Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything discusses how life shows up in the oddest places. Jellyfish are, in his opinion, one of the stranger life forms. They are basically conscious bits of saltwater and a little protein. One of the key points of Bryson’s book is how improbable it is that life, which is to say consciousness, is here at all, and how improbable it is that it keeps on being here. We are in constant danger of everything from meteor collision to supervolcano eruption, an event that happens an estimated once or twice every million years, with devastating consequences.
For so many people, it’s easy to live in the day-to-day, literal reality of our world, harder to live in the spiritual and imaginal realms. But for some of us, as Michael Meade said, the work of a lifetime is the opposite, not to transcend the material world but to incarnate more fully. Most days, I have some ambivalence about being here; I do not trust the material world. I work at being fully in the present, in my body, not entirely living in thought, imagination and spirit.
For me, most discussions of the meaning of existence fall short (except perhaps Joseph Campbell’s when he said, life has no meaning; what’s the meaning of a flower?). When I read Bryson’s bit about jellyfish, I imagined small pockets of salt water, coalescing suddenly into conscious, corporal beings. I saw them like little floating light bulbs, turning on one by one in a dark sea. When it comes to the value of being incarnate in a physical body, human thought fails to convince me, but the jellyfish succeeds.