Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ottawa Service Entitled SolSeed: An Example of Defining a Life Purpose
On October 5th 2014, I was asked to speak at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Ottawa on the subject of purpose. The entire service was oriented around SolSeed. The Gathering Music was "The Seed". The first hymn was one of our favorites, "Spirit of Life". The opening words were from Jonathan Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis". For the children, we did a play "Hammy the Hammer" that I had written for the occasion and which I felt visceralized the SolSeed understanding of purpose. At the end, we dimmed the lights and played the video, Gaia's Heartbeat. In the midst of all this, I gave the following sermon. The service was very well received and I am grateful to the UUFO for the opportunity to speak and for all their help in preparing for this service. I am particularly grateful to my friend, fellow UUFO member and service coordinator Claire Heistek for bringing this all together. I want to thank all of the actors who were willingly conscripted to play their parts in Hammy the Hammer. I want to thank Cristalle for her beautiful music and Gary and Helmut for their technical assistance. And finally, I want to thank Joe for inviting me to speak in the first place and for the constructive criticism on this sermon. Thank you, one and all.
I was asked today to talk about the journey that led me to my purpose. The destination turned out to be the SolSeed movement. I will begin by telling you a bit about SolSeed just so you know where I will be taking you. After that I will spend some time talking about values because that is where the journey begins. From there, I will tell you about my three step journey toward my purpose. I will tell it as if the three steps happened without out nearly as much feeling lost as actually occurred. That is the nature of stories. They are far more interesting if they are told like each step fit with the ones before and after it.
I am a member of the SolSeed movement. The word SolSeed is a concatenation of two words: Sol, the Sun, the massive nuclear furnace from which Life on Earth gratefully receives its energy. The second word is Seed, the things that plants produce from which new plants grow. The SolSeed movement uses the word SolSeed to describe, with reverence, all of Life on Earth. We see all Life on Earth taken together as like a tiny seed in the immensity of space. We see this seed as just beginning to sprout and send tendrils growing outward to other worlds. We see all this Life, here on Earth as Precious, and Rare in the universe. Science tells us that the future of the universe will be many times longer than its past. This is why we see SolSeed as very young with a promising and glorious future. And believe our purpose, as humanity, is to help SolSeed spread and flower.
The above image was not show as part of the talk but demonstrates what was meant by "Science tells us that the future of the universe will be many times longer than its past." It shows a time line from 0 (The Big Bang) to 1000 billion years. There are a series of narrow bands to the left of the diagram indicating the major periods of astronomical time since the begining of the universe (Pre Solar, Age of Unicellularity and Age of Multicellularity) The present lies between the most recent and narrowest of these bands (the Age of Multicellularity) and the Future. The future is a long black (because the future is unknown/dark to us) band the makes up most of the diagram. The end of the universe is shown as just past the one trillion year mark which is really only the lower bound for the end of star formation. The actual universe (and potentially Life) should go on much longer than this barring the Big Rip which is also the "Big Unknown"!
So how did I come to be a member of the SolSeed Movement? And how did I come to see humanity's purpose as serving SolSeed? The journey began with values. So I want to talk a bit about values and what they are.
Here at UUFO we describe ourselves as a community of diverse beliefs and shared values. I disagree with that a little. While our beliefs are more diverse than our values, our values are not 100% shared. But I want to assure you that diverse values give Unitarian Universalism a unique role to play in society. The UUFO is a place where I come to meet people with other values and learn about how their value systems hold together and get reminded that our values are not absolutes but more like opinions.
The field of philosophy which explores the basis of value systems is called meta-ethics. In this field, philosophers argue about whether values come from divinity or exist naturally in the world or are an emergent property of minds. I subscribe to the same school of meta-ethics as Jonathan Haidt, which places moral goodness in the same place as beauty: in the eye of the beholder, in our subconscious minds, in our Elephants.
Dr. Haidt argues that one of the original evolutionary purposes of our reasoning minds (our riders) was to give convincing rationalizations regarding our moral choices to our fellow protohumans. These convincing rationalizations are useful because they give us a sense that our lives form a single logical whole, that our lives have purpose. So I see my journey towards purpose as a three step process; the first step was for my values to develop within my subconscious. The second step was to choose a higher purpose that stemmed from those values. The third step is ongoing and involves my Rider gently and compassionately training my Elephant to align its words and actions with this higher purpose.
Step One: Develop Values
The first step began at my parents' cottage where I spent every summer of my childhood and where I learned to love wilderness. And so, even today, my strongest value is "Life is precious." There is a little piece of rationalization for your riders. I doubt my Elephant would express my love for wilderness in those three exact words. And I doubt it was my experience at the cottage alone that formed the value. But not having direct access to my subconscious, I use this story and that statement of value to express what I feel when I see dappled sunlight filtering down through a layered forest canopy.
I was raised an atheist and my childhood abounded with experiences of hatred from monotheists. Mostly they hated my beliefs and feared for my soul, but being punched by an older kid who was trying to save my soul felt pretty much the same as hate. My parents told me that if I learned the reasoned arguments for why evolution was true, then I would be able to convince them that I was right. Of course my parents were wrong. I never found a rational argument that convinced anyone to change religion. Choice of religion is firmly in the realm of our Elephants. But, in studying evolution, I fell in love with it. A second strong value that I hold is that "the process of evolution is sacred". So much for reason! But I felt jealous of religious people who were able to viscerally live their beliefs through guiding principles and rituals. This led me to desire to viscerally experience my beliefs, Science's understanding of the universe. It led me to love ritual.
More values emerged while others faded away. Like my 2 year old self's love of the power of hydraulic garbage compactors. My 47 year old Elephant would rather not even admit to that one.
Step Two: Choose a Purpose
By the age of nine I began the second step, choosing a purpose that spoke to my values. My love of evolution pointed me to Palaeontology as a career. I was going to hunt through the Alberta bad lands for dinosaurs! But stage two didn't replace stage one; our values continue to develop even as we dream. I came to love this immense and ancient universe, and I felt a deep seated concern for the continuity of Life.
Step Three: Work Toward the Purpose
By my twenties I was starting to work on the third step. I tried to choose the value which was most important and then act on a life purpose built out of that one value. I studied to be a paleoanthropologist in order to express my love of evolution. Protohuman fossils replaced dinosaurs as my expression of the same love. But it seemed to fail to serve the wilderness which was, I began to feel, a stronger love of mine. So I became an environmentalist, ran for the Green Party, and canvassed for Green Peace.
Then, about a decade ago, I took a time-management course as a team building day with my division at work. One of the first exercises was to list our individual values. After we listed them, the instructor told us to create a life which reflected all of our most important values.
Back to Step Two: Choose a New Purpose
I took this advice seriously and began to think about how I could combine them. Yes, my love for living things was my highest value. But almost as powerful was my love of the evolutionary process. When I looked at Life in a deep-time evolutionary context then environmentalism didn't go far enough. In the context of evolution, Life didn't want to be conserved like a pickle in a jar; Life wanted to expand into new environments as it always had. Life was and is inventive and creative. Life began in the sea but expanded onto wet warm land and then into ever colder and dryer places. In an evolutionary deep-time context I saw that Life's great story was not over and we could be part of it. For instance, forests grow to about a hundred meters in height maximum because plants haven't evolved an adaptation that can overcome the transpiration limit ... yet.
Looking at Life in the context of my love for this immense and ancient universe, I suddenly saw how much space and how many eons of time there was yet for Life to expand into. But hiding in that long future were dangers greater than any Life has yet faced. The death of the Sun is a direct threat to the continuity of Life that I value so deeply. Even the Sun's death 5 billion years from now would not end Life, if Life itself could be taught to become star-faring and expand over the trillions of worlds that exist in our Galaxy.
But this was not a goal for one man or even one generation. It would require a sustained effort over generations. Such an effort required a religion in order keep its followers reminded of and focused on their purpose. It would viscerally demonstrate to them that they lived in the vast and ancient universe of Science's understanding. The idea of creating such a religion attracted me powerfully because of my love of ritual.
Step Three Again: Work Toward the New Purpose
It was time to once again re-start the third step, working toward my purpose. I wrote about my ideas and came up with names for my religion. I put up a website and wrote a blog. I invented rituals to keep me focused on my purpose and recruited friends and family to take part in them with me. But I was too shy to publicize the website. Around the same time, Brandon Sanders came to the same conclusion about human purpose as I did. But he wasn't as shy and so he publicized his web site. I found his group, the SolSeed Movement and him. It was like coming home. As I work with them, I find myself marveling at how easy it is, for we are always pointing in the same direction.
We have developed and continue to develop practices which help keep us pointed in that direction. We meditate daily on how to align our words and actions with this highest aspiration. Throughout the year, we celebrate the story of Life in which we hope to play a part. We meet and plan projects which contribute toward our vision of the future.
This journey has grounded and centered my existence, and helped me feel that each and every day I am contributing to something bigger than myself. You have values hidden in your subconscious. They are your ingrained reactions that tell you what is important, what matters. If you can find a way to tell a story about them that forms a single logical whole, then you can create for yourself a sense of purpose.
Once you do, I believe that you will be happiest, if you can find a group of people who share those specific values and purpose. For me this was the SolSeed Movement. For you perhaps it will be also. But more likely it will be some other group. In working with such a group you will find it easy to continuously remind your subconscious of its deeply held values and to align your words and actions with your highest aspirations. I hope that each of you has the chance to share that purpose with this fellowship just as I am most grateful to have had the chance to do today.