Why the race to space is no substitute for the deep work that needs to happen here and now within these bodies.
Sometimes, I wake up and look around my room and wonder before I get out of bed how I will make it through the day. I don’t feel ashamed to admit this and I know I’m not alone. The human experience can be grueling; sometimes, for long moments that stretch across years and even decades. I was depressed most of my 20s. Not every day, but mostly. Enough so, that when I turned 30, the chance at a new decade was a real cause for celebration.
Sometimes, I look around and see almost everything as arising from human suffering. Not just the “bad stuff,” the “good stuff,” too. In a sense, we create all concrete things, experiences, and interpersonal dynamics out of our suffering — either as a response (or reaction) to it, or as a means of soothing or distracting ourselves from it. Culture in this sense is our shared agreement and barometer of what’s tolerable. It’s a mirror, a steam valve, a pacifier.
Sometimes, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to live in New York City anymore. It’s been twenty years and I miss the countryside. I don’t want my daughter to grow up here in this pollution, without the dog her heart desires. I don’t want to be 46. I don’t want to be in this body with its cravings and mild discomforts. I don’t want to be here in this movie theater watching the crap Hollywood produces these days. I don’t want to be in this meeting, watching the egos tussle. I don’t want to be at this dinner where no one talks about anything that matters and mortality looms large. I don’t want to be here standing in the middle of the sidewalk on a dark street yelling and being yelled at by someone I once loved with all my heart.
And yes, Elon, sometimes I don’t want to be here on Earth anymore either. I don’t want to watch the disappearance of animals I assumed would always be here with me. I don’t want to watch the ice melt and the seas rise and displace people with nowhere to go. I don’t want to get another call from another parent telling me their child is inexplicably sick with an undiagnosable illness; or that they themselves have cancer. I don’t want to cry about the safety and security of the children…all of them. I don’t want to witness with rage the cowardice of sociopaths and the pain they inflict with their technology and weapons. I don’t want to watch the race to the bottom of this self-terminating system we call Freedom here in America…well, at least some of us.
I want to stop it. I want to stop the suffering. I want the opportunity to say to the power brokers, “Sometimes, I don’t want to be here either. But, I am. And you are, too. What now?”
I don’t think colonizing another planet is the answer. The answer is deeper than that — not out there, but here in this body, where it currently is, on Earth. And it’s a far more painful journey in a sense. Not because it’s technologically more challenging or needs more man power, but because it calls on humans to do the thing hardest for them to do: sit in discomfort; grave and terrible discomfort in some cases. Remorse of conscience, grief, despair, anger, shame…these are emotions we’ve spent most of the pre-modern age ignoring; most of the modern age disavowing and disassociating from; and most of the post-modern age deconstructing and weaponizing.
On some level, this is the background static of our lives, this feeling of “I don’t want to be here.” For me, it’s very specific. It took years, the guidance of teachers, and the patience of friends, to locate it in my system; years to have the clarity and courage to identify it and begin to work with it. After much observation, I began to sense and understand that this condition was related most deeply to my experience of birth.
I was born via C-section in a hospital. I won’t go into details, but I will share the cascade of feelings around that moment of birth — being not yet ready, pulled by my tiny armpits from my mother’s womb by gloved and unfeeling hands, forced, in a sense, to be here in a room both cold and too bright…to take the first breath here; and in doing so, commit to existence. In that instant, as my body resisted the state change, my pre-verbal consciousness received a thought form, “I don’t want to be here!” That imprint is what I am working with on the deepest level, every time I begin to feel that feeling. In a sense, I’ve created much of my life around that feeling. It’s only now with awareness that I’ve begun to deconstruct so much of the scaffolding that came with that initial impression of Mother Earth and her reception of me. I didn’t trust. I still don’t, sometimes.
What’s remarkable is that my experience of coming to Earth, as grueling as it was to the infant, is actually pretty “normal” by today’s standards. I was birthed in a well-meaning hospital, handled by medical professionals, and had caring parents who did their best in a generally safe place and time. So many aren’t even granted that as a start. No wonder we’re in the state we’re in. No wonder so many of us don’t want to be here. I suspect there are legions of us: under the busy, roiling, hectic, turbulent, or even numb surface there is a deeply held belief that we’re either not safe here or not wanted here or that we won’t be provided for here…our needs will not be met.
This is not the promise of Mother Earth, hers is an offer of abundance and perfection within the natural laws. But, sadly it is the lived experience of so many contemporary human beings who experience lack, scarcity, fear or some combination early enough (and sometimes repeatedly) that it gets wired into the nervous system.
I can relate to Elon and the others in their quest to escape up and out. For much of my life, I tried to do the same. Mine was not a space race, however, but spiritual seeking. I threw myself headlong into any experience that could trigger ecstasy, emptiness, or bliss. I longed — as countless teachers, gurus, and swamis promised — to end the cycle of suffering; to get off the wheel of Samsara.
Navigating, overcoming obstacles, finding acceptance and grace — as individuals and within community…this is the path many indigenous, philosophical, spiritual and religious traditions offer. Philosophy, mythology, art, religion…these are the best tools humans have invented (or unveiled as timeless wisdom) to make sense of it all. These are the keys handed down to us by generations of humans seeking to understand why we’re here…the only effective way to cope with the existential pain of “I don’t want to be here.”
I don’t regret it. It’s been beneficial. It’s given me countless gifts. Not that I could have done it differently, anyway; it seems to be part of my dharma to learn all I can about this human drama. But, I do now recognize when I am seeking merely in order to escape what’s happening. In my own journey, I’ve had to integrate this “I don’t want to be here.” I’ve had to learn to find answers for myself to how to BE in the presence of that. As the poet/madman/prophet, Jim Morrison, put it, “No one here gets out alive.”
Now, I study scripture not to escape this reality, but to live in harmony with it; with a greater grasp of it. I seek wisdom not to check out, but to check in more deeply with myself and other humans. My questions are different now. As my acceptance of this Earthly experience deepens, I find that fewer things register as intolerable. My expectations have lowered, in a good way. I have begun to touch what the Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa describes as fundamental and essential hopelessness. Lama Marut, a more contemporary teacher, offered a humorous and effective acceptance mantra, “Om, it’s like this now, ah hum.” And of course, Ram Dass made famous three small and potent words: Be here now. This “isness” used to be something I skipped over on my hunt for the more esoteric and exciting aspects of spirituality. But, now I see that they are the most important and deeply reassuring of the teachings. From this place, I find my experience of life, of living, is more inclusive and paradoxically, more transcendent.
Sometimes, I feel completely at ease in my skin. I know that I am exactly where I need to be: reading with my daughter, swimming in the cool sea on a warm day, listening to masterful music, holding and being held by a loved one, tearing up at the suddenly acute memory of someone who made an indelible mark on me. Sometimes, I get out of bed and the house smells cinnamon-y like that day when I was nine and we went to the train station and bought the paper doll Santa that seemed to possess magic. Sometimes, I’m dancing so hard my feet lift off the ground and I know what it is to levitate. Sometimes, the plants speak to me and I understand them. At these times, I don’t feel I am at home…but that I am, in fact, of this home. There is nothing but me and home. I am home.
Unlike Space X, there’s no first class ticket on the journey inward. It’s a truly democratic and humbling experience. One that requires sovereignty, leads to true individual choice, and eventually, freedom…This is something you’d think the Libertarians would go nuts for. While every human’s suffering is distinct, there’s also the capacity for compassion and empathy— our blessed ability to feel and suffer along with others; to walk a mile in their shoes; to understand and even share the suffering between us. Some suffering is too much for one human organism to bear. We can be a network of nervous systems for each other. We can feel and heal together. In this way, and in this way only, can we find home here on Earth…or anywhere in the Cosmos.