DISCOVERING THE ESSENTIAL:
THE SPACE STATION AND THE PUMP
Humility and appreciation go hand and hand, so that we feel grateful for simple things and are not willing to take them for granted just because we can do great things like put a man on the moon.
Space shuttle Discovery launched on June 2nd, 2008 for a trip to the International Space Station with a new fully intact laboratory created by Japanese technology and a pump for the toilet. Little was made in the news about this interesting cargo, but the message for those who could register it was poignant. It seems that no matter how lofty human enterprise or expertise, no matter how grand humanity's plans for its movement into outer space, there will always be a problem of 'getting the plumbing to work'.
This very human touch speaks of the humility that needs to remain about the scope of man's vision and technological ambition, and its relationship to the things in life that are basic that may be overlooked. Although a toilet is not overtly a spiritual symbol, it can have spiritual significance as a carrier of a unique message both about the need for humility, and about the limitations of technology. It seems that even with the billions of dollars invested in the space station, something small like a toilet pump had to be carried in the cargo hold of the shuttle in order to make everything work right in this billion dollar enterprise.
The need for humility is great today, not just in relation to what can be done by machines and technology, but in relation to the importance of basic human values, the values that come from the heart and from appreciating the beauty and naturalness of the world around us. Humility and appreciation go hand and hand, so that we feel grateful for simple things and are not willing to take them for granted, just because we can do great things like put a man on the moon.
Such an attitude requires a reversal of what consumer-oriented media would have us believe in every TV spot and on every web page, namely, that we cannot do without the next level of technology that is arriving, for it is somehow necessary to our wellbeing. The story of the pump reverses this idea. It lets us know that the simple things are often the most important.
On the space station as well as within our own lives, one can be surrounded by wealth of different kinds, yet something basic and necessary like the life of the heart or the life of the earth can escape our notice.
It is like that when we examine the values of having more, driving fancier cars, wanting the latest instrument that combines audio, video, phone, computer, and other technological tools in one. We are encouraged to believe that more is better, and often, that the more functions something can perform simultaneously, the better it is. And then there is the story of the pump...
This need for humility relates not only to things of the Earth but to things of the Spirit. For in spiritual things one can lack sufficient humility as well. One can feel interested in making progress, but not in expressing gratitude. One can think about becoming more knowledgeable, but not about being kinder. One can know more about healing and about energy, but not about how to be with those who are suffering. Sometimes the most essentially human things are overlooked or treated indifferently even among those on a spiritual path. Even among those who might know better.
As a perspective and commentary on spiritual life and truth, let us take the story of the space station and the toilet pump to represent the things that we each may have overlooked in life that are the simplest, the things that we take for granted, for which we do not express adequate appreciation. Without this, we may feel like we are "getting someplace" spiritually, while in reality, we may be pushing aside what is really most important. If we do take stock, however, of the simple and basic things that reflect the outward expression of a living and active human heart, we will be making "progress" without trying to make progress, for in our valuing what is simple and essential, we will be creating a life in which everything will be in its rightful place.
* * *