We are made of star dust
I remember hearing this quote some time ago, perhaps even as a child, as the show it was from, Cosmos, was broadcast in the ’70s. It always made me think of the vastness of the Universe and yet the intimacy of it all – that in this body there are elements forged in the furnace of suns that once burnt bright billions of years ago.
I was not aware of how much truth there was in it and decided last week to research it and I have been amazed at the beauty of this teaching.
The videos I’ve watched have explored the enormity of the evolution of life in the Universe. The early belief that all of the elements that are described on the periodic table came from the big bang started to be questioned in the 1950s when instead there was a new theory – that they had been created in the first suns that formed when the sea of hydrogen that at that point made up the universe first clumped together to form the first suns. Then as these early suns burnt they in turn created all of the other elements. As these stars then grew old and eventually imploded and then exploded more elements were created and scattered out into the universe in the way mushroom spoors are scattered out. Seen like this life didn’t simply start on the Earth, but Earth (and any other inhabited planets we are not aware of) is the final expression of a process of life evolving that started with these early suns. For a more detailed description of this process click on the video below.
What does this signify and why have it as a reflection in a mindfulness email? For me it points to one of the central teachings of the Buddha: interconnectedness. The Buddha taught that it is only in our ignorance that we think of ourselves as separate egos, because we identify with our bodies as distinct and apart from each other. For him, seeing with wisdom meant seeing that everything was interdependent and interconnected: no one thing exists in isolation from anything else and nothing is born only from itself, but arise out of a complex matrix of conditions.
It is as if a wave on the ocean thought it was a distinct, permanent and seperate thing. But on waking up to its true nature it realises that it is both a unique expression of being a wave existing in the present moment and at the same time made of the ocean of which it is a part and which in fact it is: the wave merely appearing to be something separate and distinct whilst actually being intricately connected to the ocean. The wave is simply the ocean knowing itself as a wave. And as such there is no difference between any of the waves, for they are all the ocean, and yet all unique.
The Buddha also emphasised compassion. A deep feeling of empathy and connection to the suffering of all other beings. If the wave in our analogy wakes up to being part of the ocean, then it immediately realises that all of the other waves are in fact, itself. That they are all unique and beautiful expressions in the moment of the one source: the ocean, which is what all of the waves share. They are at the same time unique and totally the same.
If the atoms in me were forged in a star many billions of years ago how many other life forms have they passed through? How many worlds have they been a part of? How many animals and other human beings? This body is not mine. It is ours. And as I look at others if I start to see stars and the flow of life rather than just individual beings then each person is both eternity and a single moment: the ocean and the wave.
Right now this is poetry for me rather than a deeply felt insight. But I believe poetry opens the heart and can give rise to wisdom. When the rational mind stops trying to understand and find an answer poetry and the heart rest into the not knowing and find an answer in the question: who am I?
As science shows us, one answer is ‘I am the universe’. Feeling this in the heart takes it to a deeper level of insight. One which would lead to a love for all beings as part of oneself, just as the wave would love all waves when it woke up to knowing that it was an expression of the ocean in one point of time, manifesting in form as a wave. Just as we are the universe knowing itself in this moment of time manifesting as intelligent life in this moment of time, formed of atoms create by the universe in the seed houses of the stars.
Taking this reflection into the Loving Kindness practice can offer a way of opening our hearts to all beings: friend, neutral and difficult.