|Basil Brush, children's TV puppet|
If you're British you'll know all about the children's TV puppet, Basil Brush. "Boom boom!" is one of his catch phrases. My middle name is Basil. Some think I'm foxy, but apart from the bushy tail and funny face (or bushy face) he and I have little in common :-)
Given that knowledge you might not be surprised when I tell you that I went to Basel in Switzerland for my 50th birthday.
Many things about Switzerland struck me as superb. The extensive network of electric trams and trolly buses take you anywhere you want to go quietly and fast, and all for free! The politeness and carefulness of car drivers is impressive. If you stand near a pedestrian crossing they'll stop, even if you have no intention of using it. And then, of course, there's the Swiss chocolate! Yum yum!
What stuck me most about Basel, however, was the incredible Tinguely museum. According to its website this is a place where "things rattle, squeak, crash and thump"... where "colourful scrap rotates" and "multi-coloured lights flicker."
Nothing is quite what it seems in the Tinguely museum. Inside you feel like a kid in a cleaned up animated scrap merchant's shop. Press the right buttons and strange parts move on wonderful metal contraptions. You can even sit and ponder their artistic significance, if you're not worried about sending your brain into animated spirals in the process!
You know... sometimes I feel as if my mind is like the Tinguely museum. Inside things rattle, squeak, crash and thump. Wonderful contraptions rise up from my subterranean subconscious, do a few fantasmagorical rotations, then sink back down again into oblivion. And you should see the multi-coloured flashing lights!
None of us are fully aware of everything that goes on inside our subconscious minds. Even the greatest psychiatrists are baffled by it. We're all a strange mixture of thoughts, concepts, ideas, imaginings, superstitions, philosophies, theologies and emotions. Many of the concepts that guide our actions and determine our philosophies are irrational and wouldn't hold up if examined in the cold light of day. But unless we're unusually self-aware we can live our whole lives without examining them in any detail.
Philosophers love to ask questions about the nature of reality. "Am I seeing and experiencing what's really there? Are my interpretations of what I see and experience valid? Is there anything 'there' at all, or are we all just figments of someone—or something—else's imagination?"
Artists like Picasso question reality and paint people as fantastic geometric shapes. Movie makers take up the banner and create films like The Matrix and Inception, exploring the notion that life may be some kind of vast manipulated dream. Even Shakespeare described the world as a stage and saw us as "poor players strutting and fretting our hour" upon it.
Most of us, though, are more mundane in our views of life. We tell ourselves that the world is WYSIWYG ... What You See Is What You Get. If something looks and feels solid, then we believe it is solid—a fact that stage magicians make the most of! We live by the assumption that things exist outside of ourselves, and will continue to exist even if we don't.
Well, that's certainly true of the material world, but when it comes to thinking about the deeper realities behind the material universe the situation changes radically. Many people unthinkingly believe what they've been brought up to believe, or what they've been told to believe by school, the media, or the cadres of society. Indeed, huge swathes of the Western world accept anything that comes their way as long as it makes them 'feel good'.
Others develop their own pet personal philosophies—some extremely wacky! And many more go on a journey of exploration, looking for truth amid the myriad of religions, philosophies and ideologies that make up our spiritual universe.
Generally speaking none of us are keen to explore and challenge our own well established world views. We're comfortable with our personal philosophies and don't like to think that they could be wrong. We're reluctant to ask questions like:
"Am I correctly interpreting the world I see around me? Am I seeing it in it's true light? Is it possible that I may be wearing mental spectacles which distort the images I see and give the world a false hue?"It's certainly true that everyone's world view is coloured by their upbringing, their environment, and their personality. That view can also be clouded and warped by forces we don't understand, and which seriously affect our vision of the way things really are.
I used to suffer from clinical depression, and when I was depressed my view of the world was also depressed. Everything seemed black and ominous. Life was a huge struggle. Small setbacks became major attacks on my life and personhood. A casual negative comment by a friend or acquaintance could become magnified out of all proportion. I lived in a dark mental tunnel and no proverbial light ever seemed to appear at the end of it.
My view of reality was coloured by the dark goggles of depression and paranoia. I was not seeing the world as it really is. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't take that spiritual eye-wear off, and it was only slowly slowly, through many personal learnings and battles, that I was lifted out of that dark hole and discovered that, actually, life's not so bad after all.
In March 2009 I watched a two hour live Internet show by the OneDrop Foundation, an organisation founded by Guy Laliberté, founder of the Cirque du Soleil. In an amazing feat of inspired showmanship Guy (pronounced Gee) bought a ticket to the International Space Station and presented the show from there!
I found it very moving. There he was floating in space talking about the planet around which he was orbiting. The aim of the OneDrop Foundation is to spear-head an international effort to bring clean water to everyone on Earth, and the presentation impressed upon me the fragility of the world we live in. It made clear, once again, just how beautiful is our Mother Earth—this water-planet we depend upon for life.
From the space station Guy was able to look down upon the world and see it in a new light. He was able to grasp, in a way that many can't, that we do indeed live on 'space ship Earth'. This space ship has a delicately balanced life support system which keeps it's human inhabitants, and the rest of Mother Nature, alive. For a brief time Guy Laliberté was able to stand back from the world—literally—and see our spherical home as it really is. Up there in space he was able to see what few human beings have ever seen. He was able to be objective about our physical world in a way we are rarely able to be.
Each one of us lives within a life-giving 'space-ship' of our own—an onion-like sphere of existence. We live within a body—a flesh-and-blood house. That body has a support group of friends and professionals who nurture it. Our local support network is part of a society which we know and understand, and which gives us a sense of security and identity. And our society is part of the world as a whole, and depends upon the world-wide economy for its success.
Each layer of our personal onion-like space-sphere is connected to the other layers by umbilical chords which supply us with the nutrients for life. Those umbilical chords connect us to people and resources who nurture us and keep us alive. And more than just alive. We grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually within that womb-of-life we so often take for granted.
Space-ship Earth is our greatest material resource, but we know that she is coming under increasing pressure. The OneDrop Foundation is keenly aware that our fresh water resources are drying up. So is every other resource that we depend upon. We live on a knife edge, and if we don't act radically and quickly this beautiful planet may no longer be able to sustain human life.
Many of us know what it is to come under intense pressure within our personal space-sphere—our physical, emotional, metal and spiritual 'ball of life'. You don't need to look far to see how easily the life support systems we depend upon can fail. Take away friends and family; take away our peace loving society; take away our efficient infrastructure and medical support system, and what have you got?
Interestingly, the words 'womb' and 'tomb' are the same apart from the first letters, W and T. As long as a pregnant woman remains healthy her womb is a place of nurturing and growth for her unborn child. But if she falls seriously ill—if she's not cared for and looked after adequately—her womb can become a tomb for her unborn child.
The same is true for Mother Earth. If we fail to care for her, the 'W' of Womanhood and nurturing motherhood may quickly turn into the 'T' of Threat and potential extinction. One might even say, looking at the shape of the letter, the T of crucifixion!
Cut the chords of life that deliver physical and spiritual nutrition and we quickly die, physically and spiritually.
Stanley Kubrick created the perfect image to illustrate these thoughts, in his film "2001 A Space Odyssey". In that movie a rogue computer turns off the life support systems on a long distance space flight. The final scene of the film shows a foetus orbiting a planet. It's an image of great beauty, speaking of new life and new birth at a cosmic level. But it's also an image of incredible vulnerability. It illustrates just how fragile we are, and vulnerable to forces beyond our ken.
We do indeed float through this universe in a remarkable 'womb'—individually and as a race. We're supported and nurtured at many different levels. Most of the time we take for granted the umbilical chords that keep us alive and growing. But can we afford to keep assuming that they will always be there?
What security can we find in the face of our weakness and vulnerability? Is there possibly an umbilical chord which nothing can break—nothing can sever? We may have lived our whole life in the belief that there's nothing outside of the material universe—that essentially we're alone and on our own. But is this an accurate view of reality?
As a spiritual person with a long standing interest in Christian theology, I believe there is one umbilical chord—one chord of Life—that we dare not presume to take for granted. That's the chord which connects us to God. Few of us fully appreciate and understand just how dependent we are, individually and as a race, on the Intelligent Designer to whom we owe our very existence.
If this immense Being is indeed the source of all life; if He/She is the source of all love—the source of all beauty, and wholeness, and everything that gives life meaning and purpose—then to be cut off from Him/Her—to break that vital umbilical cord—would spell utter devastation, and entrance into a hell-like existence.
Guy Laliberté floated away from the Earth and saw it as few will ever do. Am I willing to float away from my long-standing personal philosophies and notions and look at them from an objective distance? Is it possible that this amazing globe of water, and green fecundity, has it's own umbilical chord connecting it to a source of life even greater than itself?
King David wrote:
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139:13-14)Christians believe that this life is nothing more than a 70 to 100 year gestation period. At the end of it we will be born. The question is, will we be born to Life, or will we be still-born? We have the choice to move on into a wonderful new universe, beyond anything we can possibly imagine—or we can chose to be still-born and left to float alone in the terrible loneliness of spiritual outer space.
Theoretical physicists tell us that there are 11 dimensions of reality—four in which we live (length, breadth, height, and time), and seven beyond us, and beyond our ability to understand. The Bible talks about seven levels of Heaven—dimensions of existence we can only vaguely guess at. Only one person has ever been beyond the veil of death into those other vastly greater and grander expanses, and come back to show us the way through. That person was Jesus Christ, and he returned in a new body which was able to eat, breathe, and interact with his disciples—and yet move back and forth into the heavenly realms at will.
If we're to understand these things we need to stand back and see life, and ourselves, from an objective distance. And if we want to understand what Mankind was truly created to be like, we need to stand back and look at Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote:
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
"And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:15-20)
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