Attempting meditation, my mind sometimes refuses to leave me to my serenity, insisting instead that my thoughts focus on a discussion I wish had taken a different direction than it actually took. Or my mind may stubbornly cling to an image of a person’s face. Or I revise and replay conversations in my head, my imagination altering the words spoken or the expressions on speakers’ faces. Wants. Desires. Hopes. Those are the culprits that interfere with my attempts to attain tranquility—assuming tranquility is what I am after. But that may not be the real object of my efforts. Fantasies invade my head, filling the emptiness left by my attempts at meditation. Memories from years ago—and from last week or yesterday or prospective memories of tomorrow—become crisp and clear, as if I were in the midst of experiences long since gone and forgotten. I have visions representing experiences I want to have, on one hand; on the other, my mind works hard to erase memories of experiences I want to forget. All of this takes place in the space of a nano-second. And it could then be done, except that those nano-seconds repeat themselves, piling upon one another until minutes or hours have passed. Without any successful attempts at meditation. But I then plan to try again tomorrow or the next day or day-upon-day thereafter. Meditation requires a willing mind, one that accepts the value of emptiness and that willingly discards cluttered space.


A few minutes ago, I opened the folder that contains drafts of blog posts—unfinished writings that I found unsatisfactory as I wrote them. Among those drafts were the paragraphs that follow. Because meditation has eluded me and creativity refuses to emerge from the cave in my head where it hides, I decided to retrieve one of those unfinished pieces and let it—a piece of the past—stand in for today’s musings.


Not long ago, I read that the Milky Way galaxy is comprised of between 200 billion to 400 billion stars. In addition to the Milky Way, the vast expanse of space is home to billions of galaxies. And the distance between each galaxy is 31 million light years. The distance between earth and the most distant galaxy must be billions of quintillions of light years.

My mind is incapable of conceiving of the number of stars in the universe. I cannot fathom the distances between stars and galaxies. I cannot comprehend the distance between the edge of the universe and its center—is that perhaps because the universe might be wrapped around itself in a perpetual, infinitesimal loop? Even that “simple” explanation describes distance and time and space in ways impossible for me to fully process. If I were looking for answers in the stars, my search would be limitlessly hopeless. The one star that might contain the answer could be hidden behind one billion quintillion stars, all perfectly aligned with one another, in galaxies separated by distances too vast for mathematics to measure, much less articulate.

As I contemplate the numbers I have just attempted to grasp, the chaotic complexity that might have described my brain smooths into a perfectly flat simplicity. No longer is my mind plagued with questions about the scope of the universe. Nor about my mind’s ability to understand the concept of time in the absence of space. Nor about anything else as imperfect and ragged as existence itself. I am unconcerned about life and death, because both simply are pinpricks in an impossibly large, impossibly thick, and utterly impermeable curtain that shields us from knowledge we are incapable of processing.


Enough. More than enough.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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