Recently, I walked into the first floor of the building I work in and found myself face to face with dozens of mandalas.
A mandala, if you did not know, is a Buddhist symbol that represents the universe. You might have heard of those buddhist monks who, huddled on the floor, will painstakingly create mandalas made of colored sand only to, in the end, wipe it all away in one dramatic swoosh of their hand-held broom. (This ancient ritual of creating mandalas is supposed to help these Buddhist monks practice the art of detachment.)
The mandala was also a little bit of an obsession of the late, great psychologist Carl Jung: the famous apprentice of Sigmund Freud, and the man who coined the term “synchronicity” to describe the meaningful coincidences human beings often experience as they go through life.
Jung was also the one who coined the term “collective consciousness.” Jung saw a much bigger universe beyond the small ego that his mentor, Freud, had discovered. Jung was able to recognize that there existed a far more expansive, interconnected, single, invisible “mind” that unified all human beings through time and space.
For Freud, your psychological challenges were all encapsulated in your unconscious, and your unconscious was riddled with shadows of your past—the stuff of your childhood.
For Jung, on the other hand, your psychological challenges were only a small part of a far bigger galaxy of thoughts and patterns and experiences: things that reached beyond your childhood, backward to your ancestors and forward into parts of the universe we could not see–the stuff of stars.
To help his patients cope with life challenges, Jung would often recommend that they create mandalas. The reason for this was because the mandala could capture the vastness of the universe like nothing else could: because we were essentially part of the expansive universe, Jung argued, sometimes our problems could only be adequately addressed by meditating on its expansiveness.
The reason I’m explaining this all to you is because the mandalas that I had suddenly encountered on the first floor of my work building that day were all created by Dr. Carl Jung himself.
(Ever since I started working at my new job, they would feature art exhibits on the first floor of my building. To be honest with you, I never paid much attention to these exhibits, but on that work day, I was entranced by these mandalas, which I learned Dr. Jung had painted when he was still alive but they had never been exhibited to the public until now.)
I studied each painting in the exhibit. Each was colorful and varied, and fascinating in their own way.
Something about Jung’s mandalas really moved me. Here was this psychologist I had read so much about, and to see him try to wrap his head around the vastness of the universe through these paintings was such a relief. Because, at the time, I too was struggling to wrap my head around the bigger picture.
Right before I had entered the first floor of my building that day, I had spent days, weeks, months struggling with the same thing: I was struggling to figure out what was beyond… what was beyond wholeness, beyond healing.
You see, I had learned over the past four years on my journey that, in order to cope with life, you had to understand that you had five parts to you–the mind, the body, the spirit, the community, and the heart—and that, in order to heal and arrive at a state of wholeness, you had to address all these five parts of you.
I had learned how to do that quite successfully and even wrote an eBook about it.
But now I found myself wondering: what’s the next step? What’s the next step after wholeness and healing?
I realized then that the answer to my recent questioning was being shown to me right then and there (talk about synchronicity, the guy who invented the word itself seemed to be speaking directly to me in a meaningful and coincidental way!)
It was all there, in those magnificent blue and yellow and orange depictions of the cosmos.
“Your God Is Too Small”
This past week, I saw the first episode of a new series on TV entitled Cosmos, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
In Cosmos, Tyson covers the history of the entire universe: the creation of the stars and the planets up until the history of man, which, as Tyson ironically explains to his spell-bound audience, only takes up the last 14 seconds of the entire history of the universe (that is, if the entire history of the universe were broken down to resemble our yearly calendar.)
In the first episode, Tyson goes on to tell the story of Giordano Bruno, a dominican friar from the 1500s who was one of the first people in recorded history to seriously imagine a cosmos that was infinite, and not finite. There is this wonderful dramatic moment in which Bruno’s life is re-enacted for the TV audience and we see him giving a lecture to his peers in a grand lecture hall. It is in that scene that Bruno proclaims to his skeptical audience:
“Your god is too small!”
After this dramatic re-enactment, we are told the rest of Bruno’s story: he was prosecuted, jailed, and then killed for dreaming up a god that was far bigger than anyone around him had ever imagined.
The reason I share this story with you today is because I am now convinced that this is one of our biggest challenges today: we believe in a god that is far too small.
And because our god is small, we believe ourselves to be just as small. And because we see ourselves as small, we see our purpose as small, and the realization of this purpose as only a tiny event in time and space.
But I’m learning that our God not small–he is big.
And because He’s big, so are We.
And because we are big, our purpose is also big, and the realization of our purpose is as huge of an event as The Big Bang itself.
Why You’re Afraid To Dream Bigger
We don’t dream big enough. We think we do, but we really don’t.
Think about it: we’re far more afraid to dream big than we are to keep imagining a life that provides us with the exact same experiences it has for the past several years. How many times have you thought about the possibility of something wonderful happening to you, and then found yourself shutting that imagined scenario down by telling yourself:
“No, silly, don’t dream of that. Let’s not get our hopes up…”
On a daily basis, we often expend far more time and energy trying to discourage and “reign in” our dreaming then we do on trying to push ourselves to dream bigger.
I don’t see an “overabundance of dreamers” in this world today, instead I see huge deficit of dreamers. I see a dreamer “drought.” It seems like we have more people who believe it is a much “safer bet” to dream small, or not at all.
People are giving up on dreaming big and, in most cases, are giving up on dreaming entirely. The trend I see is that our universe has been reduced to its smallest size in centuries—maybe since the time just before Bruno lived.
We just don’t have many great thinkers like Bruno or Jung today who can smartly grasp the fact that our current problems exist within an infinite stream of time and space. We just don’t have enough people today painting mandalas or screaming in lecture halls that our “god is too small.”
No, instead, today, we have people so afraid of dreaming big that they would rather suffocate anyone who engages or encourages the practice of dreaming big, and who want to label such “big dreamers” as the problem and not the solution.
No, today, when people have problems they seek solace in alcohol, sex, heroin, prescription drugs, or bing-watching Duck Dynasty.
I believe what would serve us all better is if we meditated on the “bigness” of things more. If we took more time to think about what Tyson shares with us during that first episode of Cosmos: that we are all essentially made up of “star stuff.”
Long ago, when I first started writing my novel, I learned the importance of meditating on the small things. Now, four years later, I am learning that meditating on the big things is also important.
We have the entire cosmos in us and we are in the entirety of the cosmos.
And that’s a big friggin’ deal.
much big love,
Today’s Courage Exercise
If you are struggling today, take a break from trying to fix the problem and create a mandala instead. A mandala is a representation of the universe. There are no strict rules on how to create a mandala: you can paint it, draw it, papier mache it, or even sculpt it, if you so desire.
Don’t be surprised if meditating on the bigness of things helps you work through your current funk: sometimes your problems take root in something far bigger than what you can see or comprehend with the naked eye. Such problems are often things that only the entire universe can solve.
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