Wonder and the Big Cahuna
When I think about what life is all about - what makes it feel most meaningful - what makes me feel most ‘alive’ - wonder is high on my list.
I’ve found wonder to be one of the most powerful things to ground myself, to get rooted in the things that matter most. Like gratitude, it gives you precious perspective and lifts you out of the particular. It takes your nose off the ground (that next email, that comment from your coworker), and your eyes up to the stars. And from that place you look back on where you are, and everything looks different. It’s a wise place from which to begin, many things, and our journey together in this book.
I imagine our ancestors grew up in a world filled with wonder. Everything seemed magical, from the turns of the weather to the unknown extent of our lands and oceans to the mysterious stars above.
Perhaps sadly, science has now dispelled much of that mystery for many. But it’s thrilling and astonishing what science has enabled us to explain. And it doesn’t need to take the wonder from us — each level of explanation leaves a further question to be asked, a further mystery to wonder at. And the truth is, we still have absolutely no idea what is fundamentally going on in this life and universe. It’s the greatest mystery of all - I call it the “Big Cahuna”.
The Big Cahuna has always fascinated me. I used to sit in a big chair in our living room, and just try to conceptualize it. What the heck, at the biggest level of everything, is going on??!!!
I remember when I saw, for the first time, a picture of our universe as far as we can see it. I thought that it would be a big expanding ball outward from the big bang at the centre. But it’s not. It looks like the picture below.
The strands are flows and currents of galaxies. They almost look like blood vessels in a living body. And it’s not an expanding ball or any other shape. We don’t know what shape it is, because we can’t see it. We can only see as far as the light that has reached us. The 100 billion galaxies we can see might be looking at 10% of the universe, or .0000000000001% of the universe. The universe might well be infinite.
We *are* those ancestors of ours, in a mysterious world that might stretch on forever.
If such a vast unknown doesn’t help trigger your sense of wonder, the things we do know often works for me too. Things like the fact that we are all made from stardust, literally. All the elements in the universe, like the elements that make up our bodies, are formed from different combinations of hydrogen and helium. But the only place where these elements form are in the nuclear fusion furnaces at the center of stars. So all the elements that make us up were forged in stars that then went supernova, exploding and throwing their new elements into the cosmos, only to be gradually pulled back together into clumps that became us. We are made, quite literally, of stardust.
Or consider the sheer scale of the world we know. For every grain of sand on earth, there are at least 10,000 stars in the *known* universe. It blows me away. I sometimes sit in the shallows, take a handful of sand from the ocean, and watch the grains flow out from my hand - 10,000 *stars* for each tiny grain of sand in my hand - and then cast my gaze out across the whole vastness of the ocean, and imagine how many grains are out there.
It’s unimaginable. Humblingly so. And all of that unimaginable scale is not even taking into account the fact that 80% of the matter and energy in our universe is so-called ‘dark’ energy or dark matter (which just means we have no idea what it is) and the strong indications from particle physics that there are many more dimensions of physical reality than we can currently perceive, and perhaps even many more universes than ours.
Before we conclude our own insignificance from all this, consider the wonder of life. The mammalian brain is the most complex thing in the known universe. For all the unimaginable number of grains of sand on earth, there are 100 times that number of synapses or connections in the human brain. More atoms in the tip of your finger than there are stars in the known universe.
From the unimaginably tiny to the unimaginably huge, we are awash in wonder, sailing through a wondrous and mysterious reality.
One thing that I find grounding about all this is the humility. It’s hard to be vain and arrogant when face to face with the mysterious wonder, not just of our universe, but of our daily lives. I often find that underneath arrogance is a kind of fear, insecurity. The most arrogant among us, both individuals and belief systems, are often also the ones with the deepest fears of inadequacy. But wonder takes us away from our fears of inadequacy because it takes us outside ourselves entirely. It's not about us. It's about the mystery, the Big Cahuna. Equipped with wonder and humility, I think we're best prepared to seek all the truth and wisdom that science and spirituality can offer us, as we search for the Big Cahuna.