go supernova and be destroyed in an instant, where a giant meteor or massive volcano can destroy half of the life on earth, where human beings can inflict great suffering on humanity and other living things.   Death itself is a reminder that negative forces are part of the balance of life.   My elder was right when he said that our bodies go back to the earth.

But life is more than just living tissue and breath.   Life is about thought and beauty.  Life is about compassion and love.   These things are eternal.   In the midst of all the negative forces in our world, and they can be overwhelming, we must constantly remind ourselves of our purpose – every day create more joy, more beauty.  Every day do something that helps others so that, despite the negative forces, there is more goodness every day than there was the day before.   Live for what the Seneca Indians call the Seventh Generation – everything we do affects our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever more shall be.   World without end, forever and ever.  Amen.

Postscript: I had the great pleasure of attending the Mystic Chorale Gospel concerts in February, 2005.   The concerts got me thinking about Heaven.   I had not included Heaven in my thoughts.   As I said in the beginning of this essay, I do not view Heaven (or Hell) as being separate places.  The Chorale sang Jester Hairston’s “Hold On.”   Jester Hairston lived from 1901 to 2000.   He gave much to the world.   Among his many skills, he was an actor and a composer.  His gifts to the world are still with us.  The chorale’s performance guaranteed that.   Our world is more beautiful because of his gifts.

The gifts (and curses) of those who came before us are still with us.   For me, and this is a radical statement, we are living in the Heaven of those who came before us.  When we listen to Beethoven, we are living in Beethoven’s Heaven.  When I sit in front of my great grandmother’s fireplace, I am in her heaven.  The contribution of everyone who has ever lived, both good and bad (in fact the contributions of all living things) are still with us.   We are living in their Heaven and their Hells.   The beauty in the world (as well as the suffering) is the result of the life that came before us.   They did not invent it any more than we invented it.   They simply lived by a basic formula that has been with us since the “beginning.”   I love living in this Heaven just as I hate living in this Hell.   I hope that I can leave this world having created more joy, peace, and goodness than was here before I was born.   If so, then I will have fulfilled my purpose.   Amen.

THE PURPOSE OF LIFE  by Nick Page  11/3/02
I think I have figured out the purpose of life, at least the purpose for my life.
To paraphrase physicist Brian Swimme, “If you leave hydrogen alone for a long enough period of time, it will eventually create great symphonies.”   The universe was once one simple element of energy and because of the compassionate habits of the universe, the interaction of each element with each new element creates ever more complex and diverse elements.
In the past one hundred years, scientists have questioned, reinterpreted and supplemented Newtonian principals – the basic laws of physics.   The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.   This implies that that there is a finite amount of everything so that if there are X amount of automobiles now, there will be the same amount of automobiles a year from now.   Old cars will fade away and new cars will be created.   Scientists have simply looked at reality to see that there are simply more automobiles now than there were a year ago.   This does not deny the first law of thermodynamics.   The energy that created the automobiles may be finite, but there is a basic expansive formula to the manipulation of this energy.  This expansive formula applies to atoms in the big bang expanding outward to eventually create the universe we see now and the formula applies to all living systems.
The second law of thermodynamics, also called the law of entropy, states that energy sources, like the heat in the center of a frying pan, must expand outward and eventually fade away.   This implies that all energy goes through a process of entropy and that all things will eventually fade away.  But again, the reality shows something very different in the universe.   Science writer and philosopher Robert Wright speaks of something called “Information Density,” defining information as anything that is in formation whether it be a cluster of stars called a solar system or a formation of molecules called a living cell.   He goes further to say that these cluster tend to form ever more complex and dense formations.   Contrary to the second law of thermodynamics, they do not expand away from each other.  Rather, they are drawn together and these formations, over time, have become increasingly complex.   What began with hydrogen eventually became the DNA chain of molecules.   Information density applies to the formation of stars and planets as well as living cells.   This thing we call life began when carbon and several other elements formed increasingly more complex and dense formations eventually mirroring itself.   This mirroring of itself is the basis of reproduction, but this reproductive process did not begin with this thing we call life.   All along, it has been the nature of the universe to expand and multiply.   The cells expanded and multiplied not to create a few life forms but a huge interdependent web of living systems.     Eventually the brain evolved, like the stars and planets before it, the brain formed in ever more complex and dense formation.   The computer is simply the next generation in this formula – not a living thing but definitely part of a living system.
After every generation of life, the earth is fuller and more diverse than when that generation began.   This is a piece of what mathematicians call “Game Theory” or “Non-Zero Sum” thinking.    It is the nature of the universe to grow in diversity, complexity, and beauty.
Our purpose is the same.   Each of us must leave the earth a more beautiful place then when we were born.   The purpose of life is to keep it going – to keep the beauty, the compassion, and the justice going so that there is more of it then when we came into the world.

On Wednesday, August 21st, 2002, I hiked up the Bridle Path on Mt. Lafayette in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.   I have climbed it many times, but my 200 extra pounds makes it impossible for me to get further than the horseshoe.   I had hiked up the horseshoe September 15th, 2001, a few days after 9/11, and encountered an angel in the guise of a butterfly that flew up from the huge glorious valley below and stopped in front of me.   It was the spirit of someone who had died on 9/11 and the spirit said to me, “It’s all right,” then floated up and up until I could no longer see it.

So I went up again yesterday.   I stopped at the same spot and waited for another miracle.   A teenage black girl walked up and sat to my side facing the valley.   She had earphones on and was listening to loud hip hop that disturbed the peace of the valley.  The hip hop was counterpoint to the raging waterfalls in the valley below.   Instead of getting angry, I simply chuckled at the irony of it all.

On the way back to Boston, I stopped in Concord, NH for a Chinese dinner.   My fortune cookie came.  It said, “Aim for compassion, not perfection.”