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Parts and Whole

I was wakened out of a deep sleep this morning just before 6 am by our building’s fire alarm. My partner and I got dressed by rote and bundled up for the winter temperatures before heading down the many flights of stairs to the street. As we waited with other tenants, some of them in pyjamas, and some with their dogs or cats, we overheard an energetic young man telling a neighbour that there was a fire on the seventh floor and he had smelled in the hallway. From our end of the building and our floor, there was no evidence of this calamity. Yet, we’d left the cosy warmth of slumber to stand in the cold and dark for half an hour. I was too sleepy to be agitated and overall was just grateful to get back inside after the fire department gave the all clear. 

Reflecting upon it later, I saw it as an analogy for the wisdom that the part affects the whole. What happens in a seventh floor apartment affects the whole building. What happens in the stomach affects the whole body. What happens in Ukraine affects the whole world. What happens on Earth affects the whole universe. We just cannot fathom how it all is put together and how all the parts influence one another. The apartment building’s fire system is mechanistic (as far as I know!) but the human body itself, layered with emotional body, mental body, spiritual body, is not. Even this list is an inadequate approximation for something which cannot be separated into parts. I consider this as I go about trying to heal my particular quirky physical ailments.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts is a truth that keeps getting deeper and deeper for me as I keep being led to leave behind overly simplistic formulations and to lean into the mystery. I know it is not even possible to know all the parts. Physicists invented something called “dark matter” to stand in for something which is invisible and unknown, but is affecting everything and will determine the fate of the universe. Maybe. So I am humbled by the extent, which is the majority, of what I do not know. 

And yet…

It is not that there is nothing that can be known or no healing that can be attempted. No, not at all. The wonderful thing is: wherever we enter the system with authenticity becomes the portal. It is referred to often as “free will”. We can choose. There is such beauty in the desire to be well, whole, happy. Even what doesn’t work is part of what will eventually flower from the seeds of my deepest yearnings:  a life with peace, love, and connection at the centre. Why? Because it’s already here, in everything that exists.  

Humming underneath every moment is the paradox that we are physical only temporarily and this gives us limitations that vex us or cause us suffering, but these same limitations are the gateway to the pleasures and exquisite appreciation of life on earth at this unique moment.  

I find myself reading about astronomy these days and marvelling at black holes, nebulae, and red giants. I’m left with feelings of wonder and expansiveness. I consider how what seems big in the landscape I view from my apartment window (a tall apartment building, a city block, a stadium) is actually infinitely small when I consider the solar system we’re in, let alone our galaxy… my  physical life concerns feel tiny,  less important than they did before I began to read. I feel calmer and those same concerns feel strangely precious as I see them attached to this place and time and this particular human perspective. Without thinking or willing it, my love and compassion for my life and its interconnections increases.

What is important to me now? This exact moment, which is what I came here for.

“Most important, however, is to work with a sense of harmony and not slavishly follow the rules. Understand the work that it being done. Get inside of it and create a unified work of the inner and outer elements. Poetry involves the following of the rules, but the best poets play with the rules to create surprising juxtapositions and beauty, not only in form and content but also in the ultimate meanings. Alchemy brings this sense of a living art to all its operations.”

–Brian Cotnoir, Practical Alchemy: A Guide to the Great Work

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