For the last several hundred years, science has viewed the universe as made of inert matter and empty space. At one time, this perspective was liberating, part of the Enlightenment-born rationalism that helped humanity free itself from superstition. However, the view of a non-living universe has also led to rampant materialism and environmental destruction. Now there is growing evidence from cosmology, biology and physics to suggest that the universe is not fragmented and dead but rather unified and uniquely alive. Importantly, this insight is in harmony with all of the world’s major spiritual traditions. Overall, a living universe perspective radically transforms our understanding of the cosmos, the nature of human identity, and our evolutionary journey.

There are three themes that orient my new book, The Living Universe:

1) Where are we? When we look at the accumulating research from the sciences, it suggests a stunning new view of the cosmos. To summarise, a growing body of evidence indicates that the universe is almost entirely invisible and is continuously regenerated by the flow-through of phenomenal amounts of life energy. In turn, this underlying ocean of life energy seems to include consciousness or a reflective capacity as part of its essential nature, enabling systems at every scale of existence to exercise some freedom of choice. The universe is a living and learning system that is vastly more alive, subtle, intelligent, purposeful and free than we had imagined. With the humility of a living systems perspective, we can freshly rediscover our home.

2) Who are we? If the universe is a unique kind of living system, then who are we? Despite humanity’s great diversity and historical differences, when the world’s wisdom traditions penetrate into the experiential depths of existence, a common understanding emerges that is in accord with insights from science. This understanding is utterly stunning: we live

within a living universe that arises, moment by moment, as a unified whole. The universe is a living entity that is unutterably vast and an intensely alive process of awesome precision and power. We are beings the universe inhabits as much as we are beings who inhabit the universe. Life exists within life. Our life is inseparable from the aliveness of the living universe. Our aliveness and consciousness extend beyond our biological bodies and into the further reaches and depths of the living universe. Our physical bodies comprise only the smallest fraction of the full scope of our being. Our bodies are biodegradable vehicles for acquiring soul-growing experiences. With renewed feelings of wonder, we can open to a larger sense of self that connects into the subtle aliveness of a living universe.

3) Where are we going? Dramatic changes are required for the human community to avoid a world-systems catastrophe. The changes required to live sustainably on the Earth are so broad, so deep, and so far-reaching that if we are to avoid a global calamity, it is vital that we discover a common sense of purpose for pulling together as a human family. If we are mistaken about where we are – thinking we live in a non-living universe – then we will chart a very different course for living. To illustrate: consumerism is a rational response if we think we exist in a dead universe, as Nature is viewed as a non-living resource to be exploited for human advantage. Simplicity is a rational response if we think we live in a living universe, as we want to reduce needless clutter and complication and engage with the infusing aliveness of authentic relationships, meaningful work, caring communities, and creative expressions. The paradigm of a living universe provides a strong foundation for moving towards a sustainable and meaningful future.

Overall, the human species is growing up and growing into the understanding that we are beings of both biological and cosmic dimension. We are on a heroic journey of awakening and now confront the supreme test of living sustainably on the Earth, in harmony with one another, and in communion with the living universe. In turn, a paramount task for the human community is to discover a larger sense of identity and vision for the human journey, one that can bring us together in a common enterprise. The doorway into a larger understanding of who we are and where we are going can be found by recognising where we already are – living within a living universe. In discovering we live within a living universe, we open to the heartening knowledge that we are one of her precious offspring, seeking communion with her depths. What a wonderful paradox: we get our bearings for the journey ahead by recognising that we are already home.

The Living Universe: Where Are We? Who Are We? Where Are We Going? by Duane Elgin is published by Berrett-Koehler, ISBN 9781576759691.

Duane Elgin is a speaker, educator, consultant, media activist and author of many books.