Carlos Castaneda and the Expanding Universe

Yesterday's post about recession vs. expansion thinking got me thinking in more universal terms. Modern astronomers think that universes expand and contract; one proof of this is the so-called redshift, the light version of the Doppler effect you may be familiar with in terms of sound. Our expanding universe is tinged red; conversely, a contracting universe would experience blueshift. Hubble's calculations related to redshift were part of the empirical proof of Einstein's theory about expanding/contracting universes.

Human beings experience periods of contraction and expansion many times throughout their lives. When we're flush, it's easy to acquire all sorts of expensive tastes and habits. During lean times, a lot of those practices fall away, revealing themselves to have been inessential.

Those of us trying to live our lives more sustainably are trying to get a jump on these realizations, however. We want to pare away practices that waste time, money, and resources so that we can step off the short-sighted boom/bust cycle.

The problem is, it's very difficult to determine when we ourselves are expanding a little too much. Would that there was a redshift for our daily lives that would indicate whether we are expanding or contracting. There are many traditions that try to explain just that: they offer a yardstick that people can use to measure whether or not they are on the right path. The mystic Carlos Castaneda described one of the first tests he underwent while studying with a Yaqui shaman, Don Juan. Don Juan told Castaneda to find his one right spot on a porch. After much experimentation Castaneda began to discern different hues and sensations for different areas of the porch. Read the full anecdote, which is very amusing: no matter what you think of Castaneda. I love the image of a grown man rolling around on a floor systematically until he develops strong aversions and attractions to sections of a porch: in our own lives we are often a lot less systematic as we struggle to separate right from wrong, and the impression we give from afar might not be any more elegant than rolling around on a porch.

In my own life, I've tried to develop a "redshift" sensitivity when out shopping: I ask myself why I need such and such a thing, and if it takes a great deal of justification, it's probably not really necessary. Simplicity is usually a good signal in life. Some other hints that we might be on the wrong path can be the sense that life is a chore, or that we're divorced from our authentic essence or purpose.

Individual fortunes will expand and contract many times. Our planet's fate is somewhat less elastic. If we can only learn the concept that we don't need to buy, eat, use up a lot of stuff just because we can, it might not be necessary to learn the art of contraction the hard way.

Tags: Consumption, Einstein, Hubble, Mysticism, Redshift, Simplicity, Universe

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