The Big Numbers
If some of you are like me, then the month of April probably felt like it had much more than the normal thirty days. Some days seemed like to run into another, and we would sometimes forget what day of the week it was. Some days even seemed to last longer or shorter than the usual twenty four hours depending on our frame of mind.
So, it was a bit of welcome relief to actually see the calendar roll over from April to May. There was a sense of freshness about seeing the single digit, 1, in the calendar icon on my phone’s home screen. It felt like the universe was nudging me to begin anew and re-establish some sort of a normal schedule — whatever ‘normal’ even means or will mean any more. As I looked back at April, I couldn’t help but think about some numbers.
We dealt with a lot of really big numbers in April. Trillions, billions, millions, hundred thousands, tens of thousands. In various different contexts, these numbers with lots of zeroes attached to them, came into our awareness. Some of these large numbers will perhaps remain in our awareness for a while, if not permanently. We may rarely ever again treat them as mere numbers, because they attempt to quantify the impact of Covid19 on our collective consciousness.
However, numbers big or small, did not always a role, or any role in human life of the past. Humans only invented numbers a few thousand years ago. Before that, humanity led a life on Earth for a fairly long time without numbers. This doesn’t mean that the ancient humans did not know how to count – they probably didn’t use numbers in the way that we use them. Some of us humans like me, even get obsessed with numbers occasionally.
Learning Small Numbers
One of the very first things we want to teach toddlers is the skill of counting. As parents, it is often a great moment of accomplishment and pride when our child can learn how to count from one to ten. It’s a milestone of sorts. If they didn’t learn how to count, children would be greatly impaired to function in this world. The parents and teachers would be deemed downright failures. And yet, I would posit that counting, numbers and the ability to eventually learn mathematics is mostly a mental skill.
So, I reflected on the question – how do we remove ourselves from our dependence on numbers, if only for a moment? Nature provides the immediate answer. Walking the forest trail, I have never counted the number or trees. I have never even thought about counting as I walk across a bridge, marvel at the river’s flow, watch the woodpeckers tap on the trees, get blinded by the sunlight streaking through the trees or watch new flowers springing before my very eyes. When the storm starts to build up over the lake and the clouds do their dance, numbers are erased from my consciousness. You get the idea.
To quote Shakespeare — “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. I would take some liberty and replace ‘philosophy’ with ‘numbers’ — particularly the really large numbers. The ones with all those zeroes, particularly those which quantify pain, suffering and death, tend to overwhelm the heart and mind. It isn’t that every single person’s grief and healing isn’t important. It’s that when we look at suffering in mass aggregates, we run the risk of losing empathy for the individual.
Spirituality and Significant Numbers
And yet, there are some numbers which are very important from the heart’s perspective, from the spiritual perspective. In the vein of ‘paint by numbers’, let us be creative and look at them as ‘spirituality by numbers’. I was going to list a countdown from twelve, but for the sake of brevity, I will limit it to five. So, let us begin.
Five. The number five represents the elements, and our senses. Our body is considered to have ten (a multiple of five) doorways, through which we receive sensory input. It is the tenth, the invisible space between the eyes, the third eye, which is the most significant from a spiritual perspective. It is used by many as the doorway to travel within, and as also the seat of awakening.
Four. The four quadrants of the heart space and the cardinal points come to mind with the number four. In spirituality, there are the familiar three — the heart, the mind and the body — and also an additional fourth, unexplored, unearthed dimension. Can you think of any more spiritual interpretations of the number four?
The number three immediately evokes the Trinity of Christianity. In Sanatana Dharma (hinduism), three represents the powers of creation, sustenance and destruction that govern the cycle of life. The notion of word, thought and action, all interconnected, represent the number three. There is no thought without word, and thoughtless action notwithstanding, there is no action without first being impelled by thought.
What about the number two? The philosophy of duality follows from the notion of two. Man is created in the image of the divine. Man eventually merges into the divine. These flow from the ideas of duality, which are often the creators of the ego, which can be the cause of great pain and suffering. One proposed solution is to discard the notion of duality.
Finally, we arrive at the number One. The idea of Oneness is very appealing to many, because it represents our Universal nature. If we can remember to constantly embrace our fundamental nature of Oneness, then the world would be one of infinite love. And yet, the practice of Oneness is a work in progress. It is a seemingly huge task and yet it can be accomplished if we begin by recognizing and experiencing our own Oneness with the divine. The heart is our instrument, our flute to the experience of Oneness — if we let the divine breathe the breath of love through it.
The lesson for me from April has been that it is easier to focus on the small tractable numbers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Learning to count, all over again. Not to be outdone or ignored, zero is possibly the most powerful number of all. Zero can take any number, no matter how big or small, and by multiplication. reduce it to itself. Zero can also take any number, big or small, and by division by itself, create infinity.
From zero to infinity. That is all the spirituality by numbers we will ever need in our new present, won’t we?
P.S. Longest blog post ever, isn’t this? I get carried away by numbers. Thanks for reading. And join us for our weekly gathering of folks in #SpiritChat on Sunday, May 3 at 9am ET / 1pm UTC / 630pm India. We will talk about some small numbers over tea, coffee, fruit, cookies, and a few questions. Namaste – @AjmaniK
Sunset – Spirituality, beyond the Numbers