“Us” – A practical pep talk on our unique cosmic awesomeness2013-01-10 4
Our guest columnist Adam Fletcher gets reflective and starry-eyed for the beginning of the new year and asks us all to consider not what we haven’t achieved, but what walking, talking miracles each and every one of us is. Yes, even you there at the back…
I see us sometimes, out there hustling, up until too late o’clock in the glow of our monitors, slaving over some spreadsheet or document, some idea, some fragment of a nearly something that we’re going to nurse really, really hard until it is a something. Then we’re up early, quickly making breakfast, dressing ourselves, and rushing out the door with toast prised in our mouth, running to wherever it is we need to go really urgently because we said we’d be there at too early o’clock.
We’re working hard to be a success at something, whether to our own definition, or to a wider societal definition of whatever that loaded little word might actually mean.
Sometimes it can even stress us out, or worry us, or make us disappointed in ourselves.
But it shouldn’t.
We are complete successes, all of us, all the time. We’re actually one of the greatest, most incredible, most successful things that have ever lived. I’m not being dramatic or romantic here. What I’m offering today is not ugly, dressed-up opinion, but sexy, naked fact.
I think it is only a failure of imagination that prevents us from occasionally pausing whatever it is that we’re doing and basking – just basking like nice sea-lions on warm, happy rocks – at how absolutely, incredibly, ridiculously, astronomically lucky and great we all are.
Think about it.
Right now you’re strapped to a bit of dust called Earth by an unexplained force called gravity in an incomprehensibly large absence of matter called space, orbiting at extraordinary speeds around a massive ball of plasma called the Sun in a period of relative cosmological calm, and at a convenient distance and temperature that support the baffling little magic mindfuck we call life.
Like all of the world’s greatest sperm, you won a 100 million strong endurance race, that led one egg and nine months later to the messy yet glorious moment of your birth. At that exact moment, you were the youngest person on the whole of the earth. Now here you are, still, having meandered without fail through the liquid phenomenon of Time until this moment we call the Present, where you sit, a continuing daily success, both the oldest you have ever been, and the youngest you will ever be again.
You’re the sitting, reading, trophy of four billion years of evolution
You’re amongst the most complex creatures to have ever lived on this planet, maybe anywhere in the cosmos, and you exist now at the end of an unbroken chain of successful reproduction, adaptation and genetic transfer that stretches all the way back through time to the very first interactions of boring, inanimate molecules that sparked the beginnings of life.
You’re the sitting, reading, trophy of four billion years of evolution; an almost impossible Olympic flame of biology, still burning as brightly and beautifully as when it was first lit.
Or to put it a cooler way, none of your ancestors were barren, or sterile, or failed at getting laid, ever.
If you don’t have any children, you’ll finally be ending a continuous pattern of genital collaboration that’s been going on since your ancestors were about five-thousandths of a millimetre in length. If you think that puts pressure on you to go out there and convince someone to help you duplicate yourself a bit, then consider the just-as-amazing alternative: if you don’t reproduce, you’re at the end of that chain; the zenith; the apex; the pinnacle of a single billions-of-years old evolutionary strand.
Every single event and atomic encounter since the beginning of time led exactly to you…
Because we all are related in every single conceivable way possible, and the level of separation between us exists only in our minds. Stretching out from your family, you are related to every other human, every other animal, every other life-form on this planet, and subsequently the very Universe itself as everything “living” is made up of stuff we call “nonliving”.
There’s no such thing as unlucky
Biologically, chemically and physically you are, like every other lump of life that is mucking about here, part of the same single eternal organism. Just as the innumerable bacteria in your stomach and microbes on your skin are part of the wider ecosystem of your body, so your body is part of the wider ecosystem around you.
While you could certainly get the impression that you’re some kind of unique, special individual, especially when someone compliments you on that wacky cutlery you bought from Ikea, more realistically you are a tiny, dispensable constituent of something entirely bigger: a walking, wobbling nutrient and gas conversion bit in a massive, alive and complex engine called Earth.
So, the next time someone says something trivial like, “Oh, that’s unlucky, we just missed the train”.
You can say stare at them, baffled, like they just ordered a battery salad on their birthday, and scream “NO!”
The statistical odds of us being anywhere, any time, in any position to miss a train are so unquantifiable – so ridiculously, bafflingly large and bonkers – it’s like we’re winning every single lottery ever, at once, whilst getting struck by lightning, twice, every beautiful moment of our miraculous existence.
Who cares about the train? Let’s just stand here and reflect some more on just how awesome we are, and how happy we should be to have the chance to stand here, missing trains, and thinking about how awesome we are.
Life’s a funny little gift, but a gift it is
What’s more, we know almost nothing about anything, and we’re probably the smartest stuff going on for at least 24 trillion miles in every direction. We’ll probably never understand the fundamental paradoxes of life, death, space, time or reality… especially on our current, slightly misguided oil-guns-and-money species trajectory.
Our existence unarguably is meaningless, but only because what we conventionally understand about “meaning” is meaningless. However, from this apparent lack of significance and purpose, emerges a super-fun and therapeutic opportunity:
You can do anything you want. Really. You can create your own meaning. You don’t have to follow other people’s rules, or directions, or social structures. You don’t have to do what you’re told, or feel guilty about the opposite. You can make up your own rules, your own meaning, your own purpose. Best of all, you can’t go wrong unless you go wrong by yourself. Nothing matters unless it matters to you.
As Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
So the next time you want to do something seemingly big and daunting – whether it’s moving country or taking an idea from your head and attempting to turn it into a business – when it worries you, or stresses you out, or makes you disappointed in yourself, try to remember this: 99.99 per cent of the work has already been done.
You’re already a success, champ
Cheers to you.
Extracts from this article are available as posters in the Hipstery store. This article was co-written with Paul Hawkins, who’d done all of the hard bits already in this longer version. Adam writes for several websites. If you want to know when, follow him on Twitter.
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