We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had become
~ Etel Adnan ~
Let’s say that you are walking down the street on a lovely spring day, blessedly free of thoughts, enjoying the sun and the new leaves. You meet a neighbor and say hello and then keep going. You chat with a shopkeeper sweeping in front of her store and move on. You are attracted to vivid red tulips outside the florist and stop to buy some before continuing your walk. A friend hails you and suggests lunch so you accompany him to a cafe.
You have just behaved like a subatomic particle, a bundle of possibilities coming in and out of existence by virtue of various interactions along the way. You haven’t completely disappeared between encounters because that doesn’t happen at our scale. But each of our bodies’ trillions of cells is composed of an average of 100 trillion atoms composed of multiple subatomic particles. All of these come directly from the birth of the cosmos. So we, along with everything else, were born with the universe itself.
We are thus composed of possibilities, of which the Big Bang is the first we know of in our cosmos. From its first milliseconds, everything contained in our universe is a result of possibilities coming into existence, directions chosen out of a host of interactions, leading to ever-new opportunities. As eons passed, atoms began to coalesce into stars which then contained the potential for galaxies. The more stars, the more chances for planets to form. The more planets, the more ability for life forms to develop. More life forms mean a vaster scope for evolution. Each new expression of the cosmos brings further possibilities into being. We see their manifestation everywhere we look, including in the mirror.
This constant emergence of form and new realities is what cosmologist Brian Swimme calls seamlessness, one of his eleven powers of the universe that I have been exploring. Though I am doing it last, it was his first because everything arose out of seamlessness, “the ground of being, an empty fullness.” A realm of existence so seething with constant creativity that physicists call it spacetime foam, bubbling everywhere and forever. This, the foundation of the cosmos, is “pure generativity,” Brian says. “Not a thing, or place. It’s a power.” The act of becoming “is the nature of the universe.”
In answering the age-old question, “Where did we come from?” various traditions have intuited these profound mysteries. Buddhists speak of the interconnections among all things. Hindus of universes coming in and out of existence. In Haudenosaunee traditions, Skywoman falls from the boundless sky, carrying a branch to seed a new earth. According to Rabbi Avivah Zornberg, a specialist on Torah, God’s answer to Moses’ “Who are you?” translates as “I will be who I will be,” thus claiming “the very principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen.”
Australian Aboriginal Songlines are the essence of possibility arising from encounters. The First Beings — which included humans, animals, and landscape features — created themselves from the primordial mud. A perfect metaphor for what Brian calls “this glue-y, interconnected realm of pure generatively.” They then started their journeys, singing and dancing the world into form, the landscape into rivers, forests, rocks, plants, animals, clouds. Most importantly, they have never stopped. And they expect us to carry on their work with them.
It is our sublime task to continue to sing Earth into creation. Though we create firm creeds to hold onto, our stories show that we have sensed that we live in a continual state of becoming. Our ancestors intuited what we now know: that we are a mode, as Brian says, of “the realm that gave birth to the universe.” Formed by these powers, we embody them, flowing through one possibility as it turns into another.
In my thirties, I moved into a house where I could garden for the first time. I loved it so much that I studied landscape design and started a business so I could create gardens. A chance encounter at a cocktail party launched me as a champion of native plants. At a native plant conference, Miriam McGillis, a colleague of Brian and Thomas Berry, was the keynote speaker. I went up to her afterward and said “I’ve been waiting to hear this all my life.” For a few years, I participated in programs at her life’s work, the ecological and spiritual center Genesis Farm. After decades of this varied Earth apprenticeship, I had my own burning bush moment in the southern California desert. That led to this website and my relationship with all of you.
This sequence of encounters and possibilities parallels others: motherhood, partnership, friendship, family. Every one of us can come up with histories like this. The cosmic flow carries us — creations of possibility — in an ever-moving river of opportunities, prospects, chances, risks. The universe continues to emerge every moment. This is the energetic realm of dreams, visions, regeneration. “Hope,” Brian says, “is a trait that hovers in seamlessness. All the possibilities are there.” Generativity never falters.
At a time when Earth needs us to move to a new phase of evolution as human inhabitants of this planet, this is a profound invitation. In every moment we can make different choices, take promising directions, collapse old possibilities, and open new ones. Wherever we are, whatever we do is “where the universe comes forth.” This is the great promise of all eleven of Brian’s powers: their energies are always available, always moving through us. We don’t need to come up with them, we need to step into them.
[Top photo: 30 Dorados (the Tarantula Nebula) via the Webb telescope. Photo credit: NASA/CXC/Penn State Univ./L. Townsley et al.; IR: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/JWST ERO Production Team]
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My explorations of Brian’s eleven powers in one place, with links to each.
Genesis Farm, the life work of Miriam McGillis, is inspired by the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. Time spent there led me through a door to my place in the whole, formed by Earth, a child of the cosmos.