The Holocene Epoch: First glimpses of our human potential

Science, IT, Nature

Part 8 of Shanti’s series: “The Holocene has seen many of us creating… some of us have flowered as caretakers… in scientific research, on the path of devotion, or exploring beyond the frontiers of the known.”

Caterpillar of a peacock butterfly

A caterpillar about to transform any moment into a peacock butterfly.
Creative Commons

The Holocene has seen many of us creating: painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, composing and singing.

Flowerings like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Camille Claudel, Praxiteles, Donatello and Bernini, Auguste Rodin, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore, Gertrude Stein and Wislawa Szymborska, Sappho and Maya Angelou, Cervantes and Dostoevski, Rabindranath Tagore, Kahlil Gibran and ‘Lotus Moon’ Rengetsu, Keats and Shelley, Bach and Mozart, Lili Boulanger and Buffy Sainte-Marie are reminders of our common human creativity.

Some of us have flowered as caretakers, dedicating our time or even our lives lovingly to the benefit or healing of others. Some lived their lives like Albert Schweitzer did, caring for sick people near Lambaréné in Africa, like Mary Carpenter, caring for young delinquents in Bristol, loving them as her own children, or like Florence Nightingale, healing the sick, the wounded and the dying as a result of a war.

Just as there are many people overflowing with creativity or loving care, there are friends radiating an inner peace and a harmony with existence: Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, Rabiya al-Basra, Hildegard of Bingen and Edith Stein, Zen Masters like Bodhidharma, Ta Hui and Dogen, people like Kabir, Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Walt Whitman and Hakuin Ekaku, Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi, Heraclitus and Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, who is reported to have said: “I have come to teach you a new way. It is not fasting and penance, and it is not indulgence, but joy in godliness.”

The Holocene has seen us gracefully moving and dancing. Some of us even seemed to be almost flying and out of reach of Earth’s gravitation, like Ram Gopal, Mary Wigman, Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan and Rudolf Nureyev.

The Holocene has also witnessed many of us being fascinated and filled with wonder about something, using our intelligence and discipline, our genius and intuition for scientific research. Some people dedicated their full energy to unraveling mysteries in the company of the ‘stars of science’, people like Isaac Newton, Nicolaus Copernicus, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Galileo Galilei, Ada Lovelace, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, Carl Linnaeus, Rosalind Franklin and many more.

In a story from India a disciple asks his Master what he needs to reach true realization. The Master takes him to a lake and pushes his head under the water, holding him there until the disciple can endure it no longer. The Master then asks him what he longed for when his head was under water. “To breathe,” answers the disciple. “And how intensely,” asks the Master. “With all my strength,” replies the disciple. The Master says, “When you will feel the same desire to reach the divine, you will be on the right track.”

Many of us have walked this path during the Holocene, the path of devotion, of intense longing for unity with what we consider as the highest and the most beautiful in a personal relationship that retains human characteristics like warmth, intimacy, even sensuality.

Devotion is an essential aspect of our human psyche. All of us, whatever life we may lead, can understand much about ourselves by simply asking: “What do I really hold close to my heart.”

We walk this path in the company of the “Olympic champions” of devotion, the great mystics, Teresa of Avila, Clare of Assisi, Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi, Nanak, John of the Cross, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz, Narada and Kabir.

It is the path of surrender, sometimes described as ‘becoming an instrument in the hands of the divine’. Rumi, for instance, compared himself to a harp upon which the divinity plays wonderful melodies. For others, surrender means dissolving like a drop that falls in the ocean or like the sleep of a child in its mother’s arms. A real transfer of ownership has taken place here: the “I” which existed before belongs no longer to oneself, but to the chosen symbol of divinity.

Finally, the Holocene has also seen many of us confronting great challenges, pioneering and exploring beyond the frontiers of the known, risking their lives for some worthy cause. Like daredevils they triumphed over fear, pushed themselves beyond a certain threshold and looked death into the eyes.

Companions and champions on this road are, for instance, Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone woman whose help was crucial in the Lewis and Clark Expedition to establish cultural contacts with Native American people, while traveling with them for thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean; Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the top of Mount Everest and she went on to climb all seven of the Seven Summits, the highest summits on each of the seven continents; Alexandra David-Neel, most known for her 1924 visit to Lhasa, Tibet, when it was forbidden for foreigners; Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, the ‘first ladies of civil rights’ who refused to give up their bus seat for a white passenger; Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action for climate change mitigation; Fridtjof Nansen, exploring the Arctic; Russell Schweickart, the first astronaut who floated in space without an umbilical during the Apollo 9 flight; oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and speleologist Michel Siffre; Robert Peary, the first man to reach the North Pole and Roald Amundsen, first on the South Pole; explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and Charles Lindbergh, making the first flight from Boston to Paris.

We, humans, are, in a way, like the many different colors of a rainbow. We walked many and very different paths during the Holocene. Some of them have been mentioned here. Soon some of them will be back in this series.

To be continued…

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Shanti is the creator and compiler of this series, including At Home in the Universe and 1001 Tales.

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