You are Important
By Nabeel Redwood
One of the unfortunate effects of scientific progress in the past century has been the rise of nihilist cynicism. As humanity absorbed the realization that the sun & stars don’t revolve around us, and that we’re not even near the center of the universe, the result has been sobering and depressing. Most people who encounter the fact that we’re just one of trillions of planets inevitably grapple with the existential crisis of not mattering.
Everyone wants to matter. Everyone needs to feel important, to feel necessary. The nihilist attitude that we’re just meaningless specks of dust on a random rock floating through a cold, uncaring universe isn’t just wrong: it’s depressing. It also discourages ethical behavior. When no one is looking, why bother doing the right thing if you’re really as meaningless as you think?
This cynical attitude is one of the disappointing results of scientific discoveries about the scale and scope of our universe. Frankly, realizing how big the universe is just makes some people feel insignificant. It makes people feel like their lives, their choices, their pleasures & pains, simply don’t matter.
But the mystical view can reorient this lens. To the mystic, scientific insights about how nature works and how vast it truly is are only more reasons to be filled with awe. Believing that all is one slowly allows you to actually perceive that oneness. And when you can experience your interconnectedness with all of reality, the discoveries of science inspire awe and delight, not fear and worthlessness.
The Universe Only Exists within YOU.
While your physical body may not be at the center of the universe, your consciousness is.
Science is inherently objective whereas philosophy - at least mystical philosophy - is subjective. Both have their values. The scientist’s objective assumptions produce valuable results - like the internet.
But the mystic’s subjective assumptions produce valuable results too - namely, happiness.
So here’s the thing: you can only experience reality subjectively and never objectively. Even facts which were reached objectively are only perceived subjectively. This concept takes a while to wrap your head around. But the simple fact is that you always experience all of reality subjectively. You can never really step outside of your own subjective view. So the reality that you experience is that the universe exists within you, and not the other way around.
Scientists may gather facts that corroborate with other facts. But the frustrating truth is that no matter what, all of those “facts” are perceived subjectively. There is no such thing as an objective view. That being said, it’s still useful to act as if objectivity is possible. Doing so has yielded great advancements like the rule of law, modern medicine, and cell phones.
But acting as if objectivity is possible doesn’t make it so, even if it produces some worthwhile results. While objectivists will cynically say that we are just tiny specks in a vast universe, the subjectivist will disagree by pointing out that this vast universe can only be perceived subjectively through an individual and no other way.
So you don’t have to think that you’re a meaningless speck. Instead, realize that the entire vast universe thrives within your awareness and not outside of it.
You are the Observer.
The old Zen koan asks, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
The question is rhetorical, but it points to the truth that everything requires an observer to exist. Until something is observed, it’s existence cannot be proven. Quantum physics is proving this scientifically now too: experiments show that the scientists themselves are influencing the behavior of the particles they’re observing simply by observing them.
So while the objective view may argue that the universe is a vast, uncaring place that you exist within, the subjective view is the opposite: your experience is the only way the universe can be observed at all.
Therefore, it’s not enough to just have physical processes continuing indefinitely to sustain a universe. No, there need to be observers within that universe, too. Without the observer, there can be nothing to observe.
Well guess what: you are the observer. Without you existing to observe the universe, the universe simply cannot exist.
3. Earth isn’t the center of the universe - YOU are.
Mystics acknowledge that our subjective experience provides the only information we have about reality. That means that your personal subjective experience is at the heart of the universe.
How more important could you be? Our solar system and our galaxy may not be in the physical center of the universe, but our awareness is. Everything in the universe orbits around our awareness of it, placing our subjectivity at the center of everything.
You are not a meaningless speck of dust on an insignificant rock hurtling through a vast, uncaring universe.
No, your awareness is one of the most fundamental aspects of the universe. In fact, the universe cannot exist without you to be aware of it.
A universe without awareness is no universe. The universe was pregnant with consciousness since the beginning. That doesn’t mean there was sentient awareness right from the Big Bang - although there may have been, we can only speculate as to the nature of such disembodied consciousness. But the seeds of our consciousness were embedded in the universe right from the beginning. It took however many billions of years for that seed to fully sprout, but the essence of consciousness was present from the start.
Just as a seed, an apple tree, and an apple are all parts of one continuous process, so is human consciousness one part of the continuous process of Creation. While it may have taken billions of years for that seed to become human beings walking around, the potential was there from the start.
Alan Watts put it well when he said that just as an apple tree apples, so does a universe people.
We are the fruits of this universal process of Creation.
Our awareness is critical to the entire purpose of the universe. So how could you not matter? How could your life be insignificant and meaningless in such circumstances?
The mystical truth is that even as scientific knowledge of the material universe grows, we will remain at the center of it metaphysically because we can only experience this vast universe subjectively. Mystics acknowledge that we are each the central character in a divine narrative that is unfolding. You are in the front row seat of Creation. Isn’t the audience just as important as the performance? A universe manifesting without anyone to be aware of it is like a book without anyone to read it, or a movie without an audience. A movie can’t exist without an audience buying tickets to support it.
Our place in the universe is just as integral. There can be no divine performance of infinite Creation without our presence as an audience to bear witness. So you are not just a meaningless speck of dust in an infinite, pointless universe. You are the center of the universe. Without you, there is no universe. The universe only exists within you just as you only exist within the universe.