Some of us don’t find history very interesting. Once in my own distant past, I, unfortunately, had a fourth-grade teacher who had memorized the names of every single U.S. vice-president. Even at the time, at my young age, I thought that memorizing the names of vice-presidents was not a very imaginative use of one’s time.
However, thank goodness, there is more to history than memorizing names – or the dates of battles – which used to be an important thing to memorize.
An extraordinary number of us, however, do find history dull. Sadly, that may be due to our own level of ignorance. Finding the past dull says nothing about the past; it only says something about the dimness of our brain.
Let’s say I have a friend – someone I met not long ago – just a friend – someone I might meet at the dog park or maybe the neighbor down the street. Maybe someone a bit older who has lived a long life. If I decide that the person’s life has been boring, then I will never bother to be interested in his or her life. I will never ask a question or express any interest. I will never learn anything about this person.
Maybe my newly found friend speaks six languages or has traveled around the world several times – or spent several years in the Peace Corps – or was a prisoner of war – or a criminal in prison for many years – or nearly died from an illness – or has a family with children and grandchildren – or is an immigrant who grew up on another continent – or the winner of a Pulitzer Prize – or is a famous poet – or won millions of dollars in the lottery – or is a brilliant concert pianist – or is an astronomer with fascinating theories about the universe – or is a hero who risked his life to save his comrades in Vietnam – or is a billionaire, but isn’t telling anyone – or used to be a bank robber.
All this might be quite fascinating, but I may never know if I never express any interest at all in the life of my friend. If I am just not interested, then I will never know how much I am missing or how much I might learn.
This is how many of us approach history. We assume that the present is pretty much all that is relevant and that the past could contain nothing that would be of the slightest interest to us today.
This is like saying that the only place that is of any interest to us is the town or city that we live in. The rest of the world does not exist for us – there are no countries, no continents, no vast expanses of ocean, no cold polar realms, no hot tropics, no jungles, no exotic foreign places – no forests or deserts – no planet earth at all really. Just the street where we live, and that’s it really.
But this is not true of history. The past is not just populated by dull Europeans or unknowable Africans – or boring people who somehow lived out their dull lives before the Twenty First Century. And if you go back a few hundred years — perhaps we might be telling ourselves — they most likely lived in caves anyway.
Before the four centuries in which what we now call America has existed, on the continents of North and South America, there were, at a bare minimum, ten or twenty thousand years of culture – with fascinating myths and stories about nature, the universe, the stars, the animals and the plants. In the Americas, people built some of the biggest pyramids in the world and giant cities with complex irrigation systems and incredible works of art, unequaled anywhere. Their myths and the stories provide an extraordinary depth of awareness, insight, and knowledge about how to relate to life and the universe. There are stories about Gods that give a profound spiritual perspective – far more beautiful than anything most of us can imagine today. There was writing extending far back over many centuries, and there were calendars with numbers to keep track of time over not just thousands, but millions, of years. There were worlds upon worlds that we can no longer even imagine.
Africa, the Pacific Islands, India
In Africa too, there were vast movements of people. There were great cities built of stone in southern Africa. In the Sahara, which is now a desert, there were thriving wetlands filled with herds of animals and many people who left their art and history printed on the rocks over ten thousand years ago. In Egypt, there were pyramids, many temples, and gigantic works of art like the Sphinx, believed by some authorities to have been built tens of thousands of years ago, with a level of mathematical precision that cannot even be understood or matched today. There was an awareness of various levels of being with which we have long ago lost touch.
In the islands that dot the Pacific, there are hundreds of giant stone megalithic monuments, including some recently discovered that apparently go back for over 20,000 years.
In India, advanced culture goes back at least seven thousand years, to the Indus Valley Civilization which had elaborate city planning, paved streets, sewage systems, and a complex “modern” civilization, with writing, mathematics, and elegant public buildings as well as private houses. Later, around the first century BCE, there were brilliant Indian scientists and mathematicians who created the number system that we still use today – without which, the current world economy would have remained an impossibility that could never have been developed.
These scientists understood the solar system, the nature of stars, atoms, and gravity; they knew that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun – at a time when people in Europe saw the earth as flat. They had many precisely accurate measurements of physical aspects of the earth and the entire solar system. It would take Europe until around the fifteenth century to rediscover some of this knowledge – known so long ago in ancient India.
The Stone Age
If we go back a bit earlier to Gobekli Tepe, the amazing site uncovered in Turkey in recent decades – it goes back to at least 12,000 BCE. There, giant, beautifully shaped stones in around twenty huge circles were built with precision and accuracy. The entire site was buried and is gradually being excavated.
Here is another thing to think of – many thousands of years ago, at a time that we think of as paleolithic – or the Old Stone Age, when people actually did live in caves – during the times of the Ice Ages – how do we know what was in the consciousness of these people?
Some of the cave art in Europe consists of the most startingly beautiful depictions ever created of animals. It is the equal of any artwork anywhere over a span the ten thousand years or so that followed, up to and including today. Should we not draw from this the conclusion that these people, far from being primitive, were instead aware and conscious of many levels of reality that we may simply have lost touch with. They seem to have had a profound connection with the inner spirit of the animals they portrayed in art.
We “modern” people pride ourselves on our technology, which is indeed truly remarkable. But, all the same, it is still technology – it is not a vision of the nature of worlds and universes.
What if magic and miracles are real? What if all the Gods that modern science dismisses so easily are real and true presences? What if things as they are, are far, far different than our current, scientific, physical, worldview allows?
What if our modern age has got it all wrong – and profound truth and beauty lies just beyond our reach? What if we must journey back a little in time to gain a truer and deeper perspective – to catch an unforgettable glimpse of the immense beauty that is – that we, as the human race have since lost touch with – and that we need to rediscover – if not in this age – then, after the ending of this age, in the brighter age that is to come – one way or another – sooner or maybe later?
A persevering interest in the past – in history – can open doors to many worlds of deeper understanding.
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