Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
"Dad," my son, who's about to turn nine, asks, "What's the end of the world?"
Hearing the question, I assume he is referring to an inner event—some felt quality hovering in the mysterious zone on the borders of known and unknown—not a terrestrial apocalypse.
"What does it mean to you?"
"It feels like a point—zero dimensions—nothing. I feel like I have to go through it, but I can't," he says.
In some maps of development nine is a significant age. According to Anthroposophy around nine is the time when a child makes a pronounced shift away from a collective sense of self, and toward a more individuated "I" (in contrast, when this boy was four, he said, "Dad, you are my home"). So in this sense, for a nine-year-old, the end of the world is nigh.
"Have you considered that the end of the world, is the same as the beginning?" I suggest.
As parents we are granted the possibility of going through these stages of development and individuation again—together with our children—this time with the sense and perspective of an adult. This is not just for hand-holding. It is a journey together; for is it not apparent that the cycles of world-end and world-beginning recur in large and small spans within our lives?
I think this ending and beginning of stages in the inner life explains humanity's long-standing obsession with the question of how the world began and how it will end. Of course that beginning moment and what it means in the context of six dimensions, the third of which is only the first trajectory of time, and the last including all possible permutations of every event occurring simultaneously in a cosmic body more vast than we can even begin to picture with our scrawny object-oriented minds, will always be unknowable. But we can know the end and beginning of worlds in ourselves, which, I believe, is the knowing that matters.
The alchemists compare life in the body and on the earth to the period of gestation in the womb. In this allegory, the womb is the whole world for the being inside. Life there is rich and complete. Sounds and lights mysteriously appear and disappear, some feel closer and more familiar, like the breath and heartbeat and voice of Mother. But there is no particular sense of a world beyond the womb, and, anyway, why would the being even wonder? The whole experience, including impressions arising "outside," is complete, forming the world.
According to the alchemists, life in the womb encompasses a long span of time because the subjective experience of the flow of time is always in logarithmic proportion to the duration of life (in other words, time goes faster, the longer one is alive). So, after a long, rich existence, a strange process begins. There is a feeling of anticipation and purpose with the growing rhythmic pulsation, movement along a canal, and increasing pressure.
The being has a sense that something is imminent—something like the end of the world. Perhaps he feels moved to himself participate in this act of birth. In any case, after a great effort and ordeal, the being leaves behind "the world" and is born into "the world."
The alchemists suggest that in the same way one's life in this terrestrial world is a preparation to be born into another, larger place, that is as different from what we know here, as this world is from life in the womb.
In the days leading up to the almost-nine-year-old's birthday, his moods became extreme, sometimes angry or sullen, and at other times lucid, kind, and startlingly insightful. He seems to be going through a type of birth process.
"I feel so content," he says in a moment of clarity, as though looking toward the horizon. "I feel complete, and totally satisfied; like when you don't want or need anything. It's like the line from that prayer you say—'everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.'"
I resonate with his feeling of the world to come, feeling myself there also, glimpsing the world of qualities, that are, though virtually ineffable, endowed with a greater reality than anything on this earth.