“Not only are we in the universe, the universe is in us. I don’t know of any deeper spiritual feeling than what that brings upon me.” (Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
Space is an awe inducing subject – it makes us all feel so small. No matter how much we know about it, there is always more and further – it prompts the contemplation of infinite.
Infinite, as an adult, is almost unfathomable. For children it is much more reasonable – their combination of cognitive flexibility and open mindedness allows them to accept it without reservation because it just is. Our ability to learn may not be as infinite as space, but we have barely begun to tap into the potential of our own abilities. Who knows? What great wonders are waiting to be discovered?
I was thinking these thoughts as I waited with 5000 other educators in Vancouver to hear Cmdr. Chris Hadfield talk about his own journey into the infinite; within moments of his arrival on stage it transformed from the unfathomable into the absolute, and ultimately relatable story of a journey to change:
“This is about having a radically different set of circumstances by the time you go to bed. Change is scary. ” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
Commander Hadfield was speaking about his life-altering (and potentially life ending) journey into space, but he spoke empathetically to a group of educators who face a daily journey to change, and who are about to embark on a large scale journey to learning that is dramatically different from the one we have been used to. The room was silent; I was riveted.
“Why take a risk? Why change on purpose? Why increase the perceived danger in your life? And then what?” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
If you are alive, you are changing. It is natural and inevitable. Once we realize this, it is a simple step further to change what we can in a conscious way. (“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not in fighting the old but in building the new.” -Socrates) Conscious change can open our minds to new possibilities, and gives us access to tools for communication and collaboration in the process.
For Commander Hadfield the change at hand was “…a tremendous human adventure that would motivate me to bring out the absolute best I could bear on that problem… Change one little thing and suddenly people don’t see what they expect to see – the possibility of invention.”
Where to begin? Set a goal. (Chris Hadfield’s goal was to walk on the moon by age 45. It didn’t happen, but so much else did.)
“The beauty of setting ‘impossible’ goals is it gives you a clear idea of what to do next… Enjoy what you’re doing and let yourself succeed everyday.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
These thoughts resonated long with me. Every moment of life is a gift, something that can get overlooked when the more mundane details pile up, and many small things could be celebrated with joy and gratitude! (Martinistyle mantra!) Hot water, fresh air, clean sheets, small kindnesses…
Just a step away from the impossible goal, framed with joy and gratitude for life, is a vastness that can only be filled with wonder:
“Infinity. Just outside your window. It’s a huge deepening of respect for our planet and for each other… To be alone in the universe, holding on with one hand and facing the incredible endlessness separate from earth is ‘revelationary’ perspective building.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
I sat in that audience, spellbound by the images on the big screen of the earth’s horizon covered in a spilled rainbow of light. There is our home, fragile and beautiful. (“For small creatures such as us, the vastness is bearable only through love.” – Carl Sagan)
“What do you do with an unbelievably beautiful experience? It’s important to try and share the beauty of being alive. When we really want to share the experience of being human we use art.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
My heart was pounding. How brilliant and beautiful is the mind of a space travelling scientist who knows the benefits of art and music are essential to help us connect and develop and grow?
“There is genius everywhere. We need to create an environment where each young person emerges with opportunity.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
This opportunity comes from learning. Learning comes from wonder. Wonder comes from art and music and science and joy and gratitude and hope…
“The opposite of fear is education – the enabling of human capability and developing global responsibility. Never be satisfied with your own level of expertise. The more I learn the more I build the platform under my feet, the further I can see. Ask yourself, ‘What don’t I know? How can I learn a little bit more so I can stand a little bit higher?’ ” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
We are challenged, as educators, to never stop learning – to grow alongside the students we teach in order to see farther and to work harder for this world of ours together. We are challenged, as humans, to care for our planet and for each other. It is a simple and beautiful image, taken “with a very good tripod” from the perspective of space.
“There is visualization and preparation and then a magnificent memorable blur. The first few times around the earth are focused on recalling your own experiences, the next few times on sharing them. About the thousandth time around you develop an intimate relationship with the world and recognize that we are all together.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
There is so much beauty in contemplating the universe – it has been the inspiration for many creative and scientific minds. Great works of art and science have been built out of the curiosity, awe and wonder that exist beyond our own planet – the earth is so huge but in space it’s a tiny speck. Humbling, isn’t it?
That thought can help us get perspective when our own lives feel overwhelming…it manages to place our real, earthly, human experience into a galactic context without making any of it trivial. We are all together, for each other, on the same planet in infinite space.
“Life is the inevitable consequence of the thousands of small things that you chose to do next.” (Cmdr. Chris Hadfield)
What will you choose to do?