The unity of existence: a manifesto

Posted on May 23, 2011

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Mystics have always told us that all the universe is alive and conscious. This idea is embodied most famously in various Eastern and Native mystic traditions, including the Islamic concept of the “unity of existence” (wahdat al-wujud). Such a belief lends itself towards treating the material world around us with respect, to show it consideration, and to interfere with its existence as gently as possible.

Dismissal of such a view point is most unwise. While it may seem like a fantasy, there has always been a problem of explaining why there is “something” instead of “nothing”, “existence” as opposed to “non-existence,” “separation” as opposed to “homogeneity.”

Once there was nothing but a point in non-space that was so small it didn’t actually exist, and suddenly it ripped open and the universe was born. What force initiated this event, and what substance the event itself consisted of, is a complete blank. We have no idea. The concept of the elan vital or “life force” pervading all existence may seem outdated to some, but only because its original framers leaned more towards the poetry of the idea rather than real explication. In reality, elan vital finds no enmity from science or rational philosophy.

And with “life” comes “intention.”

Intention is the focus of consciousness, without which, there is no real consciousness. It is the secretary checking the clock, the dog following the scent of a BBQ, the germ cell seeking a proper host, the electron responding to a proton. Some of these “behaviours” we have come to term as “laws,” “instincts,” or “statistical probabilities,” but regardless of what we call them, they are more naturally understood as phenomena of “life.” They exist. They live.

When dealing with a living, conscious existence, however, our relationship towards it necessarily takes on a different dimension. It’s one thing to manipulate non-living objects with no regard to their own well-being, but when dealing with conscious life, a civilised person shows a little respect. Recycling, for instance, is a way of using only what we have to, rather than wasting resources. It’s respectful.

But why is this respect a one-way street? Why does it always have to come from us?

For instance, the other night when I walked across the living room floor, would it have killed the coffee table to move just a little bit as I passed by? I’m not saying it had to jump across the room to get out of my way — a quarter of an inch would have sufficed. It could have sucked in its corner just the teensiest bit and done me a great service.

I know, I know. That’s just one particular object, and there are bad apples in every barrel. It’s possible there are coffee tables out there that actually show a little respect to the humans they live with — although at the cost of being labelled a “furniturist,” I have yet to meet a coffee table that wasn’t rude.

A more reasonable argument, I suppose, might be that an extremely simple consciousness, such as a coffee table, is incapable of the abstract thought necessary to ethical deliberation.

However, this certainly can’t be true of Gravity, which encompasses the entire universe. Being cosmic in scale, surely it should have enough brains and good manners to know that I don’t always want to go in a downward direction. Why can’t we work out some kind of cooperative existence in which gravity varies according to my needs — especially when I’m carrying cups of coffee or walking on an icy sidewalk?

This lack of respect is common among all the universal aspects of existence. Being able to travel only one direction in Time is unnecessarily restricting, and it isn’t alleviated by the three dimensions we get from Space, since one of them is “up” and generally involves stairs, and all the rest are “way over there,” which are hard to get to, and when you do, don’t have what you were looking for.

It’s not as though we haven’t done our share. Sure, in the last couple of hundred years we may have been a bit harsh on Nature, but we’re getting much more considerate again. Before this little blip, we spent tens of thousands of years worshipping the natural world, only to be repaid by disease, famine, and short life-spans.

I say it’s time we saw some reciprocity. I say it’s time we demanded equal rights.Why can’t I be in two places at once? Why shouldn’t I be able to go back to a particular moment of stupidity and do something smart instead?

But demands are impotent without action, so we need to stand firm and make it clear that if our demands aren’t met, we can make existence very uncomfortable for, uh — for existence.

For my part, I’m going to demand that my lawn grow to the proper length and stop, and if it doesn’t, I’m having the entire yard paved.

What are you willing to do to bring about a new spiritual equality?

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