Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grains of Sand

Tyler, a very good friend of mine, wrote this as a Facebook note some time ago, and just messaged it to me after he'd read the blog. I loved it A LOT! And I've copied it below so you can read it too. It brings up a lot of what I think about the world, the galaxy, and the universe, in a scientific way. Really a beautiful statement from him, and the quote from Carl Sagan. It's all underlined to seperate it from his note from my comments. And as a side note, this could be a long if you're willing to give me some time, please read on. It's going to be fun.

With all the war, terrorism, violence, and disasters on planet Earth, it is easy to take up sides against each other. However, it might help to take a step back and look at the whole picture, and see just how small we are in this vast Universe.

To help us see the whole picture, we must shrink our Universe into a size we can comprehend. Where better to start than Earth.

If Earth were the size of a grain of sand (1mm), the sun would be a little larger than a softball. That softball would be 38 feet away from our grain of sand Earth. From the softball sized Sun, Pluto would be 1,515 feet away from that. Now that is just our solar system.

Our Sun is one star in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy has around 200 billion stars. Even with that many stars in our galaxy, the closest star to our “softball sized” sun is Proxima Centauri. Keeping the sizes proportionate, Proxima Centauri would be 460 miles away from our softball sized sun. That is roughly the distance between Los Angeles, CA and Tucson, AZ.

With over 200 billion stars in our galaxy, the distances we are now talking about are huge. That means our galaxy, The Milky Way, would be 46,251,582 miles wide in comparison to our softball size sun and our grain of sand size earth. 46,251,582.2 miles is around half the actual distance between Earth and the Sun. And that is just a shrunken comparison of our universe.

In this collection of stars we call the Milky Way Galaxy we have discovered 287 planets outside our solar system, and counting. With that many planets, it's hard to imagine that life doesn't exist out there somewhere.

Expanding to actual real life distances, if you could travel in a space ship at the speed of light, it would take you 100,000 years to travel from one side of the Milky Way Galaxy to the other.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our Milky Way Galaxy is only a small part of the entire Universe. So far, with our most powerful instruments, we have discovered close to 200 billion galaxies in the Universe.

That means that there are 1 septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in all the galaxies in the entire the Universe, many of which are just like our sun. If you had a space ship that could travel at the speed of light, it would take you 156 billion years to travel from one end to the other. Considering our universe is only 14 billion years old, that is an unfathomably long time.

I would like to end this rambling thought I have written out with a quote from the late Carl Sagan. Using the comparison of Earth as a grain of sand, he said:

“Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

I think what really hit me, aside from the facts Tyler listed, were some of the wordings from Sagan. Things like "...on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." God, if that doesn't hit you like a ton of bricks I don't know what will.

Or, "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."

And of course this, "There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

Focusing on the facts, just the reducing of earth to a grain of sand and the sun as a softball, and the distance between those, does really put things in perspective. And thinking of the earth, and us on it, as "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" gives you the feeling that perhaps we're very unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

And though I agree with all of this through and through, I would, however, like to say that, to me, it only strengthens my belief in our IMPORTANCE in it all.

I've spent two summers in Japan. I love the country, was desperate to go, and the first time I did, spent the time more as a tourist, enamored of every single box of tissues with some Japanese writing on it and a picture of an adorable cartoon rabbit with big eyes and cute floppy ears.

The second visit put me at a slower pace, giving me time to read, study, make solid friendships, and solid understandings about myself.

The first time I came back I was happy and enthralled, the second time I came back, the only way I could describe it was, I felt enlightened.

And the more I think about enlightenment, about what it means to me, and what I believe it means in general, is within the realm of understanding. I think the way we're led to consider enlightenment is as something that is, for the most part, unachievable by common men and women, that we must sit under a tree or a waterfall for weeks, or months, years even, meditating to achieve some higher state of being that puts all things in perspective and sets us apart from the world.

And though I don't seek to fire on beliefs that draw from that idea, I think over time it's morphed into a daunting idea, that none of us will ever "be as good" or "as holy" or "as enlightened" as so and so. But I think that's entirely untrue. Enlightenment, really, when I consider it, can never be the end of the journey, but rather a continuing process. Enlightenment can never mean the end of our self discovery, of our explorations, but as a new step in how we view all the things around us. So to claim "I am enlightened, I am complete in my spiritual, universal explorations" is a little foolish,  because it almost seems to suggest the "holier than thou" ideal, the "I'm smarter and MORE englightened than you will ever be so I'm better." Which is silliness. To suggest you are better than someone else, and to bring people under your wing in a sense that they seek your wisdom can many times transform into their worship of you. People who seek enlightenment as a means of being worshiped or followed will never find it.

The idea of the Earth as a grain of sand is incredible, because in writing a few months back, the best way I came into describing what enlightenment meant to me, the best way to sum it all up, is this: Experiencing enlightenment is coming into the knowledge that you are simultaneously a grain of sand in the ocean, and the sun of the universe. It is knowing that as an individual you are one, but collectively, we are also one.

I am a firm believer in the beauty of contradictions. (Sometimes they suck.) But I'm talking about the human race as a beautiful contradiction. Isn't it? We're technically animals yet we believe the things that tell us to go against our nature, and seek higher understanding, whether it be spiritual, scientific, or otherwise.

That's pretty amazing stuff. And to think about all the terrors we face, the horrors we see on earth, that technically at the end of the day, we're nothing but a grain of sand in the ocean, and that ocean is on a planet that is comparable to being a grain of sand in itself. That's being, scientifically, as close to nothing as you can possibly get.

But, as I've talked about briefly before, there's a HUGE difference between mere existence and living. All things exist. But few things live, and live beyond a functional sense, beyond a biological sense, in that we seek to understand not just why we exist, but why we live, and what we're meant to do with all of that, how to put ourselves to good use.

Thinking about that will put you halfway to enlightenment in an instant.

So why? Why continue the fight? When at the end of the day we're as close to nothing as we could possibly be, why do we even get up in the morning? And beyond that, why do we seek to understand the fact that we're next to nothing? AND! In the face of all THAT, why seek to prove we actually aren't just grains of sand, but suns of the universe?

Because of these things, people's persistence in proving we're more than just grains of sand is beautiful, again, a beautiful contradiction. It makes perfect sense and is utter nonsense all at once. Just as much as being a grain of sand in the ocean and the sun of the universe at the same times makes sense. It doesn't. And yet it does.

This is where responsibility comes down to us. As Sagan pointed out, knowing these facts "underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another". I think we do have a responsibility to utilize our existence to find out why we're alive. And in doing that, you dig down deep into yourself, and the contradictions begin to make sense, and you think, "Gee, 85 years isn't that the grand scheme of things." So, in the blink of the eye which is your existence, what are you going to do with your life?

It is very heavy when you think about it, and never feel like the exploration, the self discovery isn't worth it, because one step in the right direction is better than none. Even moving a millimeter is more than nothing.

It's my firm belief that YOU have a purpose. I'm not trying to write a Joel Osteen book here, but don't cheat yourself. The facts are daunting. The weight of the truth of the universe can crush you, but only if you let it. I'm not saying you have to believe in a Religious God to acknowledge the fact that you are alive despite the odds. And you're capable of using your life for great things. We have the internet for God's sake. I mean, come on...

People are born with emotions, whether you see them purely from a chemical standpoint or something more you have the ability to feel because of events. And even more amazing than possessing the emotions is humans ability to react,which is what causes them in the first place. You are affected. That's the beauty. It's not that we're capable of Love, but that something brings it out of us. Sure I always use Love as the example, but it goes for hate, anger, lust, greed, happiness, sorrow, empathy, fear, compassion, everything. Not only can we feel, but we DO feel. And the fact that it happens is mind blowing.

Knowing that the universe is so vast, but that we can teach ourselves to learn about it means our purpose reaches beyond just living, breathing, making babies, and dying. We can figure out...the universe. I wish Jeff Bridges was here to emphasize the "Dudeness" of this.

The very fact that you have the ability to comprehend your purpose, your existence, your life, should tell you that statistically speaking you are a grain of sand, but emotionally, intellectually, you have the power to become the sun of the universe. You can explore the depths of your consciousness to a point in which you can determine morals, can determine your beliefs, and can experience the beauty of contradictions and the even greater beauty of what it's like to feel. To me, emotion is a sign of purpose. Most animals have them, but they seem to stop at a point. And I don't discredit animals by any means, but I'd be lying if I said humans weren't the greatest animals around. We are. Until a Dolphin shares his blog with me, I think we're it.

So why waste, not just your existence, but your life? Existence is being a grain of sand, but living, that's becoming the sun of the universe. And when we do remember that a humans life really is, in history, the blink of an eye, or the flapping of a flies wings, the flutter of a hummingbirds heart, don't you think we should take up the mantle that is that responsibility? How petty is it to spend your time lost in thoughts of hate, anger, murder, or revenge? When you die, physically you will fade away into the dunes, the ocean waves will bury you within its depths. And if you stood only for the basics of what other animals stand for, instincts, and hardly utilized the potential that is the power of your spirit, do you think you'd be remembered long?

Why is it that the men and women of history who have sought to bring peace and Love into our lives have persisted? Why have they not been forgotten? And for the most part, even the people who don't believe in certain figures like this usually say, "I don't believe in him, but I liked what he said. I'm on board for acceptance and equality."

The speech about peace and Love can grow tiresome, and I think I'll find myself struggling not to keep bringing it up, but the most important thing is to remember, your life counts. You know when people don't vote because they say, "One vote, my vote, doesn't matter." The reason that's untrue is because there are millions of people with that same mentality who don't voice their opinions, don't get out there and let themselves be heard. That does matter. That affects things greatly! To say "I am just one person I don't matter" is false. You do. But there are too many of you who support you in your thinking you're merely a statistic, a fact, a piece of science and nothing more.

You are something more. Together, we are something more. Think of all the sand in the world. Deserts, the ocean, beaches, etc. There is so much sand, so many specks of dirt on earth, in the universe. Alone, one grain of sand isn't much. But together, sand is rock, sand it mountains, is homes and riverbeds, foundation, bedrock, and pillars of strength for beautiful works of architecture hundreds of years old. Collectively, all these grains of sand become one beautiful piece, one solid mass that can be blown into the most beautiful glass, the most gorgeous sounding instrument, the finest beaches, and the ground upon which we stand. One grain of sand becomes a part of one boulder. One are part of many, which in turn become one.

Alone, you can understand great things about yourself. But together, we can realize great things, can go out and do them, can work together to create a better world to live in. You don't have to be Ghandi, or Christ, or the Buddha to perpetuate the goodness that lies dormant within mankind. Peace and Love are burning within you, within all of us. And to be loved by one is a wonderful thing, but to be loved by many is even greater. To give love to one is great, but to give love to many is complete satisfaction. To love the masses without regard to their differences is to drink from the wellspring of the meaning of life. To me, the meaning of life is quite simple really, when you think about it. It is simply, to live.

Don't just exist. Live. Don't just be a grain of sand, but be the sun of the universe. Come together.

The ability to live is within you, and the ability to find inner harmony, inner peace and love, is within all of us. Looking inward to discover it is a long and many times darkened journey, but a fulfilling one nonetheless. But no one is alone. There's how many of us here on this mote of dust that is earth? For when you emerge from that abyss you find nothing burns brighter than your soul. Nothing burns brighter than the person you are capable of becoming, and the grain of sand that contributes to building the solid rock upon which we all must stand. Nothing douses the fire of thee who know they can change the world. For today is tomorrow and tomorrow is yesterday, and as our grains of sand slip through the hourglass, don't let them just fall to the bottom and sit in silence, but together become a boulder and shatter the glass. Strength and goodness persist beyond the limits of time.

That could be you. It can be you. It can be all of us.

Grains of sand? That was yesterday. Today we are Suns of the Universe.


  1. I've taken a lot of philosophy classes and read a lot of theological books, and I have never heard these thoughts, which I agree with, articulated so well. I feel, as you do, that realizing how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things actually makes me feel like we are more important(contradiction) If someone were to say what we are is a physical selves and earthly/timely content that would be depressing because life is so fleeting but when you realize we aren't hardly anything physically..what is left?? everything that matters. and that's hopeful.Thanks for posting this it was very thought provoking :)

  2. Wow, thank you very much for the kind words.

    I absolutely agree with you, life is fleeting. Let's take advantage of each moment and live it to its fullest.

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