A problem with the human mind is its difficulty realizing how insignificant it is on a cosmic scale. Much of our suffering comes from our attachment to outcomes we deem good or bad. Outcomes that matter. We worry about who we will marry, how much money we make, how successful our career will be, if our friends will like us and approve of our activities. We worry if the next elected official will have our political views, if our possessions will be safe from theft or natural disaster, whether our kids will have the same ‘success’ we do. At higher socioeconomic levels we fret about completing items on our bucket list, going to enough amazing places, doing the right culturally enriching activities to increase our understanding of the world. We fear the future and at the same time worry about missing out on all the opportunities we have in this world. We worry what our legacy will be.
None of it matters.
We are primitive humanoids on a small planet orbiting a tiny star in a pedestrian solar system on the edge of a vast galaxy that we have no hopes of even understanding a minuscule fraction of. This galaxy is 100,000 light years across and contains around 300 billion stars. The closest one, Alpha Centuri is about 4.4 light years away, and would take about 100,000 years to reach using conventional rocket technology. Humans have been around for 200,000 years by comparison. There are probably around 100 billion planets in our galaxy alone. The Milky Way is a perfectly ordinary galaxy in universe that probably contains at least 100 billion other galaxies. The known observable universe is around 92 billion light years across. By comparison the universe is 13.7 billion years old. The known observable universe will likely greatly expand once our technology allows us to see. It is also unknown if this is the only universe or if we are a part of a multiverse which for all we know may be infinite. There may be billions of other lifeforms on billions of other planets struggling with these same issues – or we may be alone.
The above paragraph is just a bunch of words, numbers and concepts. The human mind is simply not capable of understanding the scale of our insignificance. You cannot do it, I cannot do it. It is magical thinking and delusion to believe that we can. Our minds think linearly, and the only way to even come close to conceptualizing the scale of our universe is to use multiple exponential scales. We are not designed to process information like this. Most of us don’t even understand compound interest.
To make matters worse it is likely that much of what we know is simply wrong and distorted by the limited computational power of our brains, the tiny bandwidth of our senses and primitive nature of our available tools. We can only sense a minuscule fraction of the available wavelengths of light and energy to ‘see’. We can only detect and process a tiny sliver of pulsating waves we call ‘sound’. We then filter this smattering of information through our brain which is further distorted by our beliefs, personality and the usual cognitive biases. We then write or speak about these things which are filtered through yet another brain with the same limitations of our own.
Ponder this every time you think you know the ‘truth’ about something.
Think of what truth was to a person living 2000 years ago.
Think of what truth will be to a person living 2000 years from now.
Every step of the way we think we are enlightened. We look back and laugh at the ignorance of a few generations ago, failing to realize that we will be that generation one day.
We know nothing.
Religion and philosophy have grappled with these horrible and wonderful realities since we developed brains complex enough to be aware of them. New philosophies and religions will be born and die as a natural cycle as we struggle to wrap our minds around these questions.
Creative destruction at its finest.
Until then, realize nothing you do in this life is permanent, lasting or meaningful in the grand scheme of the universe.
I know this sounds sad.
This can lead us to despair and nihilism if we are not careful; however, there is a path of absolute liberation and freedom.
It is true that nothing you do matters to the universe, but without your consciousness the universe doesn’t exist. This wonderfully strange and awesome place is only present for the cosmic blink of an eye. It only exists temporarily in your consciousness. Then it’s gone. Time relentlessly marches forward and all we can really do is experience it.
Once your ego can let go and realize none of this maters, in fact the ego itself does not matter, then you will be free from worry and suffering. You can simply be. You can awaken to the fact that life is so infinitesimally short and should be spent just trying to be content. Think of this next time you are cut off in traffic or you are forced to suffer the indignity of waiting in line at the grocery store for 10 minutes. Think of this when you face more serious and painful realities.
Your other conclusion should be that since everyone else’s life is so painfully short and no less precious than yours, you should allow them to achieve freedom and joy in their universe.
This realization is where true empathy is born.
This is when we understand the desperate importance of kindness.
This life is way too brief to be wasted being angry at someone or attached to some outcome of belief. Stop trying to convince everyone that you are right about your religion or politics, because you are probably wrong.
Let go and simply let be.
Paradoxically, once you understand the truth of your insignificance, everything in life can become more meaningful.
Once you realize you don’t matter, everything matters.