The center of the universe.

June 8, 2012 § 11 Comments

Galileo lived out the end of his life under house arrest, imprisoned by the Roman Inquisition for a heretical thought.

Our earth is not the center of the universe, but only one of several planets circling the sun—and not even the largest.

I’d like to state something that, on an emotional level, is just as heretical.

The big “I” each of us has, is not the center of the universe either. That “I” is one speck in an infinite cloud. Yet an “I” centered universe is hard to avoid when everything we know of existence comes through the tiny portal of self. That conscious speck called self values everything else based on whether it furthers or hinders a small personal agenda.

Maybe self begins when desire causes an infant to reach for something and grab it—I sometimes think babies cry out of frustration at their own inability to affect the world around them.

But as they gain command of hands, legs, language, they begin to be impressed with themselves.

The thrill of mastery is conspicuous in little kids. They run because they can. They jump. They yell. They do everything with enthusiasm. The kid-self is gigantic and joyous.

Then the self begins to compare, and check out its own image in the mirror of other people’s opinion. Suddenly the self becomes consumingly aware of skinny arms, a paperweight brain that stinks at long division, the embarrassment of wearing the wrong pair of shoes.

Any one of these things can eclipse the entire universe.

Although the feelings are negative, the young adult self is bigger than ever. The self has become a burden and an embarrassment, and coping with its inadequacies is a full-time job.

Then the self matures, and gains confidence. In adulthood it expresses itself by decorating walls with framed pieces of pager, gathering wealth, reproducing.

But with age, muscle mass, ambition, prospects–all begin to shrink. It is a time marked by less—and that less includes a less domineering self.

Sometimes my self is so quiet I can watch the leaf shadows on the window screen for long minutes without interruption from the internal voice that yells, “Look at me! Look at me!”

The yelling hasn’t stopped but it has either grown quieter or I have so completely lost interest that I am able to ignore it freeing my awareness to take in everthing else.

The self that so occupied me at fifteen competing to be the coolest, the self that struggled to look daring living aboard a boat while raising a child with my fisherman husband, the self that demanded that someone publish her books does not rule the way she once did.

Without her I am less likely to judge you harshly or see you as the competition.

The things I hope for now usually belong to us, not me. The urge to show off is not gone, but it comes up infrequently and is mildly embarrassing when it does.

More and more often, I see myself for the insignificant fleck of dust I am—or perhaps a better analogy is that I see myself as part of the moving stream. I’m insignificant, yes, but not separate like a fleck of dust.

Am I only imagining it, or are you who are of similar age experiencing a lightening of the burden of self as well? I hope so. Along with arthritis, the inability to remember where we put our keys, and wrinkly hides, this is one of the gifts that comes with age–one of the few that is worth opening.

You and I, along with spiders and oak trees and rain falling on a hot tar road are participants in the great enterprise of being.

Together we are a collective and amazing universe, centerless and expanding.

§ 11 Responses to The center of the universe.

  • KM Huber says:

    As one of a similar age–where less is so luminous that some days I cannot see for the light–I am so alive in these later years. As you say, there is neither the push nor the pull but rather, there is being. As you know, this is a subject so close to my heart.

    Nicely written, Adrian.



    • You came to mind when I wrote this. I love your observation of being so alive in these later years. I feel it too. I take nothing for granted and receive each day as the gift it is–thank you oh benevolent universe.


  • Richard Dempsey says:

    Beautifully written. Richard D.


  • This comment comes from Craig Reeder who is in China–this blog and all WordPress blogs are blocked there. I sent him the text of the post and he asked me to add his comment. — Adrian

    your reference to that time in our childhood when we start to check our image “in the mirror of other people’s opinion” really rang a bell. I remember the exact moment that happened to me. I was about 6 years old, and was dancing wildly and joyously with my younger brothers when suddenly a thought hit me like a ton of bricks: the adults are watching me, and what will they think of me acting like a child? At that moment my whole life changed, not for the better, I might add. From that point forward, I began to define myself “in the mirror of other people’s opinion” and in a sense, i lost my soul. been trying to get it back ever since.


  • “Self” is an idea. Ideas don’t exist but they can be puppet masters. Children and especially teens imagine an audience is watching. No one is in the theatre and no one is on the stage. Locate the “Self”. Is it in the brain? Can you show me the part a part of the brain containing the “Self”.

    This is an exercise I learned:
    This is Nathan Schauer typing letters. This is Nathan Schauer looking at words form. This is Nathan Schauer thinking about his response. This is Nathan Schauer thinking about the order of the words in the response.

    You use third person and notice each event and each thought. The objective is to see the “Self”. When I do the exercise, I see that “Self” is an artificial construction of actions and ideas but that is only Nathan Schauer thinking.



    • By speaking of yourself in the third person you have changed the point of view of the narrative. You are now outside Nathan Schauer observing him. I know that in writing fiction first person is the most emotionally colored–and the most self-conscious voice.

      I’ve written many books for teen and preteen readers in first person–the voice that most reflects that age, but lately I’ve been choosing limited third. I am still inside the character’s mind but don’t feel as oppressed by the self-awareness that comes with charging the demanding “I” with telling the story.


  • Roberta Burton says:

    Thanks, Adrian. I remember someone saying that the height of egocentric thinking was believing that everyone was watching to see if you flubbed up or had a zit on your nose. Now, instead of spending hours in front of a mirror assessing my body, I spend the time looking at the crepe myrtle outside my window and listening to the cardinal calling its mate.


  • ammaponders says:

    I, too, am of a certain age and I noticed today that I was out shopping with no makeup and jeans that are a size too big. I figured my money was just as good as it would be with mascara and tight jeans!


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