Worlds within worlds / Ptolemy, Galileo and Miss Piggy
When we walk into a room filled with people with a task before us, how do we see ourselves? Well, typically we don't see ourselves. As mentioned elsewhere, we are too preoccupied with the goings-on of the day and our own personal obsessions. We are constrained by our individual psychological underpinnings. Most often, we feel inadequate to the task at hand and somewhat fearful of being asked to participate. This is the beginning of a long list of barriers to wholehearted collaboration. But let's step back.
Ptolemy was a great mathematician of the first century of the first millennium who made many extraordinary discoveries in astronomy. Unfortunately for him, he is most often remembered for what he got wrong: he posited that the earth was the center of the universe. This idea was so strongly held by everyone that it resisted being reimagined for nearly 1400 years, in the face of mounting evidence that it was clearly amiss. Clergy looking in the telescope of Galileo refused to see the truth that their eyes revealed to them. We share this difficulty. Our primary problem which includes all of those inhibitions of the previous paragraph is that, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we see ourselves at the center of the universe. That's at least a starting point. What we might do is see that there are worlds within worlds. [Need a story here]. In some way, we are indeed our own universe. What we need to see is that very tiny world exists within other worlds of a much larger, indeed infinite scale which includes it.
With all the talk of collaboration, there still exists the overwhelming focus on "me "and how to help "me." Reading today the review of two self-help books, Amy Cuddy's Presence and Shonda Rimes Year of Yes, it raises again the question of the individuals role in the world. While "the sage on the stage" is losing traction in some parts of academia it sees no flagging in the measures of what we deem to be success and accomplishment. We measure ourselves in how we perform in front of others, from the elevator pitch to the podium of life. The possible sources of creativity, strength and meaning are still seen most often through the personal lens of one's own limited frame of reality. Although the power of synergistic relationships with others, with nature and with creativity is spoken about, it's link to the individual's larger role and responsibility to society and the world is rarely fully appreciated. Clearly we need help and we need to help ourselves. We can and need to be more effective in life and some of this book deals with that. Yet the most important message is that this personal power is only truly meaningful in the quest to understand how it might be of service to others and to the world. That’s where we find meaning: in the service of something larger than ourselves.
The exploration lies in the space in between, the silence after speaking, the expanse of white around the printed word, the power of exchange. There are two seemingly incompatible and contradictory adages: "how we are matters", which is our individual responsibility, and "there is no work alone", acknowledging the people and influences that surround and penetrate us. Both are true. And their truth is revealed in the exchange. If we are to become a meaningful part of the worlds in which we live, the necessity is to allow, foster and nourish this exchange between ourselves, our deeper Self, others and a world of vital resources beyond us.
In an old Gahan Wilson cartoon, a large classroom has an array of tweedy, bespeckled and bearded fellows, all smiles with arms outstretched filling the room with one professor at the center. He is noticing a happy, expectant face appearing at the door, eyebrows raised. With a welcoming smile he says:
"Ah! Professor Zlata! Just in time to be Planet Neptune!"
If only we were so willing to find our appropriate place in the universe.