The Enormity of Numbers of Things
Our lives are nested within so many things, and with the discoveries of the past fifty years, our awareness of the numbers of things has grown considerably. Biologists have catalogued some 1.4 million species. Though many people might think that biologists have for the most part discovered nearly all the species there are, the biologists themselves now know from more recent observations that they have just scratched the surface and have varying estimates of the total number of species on earth that range from 10 to 100 million.
Advancements in astronomical instrumentation now enable us to peer out from far above the earth’s atmosphere into the near-perfect transparency of space where light that has been traveling for over thirteen billion years falls within the grasp of ultrasensitive receivers capable of translating minute streams of photons and other frequencies into the visual images of early galaxies. Based on current observations, it has been calculated that in the known universe there are more stars than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of earth!
Spend a moment now and try to remember the last time you were among grains of sand--and then put these two ideas together. How are we to get that into the marvelous but limited vessels of our minds? Are we not utterly stifled--amazed--by the severity of our circumstance?
The Enormity of Space
This brings us to the second malady--the insidious revelation of the enormity of space. This realm we are in is so inconceivably gigantic that descriptions of its dimensions need to be given in terms of the distance light travels in one year. The ninety-three million miles from the earth to the sun are eight minutes by light speed. Think now--and imagine. See this in your mind’s eye. One second--eight times around the earth.
Maybe “not getting it” is nature’s way of protecting the brain--a type of conceptual ceiling that saves us before the burnout of overwhelm. The brain is structured for perceiving and conceiving at the human scale. I think most readers will agree that as gloriously complex as it is, the brain in its current state will never be able to grasp this cosmic category of enormity.
The Enormity of Time
The third malady--that of the enormity of durative linear time--is enough to squash even the most ambitious of intellects. We live our lives a few seconds at a time. For most people the occurrence of their life quickly registers in memory as minutes, and then hours, days, weeks, months, years, and so forth. The moon has gone around the earth well over forty billion times, roughly once every four weeks. Let us meditate upon this. Can we imagine the twenty-four thousand orbits of the moon around the earth since the time of the Roman Empire and the death of Jesus? And do the two thousand years of recent history mean very much to us when we think of the billions of years of the elapsed time of life on earth?
Perhaps perform some mental time-travel when you next see the moon hanging in the night sky and know it was there, looking just as it does now, above the first vertebrate that crawled out of the primordial seas of the unconscious. Beneath the cool presence of the orbiting moon, mountain ranges have pressed upward only to be broken down by wind, rain, heat, cold, glaciers, and earthquakes. Continents have drifted apart and crashed into one another. Let us be humbled and reduced as we contemplate these occurrences from the tiny moments of our individual life stories. Boredom becomes impossible in the face of well-imagined geological time. Avoid the temptations and fixations of existential anxiety and instead . . . resort to awe. Our circumstances are truly awe-full!
In this rich compost of grandeur we are now perhaps ready to consider the most awe-full of all as we discover ourselves loitering about the outskirts of infinity--an important principle that lies at the very heart of the practice about to be described--mahamantra yoga. Having warmed up with the three maladies, let us return to our human scales of time and space and from that familiar place peer back into those faint and fading horizons as I attempt to briefly recount my introduction to this ancient tradition.
The time: late November 1970. The space: the north central Florida peninsula at the University of Florida where I was enrolled as a student. This was the setting of my first exposure to mahamantra yoga, something that turned out to be both powerful and pivotal. In psychological terms what happened to me could be described as a “comprehensive dissociative breakdown of the ego structures.” The subjective characteristics of this event, however, went far beyond any of the verbiage of twentieth-century psychology. My contact with the mahamantra (the great mind-liberating sound vibration) resulted in an astounding insight into the true nature of my identity. Up to that point in my life “I” had been identifying as the mind and the physical body. Through the recitation of the mahamantra I could see with crystal clarity that I was not the mind, nor the physical body, nor the thoughts or feelings associated with these things. Within a mere thirty minutes of practicing the vibration of the mahamantra I realized my self as pure nonconceptual awareness existing outside of linear time and three-dimensional space--completely distinct from all categories of material conception.
As I involved myself further with the mahamantra what became evident was that I had not actually contacted the mahamantra. He, She, or whatever It was had, more accurately, contacted me. Like a vast and benevolent alien presence, the mahamantra seemed to possess a degree of power and personhood that made no sense at all to my conventional ways of thinking. This exotic sound was immensity itself and yet it was warm, loving, and intimate.