– How to not see Orion –
The mechanics of prejudice
We spend our winters in Mexico, somewhere down the Baja-Peninsula. We live in a motor home right on the beach.
Early in the season, in November, the days are still so warm that the cooling light wind in the afternoon is more than welcome. Then the transparent colors of the sea change, and those little waves begin to lap against the shore and tell their endless enchanting stories. Later in the evening the breeze dies down again when the sun softens and gently disappears. The sky is on fire a last time, painting everything with magical colors as if to celebrate: wasn’t this a beautiful day with all this light? See it go away now, the day is dying, see its glorious crescendo and completion.
The nights are so mild and lovely that it would be a shame to sleep inside and not right out there under the stars. When our celebration of the sunset is over, when the wine glasses are empty, the dishes done, when we are back from our evening walk into the desert, we spread out our special colorful Mexican blankets on the sand, a few feet away from the water, and cuddle up in our bed for the night. Emerged from and surrounded by the universe, we are undivided and whole, and there is no concept of privacy or secrecy. The beach is empty. There is hardly any sound, some fish jumping and drawing sets of perfect circles on the mirror of the sea, some birds speaking in their sleep. The sound of our own breath flows into the breathless stillness without echo, drifting away into space.
By then, Orion is usually just climbing up over the silhouette of the islands in the east. The Zodiac Light is still gleaming in the west – this mysterious afterglow of the sun, only visible in very remote areas without light pollution – it is radiating into the Milky Way and then slowly falling like a curtain for the show of the stars.
When we look up into the sky the void fills with more and more stars; soon we see other constellations. Inevitably we see structure, we recognize these ancient pictures with all the historical names: Pleiades, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, etc. – Our old habit of organizing the world in order to not drown in emptiness, to not feel the horror of the incomprehensible void.
One of the most fundamental laws of Nature is that it changes and that these changes have a principal direction. The universe is governed by processes that relentlessly transform physical things from order to lesser order, from pattern to amorphousness, from concentration to delusion, from higher to lower energy. Eggs break, paint peels, ice melts, skin wrinkles. This creates what physicists call Entropy. Opposed to this unique condition of inanimate Nature – to gradually but inescapably downgrade and “deteriorate” – life has the extraordinary quality, in which it differs from everything else, to somehow not obey to this “merciless” Second Law of Thermodynamics. It disregards Entropy and makes just as relentlessly order out of disorder; instead of destroying it creates.
So could it be that we simply express our aliveness when we fill the Universe with pictures, when we see constellations, when we imagine, when we create and see order where there may be nothing but chaos?
Unfortunately, too often, we get caught in taking our own constructs, our pictures for real, mistaking them for reality and forget that we ourselves are their creators.
How often have I tried to look at Orion and to deliberately not see the concept: the three belt stars, the little sword, the whole bow hunter? How often have I tried to comprehend that there is just a bunch of stars and that the concept “Orion” is only in my head, established there not even by myself, by my own imagination, but by collective cultural evolution, inherited. The ‘example par excellence‘ of a mental habit pattern, of a prejudice. And how apparently impossible to free ourselves from this interpretation. Try to look at the sky and not see Orion – see all the stars, but not see the picture. I mean not simply see the concept and just dismiss it as irrelevant, but be aware of your seemingly so completely implausible freedom to just perceive what there really is and leave it at that: just a bunch of stars, unrelated, hundreds of light years apart from each other, no connection whatsoever, no meaning, no pattern, and on top of it – to an almost inconceivable extent – nothing but empty space. We can try as hard as we want, our mind will eventually always come up with the old concept again – once imprinted at a time of pristine innocence – and we will see three stars in a row again and all the rest of it, see Orion again.
If you happen to not know Orion, how about the ‘rising sun‘? We know that the sun is not really moving (rising), that it is the earth that is turning and moving (moving ourselves). But no one would ever describe the moment of beginning exposure to the sun the way it really works; we find it way too complicated and awkward. We rather stick to the old (uninformed) cliché, regardless of how incorrect it is. And we not only stick to it in the way we refer to it in words, we even stick to it in the way we perceive it. Try to “know” that it’s you who is being moved and not the sun that is rising; it may work for a moment, but the “prejudice” will persist.
And is there much difference whether we look at Orion, the sun, or things like religion, belief, personal identity, etc.?
They are all opinions. We need to see what opinions themselves are, not just this opinion as opposed to that opinion, but what “opinionism” is. That it is just what the mind does, forming opinions and clinging to them and believing them. We see our ideas of reality, not reality itself. And, clinging to these concepts, we create a desire that the world should reflect our idea of it. And, as this cannot work all the time, we set ourselves up for suffering.
We are watching a self-made movie. We are glued to the screen and have forgotten that we shot it ourselves and that it only “represents” what really happens, but is not reality itself.
How to wake up from this dream?
All we can do is understand and continuously remind ourselves that it is really only an illusion. We still can’t just turn it off, our mind will come back to play us the old movie. We may lose interest in the movie or just replace it with another one. The problem is not the content of the movie but the perception of it. We are the movie and the watcher at the same time. We are the dreamer and the dream, the observer and the observed. And the trick is to not only pay attention to the movie but, at the same time, to never lose track of the underlying notion that it actually is not more than just that, a movie, a dream, in spite of never-ending apparently completely convincing perceptions to the contrary.
Although I’ve tried to grasp all this a thousand times before, the mere immensity of space, the unimaginable dimension of the universe gradually floods my mind. Eventually I always feel with my hands for the ground under me and, with infinite relief, I sense the weight of my body on the sand supporting me or rather holding me. Gravity holding me back, preventing me from floating away into the horrible nothingness of space. Just this little bit of gravitation, holding me back, saving me from falling away into the night of immeasurable loneliness, into this abyss of cold eternity.
And then sometimes I’m aware of the powerful paradigm shift Einstein has set in motion: Even the force we feel as gravity is just an illusion. There is the “crazy” phenomenon that empty space – nothing – has actually a geometrical structure, that space is curved. There is not really a “gravitational glue”, holding us to this earth (or the earth to the sun). The only thing that keeps us stuck here on Earth is the bizarre geometry of space itself, something like the sagging of space. Gravity is a colossal common misconception. It can feel as if the ultimate rug is pulled out under our feet when we try to accept it, but gravity is a wrong concept, only the unimaginable curving of space is real.
And yet it’s only this little bit of body that rests on the ground, shivering with fear. The gaping emptiness around is in a mysterious but unquestionable way also my home, my origin, part of me. I am part of this living planet; we are the great vessel, sailing around a burning star in the stillness of space.
I’m alone with myself, composed, tranquil, at the center of peace. My heart is open like a flower. Sometimes I feel something floating away from me and something descending upon me – mysterious exchanges of the soul with the universe. In such moments my heart is lit like a lamp in the starry night, expanding in ecstasy and choking in happiness.
These nights are often too precious, too profound to be wasted for sleep. But nevertheless, I always find myself eventually drifted off into sleep, endlessly busy with fantastic incomprehensible dreams that fade without memory as soon as I wake up. When I do wake up, occasionally, the stars are still there, watching over me; the picture has slightly changed, constellations have wandered off to the west, time has passed. A delightful coolness is in the air and a touch of moisture on the blankets. Sometimes I hear the splashing of dolphins far out on the sea, otherwise there is little, at first, to restore the sense of familiarity around.
In the morning when the stars grow pale and a new dawn is glowing in the east, we are still there, on our blankets, on the ground. I never really know whether I come out of a dream or just step into one. We get up and sit in meditation for half an hour. That is the stage in between, the reference state, the time when we withdraw from reacting all together, when we practice paying attention.
And then I take my kayak and go fishing. The sun rises, a new day begins, and Parvin goes for her Yoga on the island. Another piece of reality begins to unfold. But nights like these leave their traces…
Klaus written and revised between the 1990s and Dec. 2010