Among millions of living possibilities, we have somehow been granted this opportunity to be a human being. Sure we humans tally in the billions, but do you realize that for each one of us during the span of our lifetime there will be perhaps 100 billion other non-human living beings (not even counting bacteria, viruses, plants, fungus, etc) that will have come and gone? Contemplate the sheer volume of all the ants in their nests, termites in all the rotting trees in all the forests of the world, vast schools of fish in the seas, mosquitos hitting your neighbor’s backyard bug zapper. And most lives are very short, more frequently measured in days than years or decades. Each of these living beings, with some rare exceptions, requires the joining together of one egg and one sperm, the same as for a human birth. The magnitude of births/hatchings on this planet during your lifetime is bogglingly vast yet somehow you got to be a human. Your odds of winning the PowerBall Super Lotto would be markedly less.
While solo camping with my van in the Tahoe National Forest in California I made my home alongside a mountain lake reflecting its encirclement of trees. Standing at the water’s edge I witnessed a seemingly endless spool of thousands after thousands after thousands of little black flagellating tadpoles all swimming clockwise as if their collective movement was marking the temporal progress of their transformation. By the end of one full lap of the lake perhaps they’ll have sprouted legs. Another lap and those that have survived may well have developed lungs and be happily hopping and croaking about. Later, as the setting sun approached the treetops, swarms upon swarms of little nymph-like insects appeared and for some curious reason, thousands of them landed on my windshield and called it a night. Immersed in the natural beauty and wonder of nature, I was apparently the only human there amidst what may perchance be millions of tadpoles and swarming nymphs, not to mention the other lifeforms I witnessed including chipmunks, jumping fish, an array of birds, butterflies, flies, ants marching in long lines, dragonflies (my best guess for the windshield nymphs), mosquitos, a mysterious marmot-like creature, deer and even a bear.
Among the millions of variations of lifeforms that have come into being, being a human is statistically so incredibly rare that to treat it with anything less than awe, gratitude and wonder seems like utter folly on a galactic scale. I add “galactic” because we don’t even know the extent to which life might have arisen if at all within the million light-years span of our own Milky Way galaxy (don’t even get me started on how vast even a single light year). We get so lost in the particularities of our own lives, the drama, the conflicts, the responsibilities, the “issues,” that we fail to see what a mind boggling rarity and blessing it is to have been granted a human birth. It’s so extraordinary that our obsessing about the the relative minutiae of our lives appears as a huge blindspot covering the eyes of most all of humanity.
“And yet in a cosmological sense, what exists is precious not because it will one day be lost but because it has overcome the staggering odds of never having existed at all: Within the fraction of matter in the universe that is not dark matter, a fraction of atoms cohered into the elements necessary to form the complex structures necessary for life, of which a tiny portion cohered into the seething cauldron of complexity we call consciousness — the tiny, improbable fraction of a fraction of a fraction with which we have the perishable privilege of contemplating the universe in our poetry and our physics.”
~ Maria Popova
This is the lottery folks. But it’s not theoretical, you’ve actually won it. If you want to take the highly improbable odds of your specific human birth even further, think of the likelihood that it was you who was even born among the trillions of possible parental human pairings and their trillogadzillion egg and sperm combinations? Simply one more intently flagellating sperm and your siblings would instead have an entirely different sibling than you. You simply wouldn’t exist. Extrapolate that through thousands of generations of ancestors who came before you, all of whom had to win their own lottery for you to have come into being. Lottery.
Like many people who actually do win the lottery, we humans seem to have a predisposition for squandering the vast riches which befall us. I love being a human. I really do (see “I am a Being Humanist” ). Being human allows us to strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be all while cultivating compassion for our ever-imperfect humanness. What an amazing gift.
The Blessings of Being Human
To be human means we are blessed with these capacities and many more:
- To be aware of one’s presence in the middle of one’s life
- To think and self-reflect
- To experience the richness of a vast array of distinctly different emotional experiences
- To experience love with all its beautiful human nuance
- To share ideas, hopes, visions, fears, and complex concepts through conversation with others
- To grow and change
- To deeply appreciate and experience gratitude
- To be curious and dive deeply into learning
- To express creatively through endless art forms
- To laugh and make others laugh as well
- To experience the mystery and pleasure of relational intimacy
- To develop independent thoughts and understandings and teach to others
- To gather and celebrate in the communities of our choosing/making
- To travel and learn from experiencing new places, people and cultures
- To strive to manifest a life which feels best suited to one’s own soul
- To have the possibility of living a many decades long life which allows for different experiences
The key human capacity of all of these is self-awareness. The ability to be aware of oneself and bear witness to one’s own unfolding experience is what makes all of these work so well. Cultivating the capacity for self-awareness and ability to witness one’s experience and choose our response rather than simply reacting to stimuli is the key to being a well-rounded happy and content human.
How About Being a Dog?
You might say you’d rather be a dog or something else, a porpoise or an eagle perhaps. To that I’d say that dogs and porpoises and eagles pretty much won the lifeform lottery too. Even the little chipmuck that tried to steal one of my dried figs appears as a crazy-high lifeform when compared with the line of ants going by. And seriously, it’s not exactly like you get a choice. Looking around the lake, it may seem pretty cool to be a dragonfly, especially the mating-while-in-flight part, but living the entirety of your life within one season and without any of the human capacities for growth and reflection doesn’t quite comparatively cut it.
The Challenges of Being Human
This is all easy to say when you feel like your life is good and when you aren’t subject to subjugation, discrimination, serious illness or significant physical or mental pain. These issues can truly impair one’s entire experience of living. Inherent within our human emotional capacity and ability to experience beauty are very painful experiences. Infused within love itself is the eventual pain of grief and loss. I have my struggles in life as do most all of us and yet the bounds of suffering which some experience are beyond our imagination. We all may have won the human lottery, but in reality there’s an additional lottery multiplier as to which incarnation we actually received as a human and how much struggle it may in fact contain.
What Are You Doing with Your Winning Lifeform Lottery Ticket?
If you’ve been sufficiently graced to recognize and experience the blessings of this human incarnation, the question ultimately arises – What are you doing with your winning lifeform lottery ticket? You have only this one lifetime within which to spend the winnings. For those who believe you have another shot through reincarnation, what’s to keep you from coming back as an earwig or as a tadpole, or worse yet a chicken in a factory farm (a possibility 1,000 times more likely than being born human). Complaining about others starts to feel like folly when we could just as easily find ways to appreciate them. Allowing our thoughts, wishes and desires to be fed to us by allowing our computers, phones and televisions to serve up endless media seems like an utter waste of our time. Yet we dally and far too often kick our cans of dreams down the road until they become unattainable, put off meaningfully important things until another day and fail to take necessary care of our bodies and spirits that we might extend our winnings in good health.
I’ve hesitated to publish this in light of the reality that to many, being a human is incredibly hard. I truly wish there weren’t so much suffering in this world. And yet, deep in my soul I feel immensely grateful for this opportunity to be a human. It’s a challenge. It’s takes great effort, integrity, luck and a heaping scoop of grace to live a life that we come to perceive as a blessing. To those of you who somehow manage to find the blessings inherent in this very human life, I’m happy for you. It’s no small honor and gift. I encourage you to spend your lottery winnings lavishly, generously. Look like a fool if that’s your worry and make the most of your human incarnation. Like those flying nymphs that landed on my windshield and had all perished by morning, all of the opportunity we have of living such a rare and blessed human life will be over in the blink of an eye.
This is the earnest work. Each of us is given
only so many mornings to do it –
to look around and love