I’ll bet you think the story is all about you, but you are wrong. It is all about me. I should know because I’m telling it.
Nobody knows for sure how the story began. Some scientists say it started with a big bang and the creation of our universe. Others say there have been many bangs and many universes. So maybe what got our universe started was a relatively little bang. Maybe more like a “pop.” It could turn out that ours is not the biggest universe and maybe not even the best one. If I could get a visa I’d love to check it out.
The one story is your story (I was kidding before) and my story too. It is also the story of everything we can know of and name, and everything that we don’t know of and therefore doesn’t need a name; the story dates back to beginningless unimaginable eternal space-time and forward to now and now and now again. It is the story of all that. It is also the story of the tiny mitochondria that live inside one of the millions of cells at the end of your little finger.
An aside. (Most stories have asides and the one story has a lot of them.) A quadrabazillion circumstances were necessary to create this moment of your experience. Enjoy.
The one story could be seen as the story of light, which gives everything definition. Without light we would really be in the dark. And light is not exactly a thing but more like a quality that comes along with consciousness, which is something we don’t know much about.
But the sun was shining today, and I wrote a poem of gratitude:
Sun, I know your birthday.
You gave me enough light to figure it out.
Dawn passed over our house on its way to Kansas.… Light is constant, we just turn over in it.
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
There is only one story, and we are still trying to figure out the main characters. Humans have long assumed that we are the center of the universe. Some scientists, however, now calculate that the center of the universe is billions of light years away—ninety billion trillion miles. Oh well, we were close.
Meanwhile, some bold physicists are saying that the universe is essentially infinite and therefore has no edges. If that is the case then every point is the center. That makes me the center of the universe, just as I had always expected. You can stand close to me if you want.
There is only one story, but it can be experienced from different perspectives. Sometimes just changing a word or concept can radically alter our perception of the world. One of my current practices is to stop using the word “sky,” and instead, when I look out or upward I say and think “space.” The word “sky” implies a ceiling, a roof over our heads, but, in fact, there isn’t one. Space is virtually infinite (see above), without ceiling or walls or floor, not even an up or down. All of us are out here in space, right now. Giving it that name can sometimes evoke the experience.
Similarly, there is only one continent. We simply have to pull the plug and drain the seas (I think the plug is somewhere near Antarctica) and suddenly we will all be standing on the same surface, the stage of the world.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas, of Chiles and of Paraguays; I have no idea what they are saying. I know only the skin of earth and I know it has no name.
The one story repeats itself, weaving through the micro and the macro, the space all around, and the mud below. Following the pattern set by the evolution of life itself, our individual life begins as a single cell in the shape of an egg. Once the egg is fertilized, the DNA code guides it through the entire history of life on earth, growing from a single cell into a multicellular sphere, then into a tubular wormlike body. The human embryo then begins to grow features that resemble those of amphibian frogs, reptilian turtles, and avian chickens. All of this happens in the warm sea of the womb, and at birth we reenact the grand exodus from the ocean and arrive on land, in the world.
There is only one biota. All life is bound together by the strings of DNA, the molecule that carries the secret code instructing each of us how to grow into our shape. It is the magic substance, the piece of the reality puzzle that separates life from non-life. But just look at the elegantly shaped DNA molecule itself! It is the perfect symbol of what it points to, a spiral shape reminiscent of the yin/yang weave, doubling and mirroring itself as it loops along, enclosing light/dark, life/death, up/down, round and round, joining all in one dance.
Our part of the one big story—the chapter (footnote) on earthlings—takes place inside an atmosphere, made from a medium so subtle we can hardly feel it pushing against our body as we move through it. Wave your hand near your face and let the atmosphere caress you. Is it warm? Is it too warm?
A superdome of air encases the planet, surrounding us, sheltering us from dangerous rocks and rays and feeding us the fuel that fires our lives. You pull it into you and push it out again, slightly altered. Ah, the air!
The one story is animated by one great breath, and all life is breathing it together. It is the breath of the earth, happening with great regularity once a day as carbon dioxide increases on the dark side of the planet and oxygen increases on the sunny side. The atmosphere also breathes annually with the change of seasons, as photosynthesis increases in summertime in one of the earth’s hemispheres and decreases in the other. The life of the earth is one magnificent beast, breathing through leaves and lungs, volcanoes and ocean currents, pumping and pulsing the medium of air.
All that is alive exchanges gases with the air by means of the phenomenon of breath, and whatever we breathe out is breathed in by some other living thing. The energy to live is derived from these exchanges in the air.
—William Bryant Logan, Air: The Restless Shaper of the World
There is one grand work of art devoted to telling the one story, with major themes repeating themselves, over and over again. The Sirens who sang to Ulysses are the same ones who crooned through Kerouac’s car radio. They still sing, just to you, promising sex, fame, money, love. (The travelers are always on their way home to a home that really isn’t there anymore—a perpetual human bummer.) The bison on the walls of the Lascaux cave are prancing over Chagall’s rooftops on a night smeared with Van Gogh’s stars. The brothers Karamazov and brothers Marx are part of the same unhappy family, acting out in pathos and goofs. Mozart knew it was a Requiem for himself. Isadora said she had to dance it because she couldn’t explain it and Dylan said he had to write it because he knew he had to sing it. Come on, drummer, keep the beat alive so that the story teller can keep it going! Tell us more about the fear, the hope, the doubt, the certainty, the sexy, death-bound puzzle. Add to the one work of art, the one story.
All creatures tell each other stories and call to one another through the medium of the air. Sometimes the telling is by chemical signals, by odors, scents, perfumes, stenches. Sometimes, the calling is by means of waves that travel through it—compressing and expanding the front of the air—to make the range of sounds, their harmonies and discords.
—William Bryant Logan, Air: The Restless Shaper of the World
The one story takes place in the cosmic Oneness. Spiritual seekers try to merge with this Oneness in order to escape the difficult drama of the self, the little story. Unfortunately, merging with the Oneness is a paradoxical project. To begin with, the Oneness is where we are already, so trying to become one with the One is like playing musical chairs with yourself. But in spite of the fact that there’s nowhere to go, you’ve still got to make an effort or you will forget that you are already there. But the moment you realize that you are there, you aren’t. “You” have disappeared into the Oneness—which may indeed be a blissful place, but nobody is around to enjoy it.
Those achieving One-ness can now move on to Two-ness.
There is only one awakening. It is impersonal; a planetary phenomena; a species adaptation. After land first appeared life grew feet, and then eyelids as shields for the sun. Nature is now requiring a new consciousness to deal with the devastating impact of humans on the biosphere. For the past few thousand years homo sapiens sapiens has been trying to live up to the name we gave ourselves, a “twice wise” hominid. Evolution has indeed given us a mind that can turn back on itself, but we are just learning how to use this double-sided consciousness. We are infants to awakening. It’s a question of timing. Good luck to all of us.
The consciousness in you
and the consciousness in me,
really are one…
and they seek their unity.
And that is love.
There is only one story. It is happening now, in this moment. All the rest is speculation.