This metaphor came with the image of zooming out to recognize the macrocosm we are in, and I felt it is a powerful way of thinking that can help us break our present attachments and go to a much loftier viewpoint.
On the same lines, is a corollary metaphor looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, the microcosm. If we look at our bodies, composed of millions of cells, we can start to imagine the lives of our cells. They are born, do intensely work for some time and then die. What if think of our little cells as people. Well, there's the toe people, and then there's the foot people. What if the toe people held grudges against the foot people, thinking, "you aren't giving us enough resources. There's inequity here, .." And the foot people held similar grudges against the toe people.
I find myself grinning at this idea, simply because I cannot fathom the notion of toe people and foot people. There's just me - the whole organism to which the toe and the feet are connected. I understand how my unity works at the cellular level. Although the toe and foot have different functions and look different, they are part of the same organism. Since my awareness is at the level of the organism, I recognize the underlying unity immediately.
Can we bring the awareness that lies in the microcosm up to the level of the macrocosm? When we are in toe-consciousness, we cannot see the organism that we're connected to. But, what if could connect to that organism of which we are a part? What if we were aware that although we look and think differently, we make up a much bigger whole, one that we simply cannot understand at the level of toe-consciousness? How would our lives be if we acted with that awareness?
At another level, Sagan's metaphor drives our ego into insignificance. The toe metaphor points drives home the significance of each part. Significance and insignificance are two sides of the same coin, and not contradictory ideas. To the larger being, hair falling and growing again is not a big deal. To the hair, it is birth, trauma and death. What if we take the awareness of the larger being with the biggest perspective possible and then examine the littlest of things. What would that vision be?
Finally a story. On Tuesday, everything went contrary to my expectations. I had a full busy day planned with lots of work to be done. I started out my day with an email from a colleague who was worried about his workload getting bigger. My initial reaction was defensive - I have a bigger workload, and I could think of many reasons why things had to be better for me. Then I paused, and reflected, and found a deeper intention to be of service, and responded by acknowledging both the intention to serve and justifying the present. That didn't feel entirely wholesome. I was reflecting on everything and suddenly realized that I'd made everything in my life so important that other people's problems were not in my circle of concern anymore. It was I who was suffering as a result. Hmm.. I met my colleague and made clear that it wasn't about fairness of work distribution, it was about stress. If anything caused stress for him, I wanted to help in whatever way I could. A big burden lifted off from my heart.
In a later meeting with my professor, who I'd been trying to get a hold off for a while, our meeting went over my "budgeted" time. Instead of being delighted, the old habit-pattern kicked in causing stress. I had to be somewhere else, and I didn't have the phone number of the person I was going to meet. Then, I decided to ditch it - the universe was too vast, and my problems were too small - I gave up, and decided to enjoy the presence and time of my professor, and we had a magical meeting. I went late to the other meeting (which proceeded just fine without me), and was still able to carry out the role I had promised to perform.
One would think that this was enough to awaken me, but then I had a dinner engagement, and my friends were late. Again, my first thought was.. "Oh no, I have so much work to do, I should have timed this engagement and made it clear,..." The second thought, as I walked out into the Oval, was "What am I doing? This is so insignificant. Yes, I have a ton of things to do, and no, I am not going to do any of it right now." As I saw the clear sky, Sagan's metaphor opened up. A speck of dust; no, a fraction of a speck of dust. That's what we are. And yet, the tiniest of my problem becomes my world. No way. Not happening. Needless to say, the dinner was fantastic, I had a great time, and the next day, I finished what I thought were insurmountable tasks.
As we went around the group, Viral shared the notion of innercosm, akin to microcosm. He summarized the gist very beautifully as one of gaining a bigger perspective. And, there is ALWAYS a bigger perspective.
Nipun talked about the fourth guy who went to the moon, Edgar Mitchell, and found himself looking at the earth and going into a moment of connection with all of life. He realized how artificial the borders are that we have created, because from space, there are none. The inspiration led to his found of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which conducts research in areas that mainstream science has found unproductive :).
Ripa expanded the metaphor by using death as a tool to enlarge perspective. On our deathbed, how would we look back at our life? Can we bring that awareness and live each moment that way? Steve Jobs has an inspiring commencement speech on these lines (see the part about death).
Dinesh uncle wondered what was wrong with his generation that they could not take any of the risks the younger one was taking to follow their heart. I had a big smile when I heard that, and Pavi and Guri both reflected on that very powerfully. Pavi said that we stand on the shoulders of the previous generation - it is thanks to them that we can go further. Guri also pointed out that it is not the case that our generation is all awakened and aware. We have created a bubble around our little community, so it is not correct to generalize. Building on what both said, I feel that we are part of the same organism. If children succeed, then the organism succeeds, and parents are part of that organism. That generalizes to all people, all life.
Nipun also shared this incredible story about a woman who has spent her life serving others. She had this experience where she felt she was looking at the world, and it was all dark, and when she turned around, she saw bright light, which was creating lots of lit-up spots on the world. She felt that acts of service and genuine compassion are little bright dots. Nipun felt the Wednesday is like that - maybe insignificant in the larger scheme of things, but a little bright dot. To build on this, I feel that the dark and the bright dots are part of the same organism, so in order not to let the dark dots overwhelm us, we have to glow even brighter.
Pavi also noted that it was ironical that although our insignificance should be depressing us, in our circle, we felt pretty good about it :).
We had an incredible guitar performance at the end by a Canadian friend, which was about taking the dive and spreading our wings to fly.
On that note, may we all fly to follow our hearts!