Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Theory of Everything

- Outside the Desert Retreat House - 

In light of the recent Academy Awards, we recently viewed that wonderful screenplay, A Theory of Everything, a story about the life and work of the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking. Throughout the movie Professor Hawking is depicted as a man on a passionate quest - searching to develop that one, simple yet elegant equation that can literally explain "everything." 

As I watched that movie the other day I wondered if, in fact, Professor Hawking's goal hasn't already been achieved? It seems to me that the one "theory of everything" has indeed already been articulated. 

Long ago as Jesus taught his disciples that in order to find your "self" you have to lose your "self," in order to discover your "true self," you have to abandon your "false self." Or, perhaps using more Buddhist language we might say, "in  order to find your "self" you have to lose your ego," to realize that the idea of a separated individual self is a false delusion, because in truth everything  and everyone is connected - everything and everyone all belong to one another. This is indeed the simple and elegant equation that explains everything. 

This theory of everything is not only confined to the realm of wisdom teachers or religious beliefs.  Today's contemporary physicists, neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists have all come to this same elegant, simple theory about everyone and everything: we do indeed all belong to one another in one interconnected, complex web of being. Unselfishness is innate to our biological nature, and compassion and concern for others is at the core of our essential human happiness,

Thomas Merton puts it very simply and very elegantly:

Selflessness is my true self

The problem with this theory of everything is that it goes against the grain of almost every single thing most of us have ever been taught in a "me-first" popular culture in which ego-gratification is so highly prized.  Priest and author Richard Rohr puts it this way:

Most of humanity is so enchanted with its False (concocted) Self
that it has largely doubted and rejected - or never known - its True Self.
And so we live in anxiety and insecurity.
We have put so much time into creating it that we cannot imagine 
this False Self not being true - not being 'me.'

In one sense it's kind of scary to think that "me" is a relationship with you and with everything that is "not-me;" and once a person comes to a realization of this truth, the direction of one's life necessarily takes a sudden shift away from padding and protecting the non-existent ego toward sacrificing one's own needs on behalf of the good of others. And yet, as scary, as difficult and as countercultural as this may be, it is the path that leads to peace because it is a path that flows according to an explanation of everything. 

I am thinking about that well-known and often quoted Prayer of Saint Francis - what a beautiful, simple "equation" for explaining a theory of everything - an elegant "formula" for finding the way of peace:

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord; union...
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

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