Long Way Off - About the Song

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."William Shakespeare

We are born whimpering bundles of skin and sinew- naked, bloody, and with no thought or language. We live for a few years and learn to speak. We give names to the rocks and animals that we see on this little speck of dust of earth, and we use glass and mirrors to stare up into the vastness above us in the hopes of categorizing and understanding the mystery that is existence. Yet, all of this is done from such a limited perspective. We are just one of the trillions of planets in this known universe. And who knows what lies outside of the universe that we can see with our glass and mirrors…

Yet, despite our knowledge of our cosmic insignificance, we human beings tend to FEEL like we are the center and apex of the universe. That's because our feelings are tied to our bodies, which are very small and local realities. This is why when I stub my toe, it becomes much more important to me than the knowledge that someone else has stubbed his toe. I think it would be reasonable to assume, for instance, that several people in India just stubbed their toes as I typed this sentence. But, I don't give that much thought. Because those people are not the center of the universe in my ego ridden brain. I am. And this is how humans build our society. A group of me-centered universes that find ways of cooperating into building something bigger than the individual. Still, we are talking about one species of hominids on one tiny speck of dust in one tiny little solar system in the corner of one of the arms of one little galaxy.

Humans are arrogant creatures. We always have been. We see that we are smarter than the other animals on earth, so we figure that we are the center of the universe. We used to literally think that was true. We came up with geocentric models of the universe to support our narcissism, but then our glass and mirrors got a little too clear for that self-deception, so now we only get to FEEL that we are literally the center of the universe. How many of our most brilliant minds need to proven wrong a decade after they die for us to understand….human beings are very limited creatures…? What do we KNOW about anything, really?

Sure, Descartes made it seem pretty reasonable to believe that at least "I" exist… And there are plenty of other things that seem reasonable to believe. But the lines between knowledge, belief, doubt, and hope get awfully blurry. Do I KNOW, for instance, that I am really sitting here typing at this computer right now? Is it possible that I'm dreaming? Not probable, but certainly possible. Is it possible that I'm in some sort of elaborate Matrix-like scheme where my real brain is actually hooked up to some crazy network somewhere? Sure, it's a stretch, but how do I KNOW anything other than what my very limited senses offer to my very limited brain living in a very tiny corner of the universe? I can't see with anything but MY eyes.

So I'm born this bundle of skin and sinew, and then after a few years I learn to speak to these other egocentric mammals who have also learned to speak. And together we come up with grand stories and, who knows, maybe experience bits of revelation from beyond the vail. But these days of ours are very short and our experience very limited. We live a few moments, and then like mist, we disappear into the Mystery from whence we came.

So why are we so arrogant?

Why do we, the mist, the sinew, the breath think that the Mystery is so small as to fit into our little brains through the extremely limited data set of information that we have access to as we clutch for our lives to this ball of dirt soaring precariously through space and time? Because as clever as we can be, we are also fools. We are foolish enough to ignore the vast space above our heads and instead fool ourselves into believing that my stubbed toe really is the center of the universe. We are afraid, and so we hide our heads in our books and in sex and work and religion and anything else that can distract us from the fact that our lives are a vapor and we really don't know very much about anything.

I had a friend tell me that she has been listening to "The Long Way Off" over and over in her car. For her, it's been a relief. It's been encouraging for her to remember that she doesn't have to figure everything out to live a good life. I think that's interesting because there are a lot of other people who don't feel that way about a message like "we're a long way off." For some people (people that don't feel like they are a long way off), that idea can be disconcerting. But, there's something about coming to terms with your limitations that can actually be quite freeing. I think it allows for a certain childlikeness again. It allows for some mystery and wonder.

Now, certainly, I'm not advocating for a mindless abandonment of all thought or belief. I believe we ought to use our limited minds to the best of our ability. We ought to research and study and work hard at understanding what we can. But we ought to be humble in the endeavor, realizing that we are mist, a vapor, a breath, the slightest flicker in a flame, and anything that we do get to see or understand is a very small part of the magnificent and unfathomable depths of Reality.

With the limitations that we have as human beings on this planet, certainty may never be a viable option for us. But trust…hope…faith…love… These are possible. And maybe it's better that way.