At the end of their days, our hunter gatherer ancestors would gather together around the fire and tell the stories of the day. What did you do? What did you see? What did you learn? This was vital for the tribe’s survival: every new experience helped them negotiate a challenging world.
They would also tell stories about their place in the world around them. They would find their own explanations for the stars and the moon and the sun and the natural forces they lived at the mercy of, and these stories would give them a context in which they could experience the significance of their own lives, and the life of their tribe.
Nowadays we have lost that mythological framing. Our scientific understanding has blown away all previous attempts to explain the world. This has had many benefits to us materially, but we now have a very, very different context in which to place ourselves and our lives.
Some people wonder if cosmology will become the new mythology. The actual physical universe that we can now perceive is in many ways more awesome than the cosmic order our predecessors would imagine. But it’s also vast. Unimaginably vast. And a purely scientific approach to this vastness can leave us feeling even more insignificant and lost.
Something similar has happened with the other sort of stories we tell. Now, for our daily update on what’s happening in our world, most of us check out the news. But a problem of scale exists here too: most of the news stories that we consume are about huge events, affecting large numbers of people, often in faraway places. Where are we to find a sense of our own significance in all that?
Sometimes I get flashes wherein this picture inverts and I realise that the “significance” I am seeking is closer than my next breath. It’s a liberating yet fleeting insight that’s not easy to put into words.
So, being an intuitive storyteller, I asked my inner guidance for a story that could help me communicate this insight with you. And this is the story that came. I hope it helps you recognise the immeasurable significance of your own life…
There were once three brothers, and the eldest said to himself one day, “I will to become a man of significance”.
With much studying and discipline, he became a famous and respected concert pianist, and achieved an abundant sense of his own significance.
The second brother wanted also to become also a man of significance. But when studying the piano proved too arduous he dabbled in some other things but didn’t apply himself in any way. Eventually he sank into a life of dissolution and despair.
The third brother took a good hard look at his two elder brothers’ fortunes, and shuddered. He too wanted to become a man of significance, but knew that he didn’t possess the discipline or the talent of his first brother, and thus worried that he might attempt to follow the first, but end up following the second, of his brothers.
And so, not knowing quite what to do, he just slid into life. A certain career appealed to him and he applied himself to it, gaining a decent job. He met a lovely woman who became his wife and soon there were children too. And yet all along he wondered about his significance, and felt that he hadn’t yet achieved it.
But one day he was caught in a ferocious storm. All around him lightning bolts struck the ground, or exploded trees. Then one hit him.
And just like in the cinema, he saw scenes from his life flickering before him: every significant moment fluttered past him like images from a movie. And a question came to him, which grew in importance with every scene.
“What light was it that lit this scene?”
Still the scenes from his life flickered before him, and the question grew more urgent.
“What light was it that lit this scene?”
And then the answer came to him, with great force. Just as the light of the projector illuminates the images on a cinema screen, so in his life had the light of his own consciousness illuminated every experience he had ever had. All the significant experiences, and all the insignificant ones too.
And in that moment he found the significance that he’d been seeking all his life. And it was not in becoming “somebody” who could stand above the crowd. Rather, it was in recognising this light within him, more intimate than a friend, closer than his next breath, illuminating all his moments, even the most mundane ones.
And although this light shares the grandeur and majesty of the stars, it is intimate and close. Although it is one with the mighty forces of nature, it is gentle and measured within us. It lights the lives of all human beings equally, whether famous or obscure. It is the most momentous part of our experience, and we need seek for significance in no other place.
As modern humans we often seek, but do not find, a sense of our own personal significance. We have been stripped of many of the ways our ancestors found this essential quality – to know and cherish the value of one’s own life.
But the one truest measure of our own worth is still with us, and always will be: our own personal connection to the light that illuminates all life and every experience we have. Remembering this will help us find our place, and our worth, in a rapidly changing world.
This moment, whatever you are experiencing, is overflowing with significance.
(Picture from Hubble Telescope, courtesy of Nasa).