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The Powers of the Universe

"The Powers of the Universe"
by Brian Swimme, PhD 
Mill Valley, CA: Center for the Story of the Universe, 2004
DVD or CD 11 programs, 9 hours
Reviewed by Trevor Slocum

(Note: The DVD and CD programs are not carried by Amazon.com but are available from the author at his website www.brianswimme.org. These related books by the author are available from Amazon.com: The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story and The Universe Story : From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era--A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos)

In his DVD presentation, The Powers of the Universe, Brian Swimme hopes to awaken humanity to a devastating reality: humans are, not so slowly, destroying the most beautiful place that we know of in the universe, our precious planet Earth. The tragedy is that no one would do this deliberately; the destruction arises out of our anthropocentric definitions of what it means to be human. Swimme attempts to show that the roles people use to govern their lives—their national, racial, cultural, even religious identities—are all ultimately too limited to effectively deal with the situation in which humanity finds itself. We are living on a withering planet, the destruction of which may be made worse by our presence. However, Swimme suggests that humans can have a different role by allowing the very forces of nature, existence, and activity to flow through each individual’s conscious self-awareness. By becoming aware of these powers, Swimme hopes humanity will shift into a new species, with a global perspective. He hopes we will become what he calls “Planetary beings.”

There is good cause for his optimism. With his entertaining and humorous extemporaneous style, and clear, poignant explanations of the miracles of science, Swimme unlocks these mysteries and makes them accessible to reflection by anyone. Taking us on a journey from the vast reaches of the ancient cosmos, down into the most infinitesimal elementary particles, Swimme shows that no matter where you look, even into the human heart, the powers of the universe are present. Swimme has listened deeply to the universe. He has used his specialized scientific knowledge to look and listen creatively to the direction the universe is leaning into. It is from this universal direction that Swimme suggests we take our cue. There is a radical openness, in Swimme, to what the universe is presenting, indeed to what the universe values. His listening and reflecting is neither one-sided nor saccharinely sweet. In addition to insight into the powers of synergy and interrelatedness, he is willing to meet the darker and alluring aspects of the universe, acknowledging the universe creatively uses of the powers of cataclysm as well as allurement to further life’s aims. It strikes me that his work would be deeply appealing to those searching to find a sense of the sacred outside of traditional sources. For each power, Swimme explores the qualities of people especially manifesting that power, thus affirming a diversity of styles and approaches in life, finding value in the lives of people, who in the popular culture, might be seen as misfits. Although the powers are interconnected but not necessarily linear, Swimme shows how each power can build upon another, allowing for a spiritual path or progression leading to a fundamental appreciation for the beauty and radiance of each being and all of creation. Each power can be worked with as a spiritual training that leads one to a richer connection with Earth and our fellow creatures.

Trevor Slocum is the office manager for Spiritual Directors International and a graduate student at Seattle University in the Existential Phenomenological Therapeutic Psychology program. He is a practicing Buddhist and used to work for a Buddhist charity in London, England.

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