I’ve been reading a little bit about the Big Bang Theory (and not the television show 😁). Prior to this I was completely ignorant to the scientific study of the origin of matter. I’m sad and embarrassed that I knew nothing other than there was an explosion, and it was big. Really big. I was reading Living Untethered: Beyond the Human Predicament by Michael Singer (follow up to one of my favorite books). In an effort to convince the reader that nothing in this life is about “them,” he describes the enormity and scope of the universe, and how they had no influence on bringing it into existence. Whether you believe that those events the universe’s origin came about by chance, or there is a divine creator who put the process into motion, it really is mind-blowing to think about how expansive and beautiful this creation is.

When you look at the incomprehensible nature of the universe, it is humbling to think that after 13.8 billion years, you and I are standing here on a habitable planet, orbiting around a pretty average star that is 93 million miles away. The next closest star is 4.2 light years, or 2.5 quadrillion miles away. There’s nothing between us and that next star. Nothing but darkness. And there are 200 billion stars in the universe! When’s the last time you looked into the night sky with a sense of gratitude just to be experiencing this life as we know it? I’m inspired and overwhelmed all at once!

If you take an average live span of 80 years and divide it by 13.8 billion years, we are alive for .00000058% of the current existence of the universe. On that scale, maybe our lives don’t seem quite as important as we often think they are. As I was reading about this, I thought back on Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman and what he terms Cosmic Insignificance Therapy. Burkeman quotes the book of Ecclesiastes: “Then I considered all that my hands had done, and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

The purpose behind Cosmic Insignificance Therapy is to take away the pressure of trying to be remarkable. No matter how important you are, or what you accomplish, the universe is just going to keep marching forward. Even Steve Jobs, whose goal was to “bend the universe” is still just a speck of dust in relationship to the infinite expanse around us. And if he’s that insignificant, then what does that say about you and me? According to Burkeman, “What you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much – and when it comes to using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.”

At face value that philosophy can seem depressing, and I’m sure that there are those shaking their heads right now. But, I don’t think viewing life this way takes from the meaning and purpose we all seek. I think it does give us added perspective and helps us to focus on what really matters. And it takes away so much pressure! I think it teaches us that any endeavor that brings happiness to the world and makes life better for those we interact with, is worthwhile. Maybe those who achieve worldly success truly aren’t any better than anyone else. This perspective also teaches me is that we could stand to be more compassionate, more forgiving, and more understanding of myself and those around me.

There are those who believe strongly that the universe has something special in store for each of us. I’m not sure that it does. But that doesn’t take away from what I feel to be important. I do find purpose in the belief that there is something greater to work towards. I find purpose in trying to make the world a better place and building strong relationships with those I love. 

As I contemplate my place in this world, it comes down to this: What trivial things are keeping me from appreciating the vastness of the universe and the precious nature of our lives? What unnecessary things are keeping me from enjoying the one shot I have on this miraculous earth? I invite you to ask yourself the same.

  • Alyson
    1 year ago
    Have you watched the Kurzgesagt videos on YouTube - they have some great movies about the universe!
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      Thanks for the suggestion. I'll check it out!