by Arjuna Ardagh: At a time of uncertainty and great concern for the future…
I have taken solace in the presence of one of my greatest teachers in life. Angel the cat, whose ashram we live in, will be 17 years old in February
Angel spends most of her time just being. She finds a sunny warm place on the deck, or a soft blanket in the house, and then spends hours enjoying the pleasure of just being Angel the cat. Her needs and desires are incredibly simple. She enjoys to eat many times a day. She likes her cat litter box to be clean (well, who doesn’t?), and she enjoys frequent stroking, petting, and tickling behind the ears.
Angel has only actually known two physical environments in her life: the house we lived in previously, and the house we live in now. For the last four years she has hardly strayed at all outside of the one acre on which we live. She has her favorite spots, and always seems to find something fascinating right here at home.
Angel enjoys eating chicken and tuna fish. But she has never seen a chicken. She wouldn’t know what one is. For that matter, she has never seen a tuna fish… or a boat… or a net…. or the ocean. She has absolutely no idea how the food we take out of the refrigerator each day, to put in her bowl, got to be there. In fact, she probably never even thinks about it.
She is too busy enjoying the pleasures of just being Angel. She has no idea what a canning factory is, or the freeway on which the truck had to drive to bring her food. She has no idea what money is, which we use to buy the food. She lives in her own small and limited world, in what we might describe as a state of “blissful ignorance.”
Actually the word “ignorance” is sort of judgmental, isn’t it? It’s more like “intelligent trust.” Experience has taught her that food will be there regularly, that the garden is safe to play in, and that whenever she comes to us for affection, she never gets turned away. In that way she remains happy and present. She experiences love and connection and a good life. And perhaps most importantly, that blissful trust becomes an enormous gift to those who are blessed by her beauty and her presence.
Sometimes things do not go her way. When Angel is hungry, or wants to go outside, or inside, or outside again 5 minutes later, or wants to protest about many other things, she is loud and defiant. If she sees a suitcase being packed, which she has learned is an omen of an outcome she does not like, she has been known to pee in it. She protests. That is her version of political activism. And she does not back down.
Chameli and I have learned a lot from Angel over the years, and we hope that you might now consider adopting her as your guru as well.
Up until the later part of the 16th century, everybody believed that the earth was the center of the universe. The planets, which could be seen up in the sky, were moving around the earth, but in a very haphazard way. A planet might go a little way this way, and then appear to go back again, and then into another direction. During this same period it was commonly believed that the earth was flat, and therefore anyone setting off on a long sea voyage of exploration was in danger of falling off the edge of the earth. It was Nicolaus Copernicus who first suggested that in fact the earth and other planets were moving around the sun, and it was Galileo who proved it a few decades later with the world’s first telescope. This small shift in a theoretical model now made the movement of the planets entirely coherent and logical, and it precipitated the greatest shift in consciousness of western civilization. The Renaissance transformed art, architecture, the courage to explore, literature, humanitarianism, and started the evolution of what we now call science. Things began to make sense, and so it was possible to release the belief in an erratic, irritable and revengeful deity. Today we now understand so much more than our 16th century ancestors. We are wiser, better informed, and so we have been able to discard such superstitious beliefs. Prior to Copernicus, no-one suspected that they had it all wrong. They just made assumptions based upon incomplete or wrong information.
There is no reason to suspect for a single moment that things are any different for us today. There is still so much that we also do not know. We still have false understandings, and based upon those understandings we take uninformed actions. If you are not sure what I am talking about, check out a lovely little book called Seven Brief Lessons in Physics>by Carlo Rovelli. You can read the whole book in one evening. Quantum physics (the study of subatomic particles) and astrophysics (the study of the universe) have already proven that much of what we assume to be true is completely wrong. For example, the book will show you that scientists have now proven that subatomic particles are both particles and waves at the same time. This means that an electron or a boson or a quark has a location in time and space when it needs to be observed, and then may have a quite different location in time and space when it needs to be observed again. In the interim between these two locations, it is actually everywhere. It’s too much in a blog post to explain how all of this has been proven, but trust me, it has. This was the essence of Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle,” and “Observer Effect” which he postulated back in the 1930s. What has changed today is that scientists understand that this is not just true of some subatomic particles: it is true of all particles, and therefore also true of the atoms, molecules, and all of the matter which they make up. It means that Newtonian physics (seeing the world as predictable), which dictates most of how we operate, is as misinformed as the assumptions of the Middle Ages. It would be more true to say that things are magically appearing and disappearing out of an infinite field of nothing: a field of infinite possibility. Becoming more familiar with this reality makes magic the norm rather than the exception.
In the same way, astrophysicists have now proven that time is a function of gravity. In other words, time moves at different speeds according to the gravitational field in which it operates. So when we look up into the sky and see a far distant star and calculate how many light years away it is, it is not really accurate. That calculation would only be true if the entire universe lived within the earth’s gravitational field, where we have the concept of time that we understand.
All of this stuff is mind boggling, I know. Do read the little book and enjoy have your mind boggled for an evening. My point here is that once we see what is going on at the cutting edge of this kind of exploration, it becomes absolutely obvious that, just like Angel the cat, we are living in a tiny little reality that conforms to our own limited understanding. Angel doesn’t bother knowing about how the food got into the refrigerator, or what money or electricity is, or a hundred thousand other things that actually affect her, but that she does not need to understand. She relaxes into the only intelligent response to having very limited information: enjoying her existence, and therefore into letting go of control, and allowing the immense gift of her presence to radiate to all around her.
You and I and everyone we know can easily adopt this same disposition: just by recognizing how much we don’t know. We can also follow Angel’s example, and relax into enjoying the blessing of the existence we have. Just like Angel, we can learn to trust that things work out pretty well: simply because they always have. If we pay attention, we learn that the less we fret and worry and try to control things, the more chance there is for things to go well.
What are you trusting in? Who are you surrendering your “doership” to? Angel trusts us, the providers of her food and the emptiers of her litter box. We trust that which is greater than the limitation of our own minds. Some people like to think of it as your “true self.” Some people enjoy to personify it and call it “God”: even giving him/her a name like Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Quan Yin, or Lalita Devi. Or you might simply chose to trust in the unknown intelligence that made all this the way that it is. Just look sometime at the wings of a butterfly, or the way that any plant grows out of a seed, or the soothing multicolored beauty of a forest, or just the mystery of what causes living beings to be alive. There is abundant evidence of an organized, benevolent, humorous intelligence which leaves us, like Angel the cat, with such hopelessly limited information that it makes it a very smart thing to relax, trust, and surrender.
For sure, the election did not go the way we expected. For sure, many people feel angry, cheated, and very, very concerned. Those are all legitimate feelings. No problem to take to the streets and kick up a storm. Meow loudly that you will not tolerate racism, disrespect to women, or abusing our earth. But just like Angel, let’s balance such valid and vehement protest with deep relaxation, and the trust that there is way… way… way… way… more to this life, and how it will all unfold, than we can possibly understand or control.