We live in a world of parallel universes.
The universes of politics, cooking, fashion, music, parrots!
Many years ago, I decided to buy a macaw parrot. A few weeks later, I found myself immersed in the “world of birds.” I began to discover this already existing world that was running parallel to my life, but of which I had been unaware.
Before parrots, I was immersed in the “world of chess.” For some time, my world was that of Karpov and Capablanca. A big part of my daily life was learning chess openings with weird names like the King-Indian, the Hedgehog Defense, and the Fried-Liver Attack. I studied chess books, met people who played chess, and traveled abroad to participate in chess tournaments. So absorbed was I in the chess world that people in my dreams began to move like chess pieces: diagonally like Bishops or hopping around like Knights!
Nowadays, living in the countryside where I am surrounded by olive and orange groves, I am slowly becoming an amateur arborist (I didn’t even know the word for it before!). With local help, I harvest the olives and take them to the nearby oil press to produce my own organic olive oil. From December to March, I monitor the citrus trees, tasting mandarins, oranges, and grapefruit, to determine when they have reached their peak sweetness, to decide the correct time to harvest them, and then I prune the trees and fertilize the ground. This is a completely new universe. How could I have lived all my life without knowing its wealth of pleasures and lessons, its surprises and beauty? Still, how could I also have lived without ever knowing of the Evergreen Chess Game of Anderssen, or of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s African grey parrot, Alex, the only animal ever to have communicated verbally with humans and one of the very few showing comprehension of abstract ideas? All these beautiful, endless universes exist in eternal obliviousness to most people, as they used to exist for me. Yet how many more are there that I will never be aware of ? How many more universes exist now around me, within just a thousand-meter radius from my house? In the village nearby, the yogurt maker works in his small workshop to produce his delicious yogurt, while the baker wakes up every morning and bakes in a wood-fired oven following a centuries-old tradition. And they both know their tools and enjoy their work as much as Karpov knows his chessboard and loves devising strategic plans.
Living in one’s universe is as natural as living itself. As we are not aware of the flow of our blood, we move and act in our own universe in partial or complete ignorance of the parallel universes that exist around us. In a sense, we do not live in the one universe of Newton and Einstein. If the physical universe is the stage, it is nothing without scripts, musicians, and actors. And these are provided, or rather created, by the mind of man. It is in these “mental worlds,” in these rather self-contained parallel universes that humanity moves and acts, creates and plays. There are countless such universes enveloping our life. And just as there are many different radio frequencies simultaneously present in a room, and we may choose to tune to any one of them to listen to a favorite radio program, we can choose to move to any “universe of Being” we like. These universes are as innumerable as the extent of human endeavors and activities; so no human being can ever dream of entering but a handful of them. One must be grateful when one has become aware of the existence of a few. If one manages to go further and also discover some of the beauties in them, then one has traveled a long way.
But to discover the beauties inherent in some of these other universes, we must truly enter them by going through the life-experiences of the members of these universes, even if only for a short period in our life. We must at some point strive to become in the fullness of term, not only a chess player, a parrot lover, or an arborist, but also a musician, a painter, a cook, a potter, a mountaineer, a fisherman. It is by doing this that we deepen our relationship with the world, enrich our life immensely, and strengthen our bonds with our fellow humans residing in other universes. These other universes then cease to mystify us, for we gradually become more aware of their intrinsic qualities, their inner substance and delicate meanings.
Yet, there’s also another reason, probably the most important, for why we ought to strive to live for a while in some of the other universes that surround us: It is by experiencing what it really means to belong to another universe that we come to truly understand our own. When a chess player immerses himself into the world of birds and ends up loving a parrot as much as his favorite chess game, his universe is not the same again. For it is henceforth experienced through an expanded vision of the world: his love of chess ceases to be singular and obsessive; it becomes one of a variety of loves that extend beyond the chess universe. And when he sees someone passing by, holding his parrot, he can empathically experience the other person’s love for his bird by relating it both to his own love of his favorite chess game, as well as to the experience of love he feels when he immerses himself in the world of birds.
To become a conscious being in your own universe, you first have to be enlightened by experiencing the consciousness of others. Only in this way can your own choice in life become a true choice; that is, a true act of conscious volition. Then, by reclaiming – through an act of free will – your already existing life’s-choices in your own universe, you become free of the bonds of heredity and society that have probably placed you there in the first place.
In a sense, we reach Descartes’s method from the opposite end: We do not question our beliefs through a negation. We do not begin by throwing off what we have. We try to move outward from where we are, encompassing the living universes that envelop our being and actions. Through a mental expansion, we come to truly understand the little universe we have chosen to inhabit – its uniqueness and beauty, but also its biases and limitations.
Only by learning to love a parrot can one ever truly understand what it means to play chess.