Who are you? Yes, you! You know your name, your age, your family, your own face, your thoughts, emotions and feelings. You are you, of course. And there’s no one else that can be that. There is only one you.
What are you? A human, right? Maybe white, black or asian; maybe a male or a female, young or old, from one country or another. But you’re a human. That much you know. That much you’re sure of.
WHAT MAKES YOU, YOU? Maybe your unique face. Or your one of a kind fingerprints. No, surely it has to be more than that… It’s your thoughts, your emotions and your personality. They are uniquely and exclusively yours. Right?
So if you are you and you’re one of a kind, unique and different, surely you must feel special. Do you?
We spend our lives rushing from activity to activity, from one place to another, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes worried and other times carefree. It’s life after all, right? There’s a whole lot happening all of the time and we navigate that as best as we can, hoping we make it from one moment to another safely. At least we try. But it can be overwhelming. We all know that. We’ve been there. YOU’ve been there… You do your best to find meaning in life, in the suffering, the struggles, the losses, the disappointments, in the rough days, the sleepless nights, the anxiety attacks or the depression. Somehow the joyful moments, the happiness and the good times seem to get lost in all the rest.
The first Noble Truth taught by the Buddha was that of the suffering. It exists and we’re sure aware of it. Human existence has been defined by it. Who can blame us for feeling overwhelmed by it at times? Suffering makes us blind and makes us lose our way in the world. It just piles on top of us, one bad moment after another, like bricks someone throws in a bag we’re carrying and soon enough we walk around crushed by the weight of our problems. That is enough to make us feel small and meaningless. After all, some things are unavoidable and we’re just powerless in front of death, or the wrath of nature. We have no control over the unexpected and we sure have no control over time. All of the money in the world, all of the work and effort can’t buy us one single extra second of time. So how do we keep going in spite of it all? How do we see beyond the bad? How do we find joy?
Imagine a book in your hands. You’re holding it so close to your eyes that all you see are black shapes, spots, dots and even the white of the page is murky and blurry. How could you possibly read a single word off that? Your problem is pretty obvious. You’re too close. Move the book further from your face and slowly shapes become words, words join into sentences and it all becomes clear. All you needed was to see the bigger picture. The world is like that too. Buried in our thoughts, worries and daily activities we’re so close, so in the middle of everything we just can’t see the bigger picture. So nothing makes sense. We can’t find solutions to our problems because nothing is clear when all we see are the distorted shapes of our thoughts.
So ask yourself again: WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU?
Look at your hands. Move your fingers around. Touch your skin. Pinch yourself. It’s your body and you know it. But do you see it? Do you really see yourself? You are made up of millions of independent cells, holding tight to each other to form your skin, your bones, your flesh, your hair, your organs. You are millions and millions of elements perfectly arranged and glued together to make you you.
Take a deep breath. Feel your lungs inflate with air. You can’t see air. You can hardly feel it too. But it’s there and it’s more complex than you know. Air is a mixture of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and very small amounts of other gases. All those molecules you can’t see or practically feel travel through your body, into your lungs, then pass in your blood, go to your brain and keep you alive. Pretty spectacular if you think of it. Do you know what’s even more spectacular? Where it all comes from. Want to see the really big picture? Look up, at the sky. Look at the stars, the sun, or the moon. See the Universe? That’s where it all comes from. That’s where YOU come from. The carbon in your body, the iron, the water you’re made of, the air you breathe, the food you eat… It was all born in the stars. You are made of star material, just like everyone else you know and everything you’ve ever touched and ever will. Before that first cell developed a membrane to help it survive and protect the nucleic acids it contained, which ultimately led to the birth of life, you and everything you’re made of were already there in the star dust. Do you see that when you look at yourself in the mirror? It might sound overly simplistic. But maybe we just need to simplify things way more to see that big picture. Remember the last time you had a glass of water? We might not even think of how much water we drink each day. Do you know your body is made up up to 60% water? Now stop and think of this: all the water you’ve ever drank has been around for 4.6 billion years. The water in your body is billions of years old. Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe and a major feature of your body, was produced in the big bang 13.7 billion years ago.
Feeling special yet? You definitely should. You, as you know yourself, are much more than you realize. You’re not just a speck of dust in the vast universe. You literally are the whole universe. You’re not just something that appeared out of nothing somewhere far in the void of space. You and I and everyone we know and everyone and everything that’s ever existed ARE the big bang. To be more precise, we are 13.7 billion years in that big bang, that instant that triggered everything. You have the privilege of being it at this very moment. Don’t quite get it yet? Let’s light a match. A little swipe, a small spark, ignition and then the flame. Now let’s let’s slow the whole process down billions of times and let’s revisit it. Imagine we’ve shrunk ourselves a billion times smaller. From this new perspective the initial spark of the phosphorus on the match is gigantic and we can see it in incredible detail. It takes a long long time and it’s violent and complicated and it just expands. We are billions of times smaller than the flame that forms and it just expands and expands way beyond our ability to see and comprehend, growing larger, wider, spewing sparks everywhere, generating light and heat and it would take us billions of years to travel through it. That’s the big bang. And that really is us, a part of it…A small spark from the flame that just keeps growing and moving farther and farther as we exist within it. We are not different from it, or from anything that has ever formed or ever will form in it. Just like a drop of water being thrown upwards from a wave in the ocean is still a part of it, so are we in this event that we call existence.
Do you feel special now? The next time you look in the mirror, the next time you touch your skin or have a glass of water, understand what you are. You’re not just you. You are the spectacular you! Everything in the Universe conspired to align and assemble just slightly different in order to make you the way you are. In your bones, in your skin, you carry everyone else… your parents, your grandparents, their ancestors and so on.. You’re uniquely you yet completely a part of everything else. As for your mind…it contains everything you’ve ever done, seen or touched, smelled or felt, everyone you’ve ever met, heard, bumped into. Your consciousness contains within it everything and everyone and you are a part of everyone else’s consciousness. So who you are matters, what you do and say matters and shapes everything around you. Your existence is not meaningless or small. Everything you’ve ever said, every breath you’ve ever taken, every particle of dust you’ve ever displaced has shaped the world around you. Your actions, or karma, ripple across existence and reality. You’ve always been here in one form or another and you’ll always be here even after your body splits apart into the elements it’s made of. This is who you are. And it’s spectacular.