The Illusion Of Insignificance
Words by Tom Chi
Taking a deep breath is one of the most simple ways to connect with our own bodies, But taking a deep breath was not something that was possible on this earth three billion years ago. Before the ozone layer existed, earth was not really able to sustain complex, multicellular life.
The composition of the atmosphere of the earth had almost no oxygen at all. We actually had a huge amount of carbon dioxide. And the net effect was a almost (un)inhabitable planet.
The only organisms that could exist that time were single-celled organisms. Luckily for us, one of those organisms that was alive at this time was something called a cyanobacteria. And this organism has the special trick that we call “photosynthesis,” the ability to go take energy from the sun and transform carbon dioxide into oxygen.
And over the course of billions of years, little by little these bacteria spread across the planet and converted all that carbon dioxide in the air into the oxygen that we now have. And it was a very slow process. First, they had to saturate the seas, then they had to saturate the oxygen that the earth would absorb, and only then, finally, could oxygen begin to build up in the atmosphere.
And about 600 million years ago, something really amazing happens. The ozone layer forms from the oxygen that has been released in the atmosphere. And shortly after the ozone layer came into place, the earth was able to sustain complex multicellular life. There was a Cambrian explosion of life in the seas. And the first plants got onto land.
In fact, there was actually no life on land ahead of that. Nothing that you are familiar with today could exist without the contributions of these tiny organisms over those billions of years.
Imagine you were one of these little organisms two billion years ago. You might be born. You live a couple weeks. You die.
And you kind of feel like, well, nothing really changed. I mean, I had no purpose in this life. The world I came to is exactly the same as the world that I left. But what you wouldn’t have understood is that every breath that you took contributed to the possibility of countless lives after you – lives that you would never see, lives that we are all a part of today.
And it’s worth thinking that maybe the meaning of our lives are actually not even within the scope of our understanding. Because it’s true of every one of these organisms, and it may also be true of us.
And if it’s a possible thing for cyanobacteria to completely transform the physical environment of our planet, it is absolutely a possible thing for us to do the same thing.
We’ve been given this amazing gift of consciousness. And because of this gift, we have the ability to deeply understand our connectedness, And because we can deeply understand our connectedness, we’re the ones that have the decision on how we’re going to go use that knowledge, how we’re going to go use it to build our societies and to shape our lives.