I found this gem tucked away towards the end of one of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s last books, “The Long Utopia” (written with Stephen Baxter). It was the heart of a philosophy being taught by Stan Berg, a member of “The Next” a group of highly evolved children. And it made me think. And remember.
Flashback: To when I was tiny, I was taken to the doctors for my vaccination. Last time the vaccine had been delivered on a sugar cube… but this time it was going to be a hypodermic. Distraught, I paced the waiting room muttering “there must be a better way”.
Flashback: To a time of exploring my Christianity and the happy conviction of the fundamentalists, and thinking “there’s something missing here”.
Flashback: To university, sitting round in a dorm room, captivated by the original radio series of Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. In one of the episodes (which became the foreword to the book), the Guide tells us that
“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”
Sadly (the Guide goes on to tell us) “before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.”
And that thought has haunted me for years. “There must be a better way”.
The many faiths of this world would want to stand up and say “There is a better way. Come follow our religion. We have the answers. Ours is the way to change the world.” And many of those faiths have.
World movements would want to stand up and say “There is a better way. Come follow our movement. We have the answers. Ours is the way to change the world.” And many of those initiatives have.
And individuals would want to stand up and say “If everyone saw it my way, the world would be a better place. This is the way to change the world”. And many of those individuals have.
But the more that I look at these various movements, with their promises of change and transformation, with their complex belief systems and conditions of entry acceptance, their dogma and creeds, their rules of behaviour – the more it does seem to come down to three simple things. Three simple things that, when we shake off the myth, the legend, and the fairy dust, become very very simple, and at the heart of our world religions, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism – or even at the heart of what Everyman understands to be right.
-Be humble in the face of the universe
In “The Long Utopia” Terry’s character expounds a little (but not much) on what those mean.. and if I read him right, he was looking for his reader to put their own interpretation on a simple concept – to make people think, as was Sir Terry’s gift…but if you will permit me to take those eleven words and offer some thoughts of my own…
“Apprehend” – to take its meaning of “to understand” – to comprehend, to seek to face the truth of the world and of those around you. To seek other people’s points of view. To be curious. To explore truth, and recognise that there is no such thing as ‘The Truth’. To look to the stars and to seek to understand them.. and to look into your heart, and seek, yet again, to understand. To come to peace with what you find… not necessarily to change it.. but to accept it, humbly and with grace. To recognise that (as my Huna teachers would say) “all truth is not taught in one school.”
To truly apprehend our world is to live fully aware of it – immersed in what is going on right here, right now – to enjoy what is in front of us, what surrounds us – to throw ourselves truly into the experience of being alive.
“Be humble in the face of the universe”. To paraphrase the Hitchhiker’s Guide slightly: “The Universe is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to the Universe.” This Universe we are in is mind bogglingly complex… and yet it all works, wonderfully and incredibly. Perhaps there is some grand Design. Perhaps there was some Creative intent behind it. Or perhaps it did all happen by accident. The things we thought we understood a few short years ago are now being called into question. Physics is ever evolving its understanding of what’s at the heart of it all. Be humble. We could destroy our world, and humanity, and the Universe will rumble on. So maybe, just recognise that we are here to contribute to the Universe.
Yet know that everything we do has an impact on this biosphere.. every choice, every action, of every individual, has the potential to heal or harm this world and those in it.
Know that the world does not revolve around you – or your culture, your faith, your nation – and the Universe does not revolve around this earth. Unless it does. Be proud of who you are… your gifts, your talents, your contribution… being humble means recognising your gift and putting it to use. Buckminster Fuller observed: “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe.” Being humble doesn’t mean to put yourself down. It means to think correctly about yourself. Know yourself…and look up at this glorious world we live in, this glorious Universe, and whatever form your faith takes – and be humble.
“Do good”. Just that. Do good. Be kind. Be loving. Help others. Repay harshness with kindness. Bring peace. Bring tenderness. Look out for others. Hug someone. Compliment someone. Give something. Smile. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be done. Let your actions come from a place of kindness, of generosity, of love. Do good.
I wonder what the world would be like if we just set out to follow, as best we can, those eleven words.
-Be humble in the face of the universe
Perhaps just a few simple thoughts, some simple wisdom, really could change the world. Maybe now would be a good time to find out.
Find out more at www.timhodgson.org
Further reading – from “The Long Utopia” and “The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” GO HERE