the great exchange
The heart is a space outside of time. A refuge. Scrapbook. Wildlands. The Dreamer and the Griever stumble through the Heartlands. A Dali landscape folded inside itself. From these love-scorched plains, past and future stretch to the horizon in all directions. When we know something in our heart, it is impossible to locate this knowingness. In this, we hold the mystery of consciousness.
Our physicists and astronomers have deeply enriched our understanding of space and time, but as yet, they can tell us almost nothing about consciousness or the feelings of the heart. And yet, the iron in your blood, the oxygen you breathe, these elements were forged during the massive explosions of supernova. Out there in space, ejecting their blinding energy.
There are more atoms in our bodies than stars in the universe. And these atoms have made a journey across the universe traversing six billion years before joining with you. In this way, each of us is intimately connected to space. In a way outside of time.
The space probe Voyager beamed back pictures of Earth, as it appears from the edges of our solar system. Family snapshots of our planets and mother sun. A Dwarf Among Giants, headlines proclaimed. If our first glimpses of Earth from Apollo 11 made us feel grand, these latest photographs placed us in our true diminished position in the scheme of things. That faint little blue dot there — that’s us. That’s Earth. All alone.
Our palaeontologists tell us we abandoned the safety of trees some three hundred thousand years ago. Our leisure time increased, our minds awakened, and we became perhaps the first beasts who turned their thoughts from food and procreating. And we turned them to the stars. Was there a somewhere else, an out there? What motivated our reasoning ancestors not only to bury their dead, but accompany them with tools? How they must have craned their necks at the sunless night sky in fear and awe. Wondering. Marvelling all those glinting stars, winking. That splashed cloak of droplets.
Then, four centuries before Christ, Aristotle, drinking from the rich ferment of human ideas that was ancient Greece, announced that our Earth lay at the universe’s centre, around which all else, sun, planets and stars, revolved. What an idea! Humankind, seated at the centre of the universe! Hub of the Great Wheel. Admittedly, we were no less troubled by hunger and warfare, but glorious all the same upon our geocentric throne, Rulers of the universe. And we sat there for nine-teen, count them, nine plus ten centuries.
It is no wonder then, in 1543, that Copernicus was cautious. He was dethroning a giant. But dethrone he did. An inconspicuous man, a Polish lawyer and Canon of the Catholic Church, Copernicus did more than any other to irreversibly alter the course of human destiny. A deeply religious, passionate young man, excited by the search for truth, trembling as he uncovered God’s perfection in mathematical Laws which governed the motion of the heavenly bodies themselves. The Earth moves, he proclaimed, and in one fell swoop, sent us reeling into space, a body among bodies, a speck of sand on the vast heavenly beach. Our reign was over.
Come Galileo, Newton, Halley, all would take their turn, cast us further from the centre, permit us no fantasy of primacy. Then, just when things were looking bleak, Albert Einstein joined space to time.
Rather than see ourselves as moving through space over time, we must now somehow understand that we move locally through a fabric woven from threads of space and time entwined. It’s not an easy thing to stay mindful of. What is time if it is not something passing?
And yet we know our hearts carry the past. Past injuries, loss, wild flutters of first loves and the effortless heights of lasting connection. Just as we carry the past with us, so too a version of the future. Do we not feel the tug of anxiety, the twist of excitement for imagined moments?
The heart is a space both infinite and bound.
We are lifeforms evolved to inhale the waste products of stars. Breathe in. The oxygen atoms you’re inhaling remember that they were in the interior of a star. These atoms have travelled for millions of years across the universe before entering you. Each day you inhale hundreds of litres of oxygen. Playing your part, while you inhabit this body, in this universal dance, this waltz of atoms.
As you fill the space in your wet lungs, indulge in wonder. How many atoms in your body once belonged to Frida Kahlo? On average, about 100,000. What about Harriet Tubman? Lao Tzu? Ramesses? Breathing is not only cosmic history. But also human history.
Our human essence was assembled in space. But on its journey here it fragmented into millions of pieces. We feel incomplete because we are! But we sense the opportunity to grow because instinctively we know that the missing pieces fell into other people. To become whole, we have to exchange pieces with others. In this way, not only are we a part of space; we get to savour the awareness that we are, minute by minute. Breathe. You can feel it in your heart.