from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 7 May 2012

interstellar dust & us

detail of star formation BLAST collaboration*

If you were around in the 70s you might remember the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song (was it written by Joni Mitchell?): 'We are stardust / We are golden / We are billion year old carbon / And we got to get ourselves / Back to the Garden...'

As an impressionable young romantic teenager, the notion that 'we are all stardust' was like a Big Bang in my mind. 

My first short story involved some mystical quasi-post-apocalyptic God-figure quietly lying down to die [ie move to another level of consciousness] in a washed-up tide of dead fish that might also have been dead stars. I knew at the time the story was allegorical, and I was already steeped in ideas of the dawning  of the Age of Aquarius, and the emergence of ecological thinking; I'm interested, having forgotten the long-disappeared handwritten story till the other day, to see now how many different layers of symbolism I'd incorporated without being fully aware of it, in some of the imagery.

I'd say the literal and metaphorical truths about our being stardust (like everything else we can experience in material form) have both shaped and given momentum to all my questing and thinking since then. This starfire burst, and how it connects everything to everything else! How we really are one another!

An evolutionary biologist would say that, improbable though it might seem, consciousness such as ours has arisen like everything we know from an interstellar explosion that created our planet, and the conditions necessary for human awareness. Yes, the odds are billions to one,  but the process can be mapped.

A mystic would say that out of consciousness, universal consciousness, has arisen everything, including this planet and the conditions for us to emerge.

The gnostic or arcane/occult view might hold that everything we know and can know is a co-creation of the mind of the universe and our individual minds – that the universe needs us for its knowing as we need the universe for ours, and that that is a continual and continuing process of co-evolution.

The suggestion here is not that we humans are omnipotent, but that we may also be a way for the universe to know itself in our small localised sector of the all-that-is-consciousness. This view assumes, of course, that everything is consciousness, and that our experience of moving through time and space is one of continual and perpetuating relationship.

Whichever view one holds, isn't it the most amazing fact that we are here at all? Despite the degradations of death, war, sickness, poverty, homelessness, ecological disaster, abuse, neglect and cruelty this is still, as we averred in the hippy days, a beautiful world.

On a Bank Holiday Monday morning here in Devon, sitting at a round table and looking out at a courtyard wet with rain, alive with birds (including at the moment the stunt-flying of a pair of newly-arrived swallows), scented with bluebells, with life bursting green from every crack, I know that, despite the winter with its hard personal losses and deaths, I live in the Garden; the Garden is my home, and it's only my egoic views of separateness, of duality, my attachment to things staying the same, my requirement that there is no loss, no illness, no cruelty in the world, no death, that keep me from remembering this.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: '...we could say that it is our nature and calling, as sentient beings, to regard our situation with awe and wonder, and to wonder deeply about the potential for refining our sentience and placing it in the service of the well-being of others, and of what is most beautiful and indeed most sacred in this living world – so sacred that we would guard ourselves much more effectively than we have so far from causing it to be disregarded.'  (in Coming to our Senses)

*by the international research team that built an innovative new telescope called BLAST (Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope);


  1. We seem to be wandering further away from the garden than ever as you almost suggest. I returned to that stardust thought a couple of months ago thanks to my 13-year-old son who loves astronomy. A most agreeable blog post, and a lovely Devon garden view.

  2. G, thank you. (How I love the internet - exchanges from the other side of the earth, nearly! Glad too to hear of your son's interest in the stars!) Yes, collectively, I do (almost) feel that; and yet we may also be approaching critical mass - this (and I know arguably this could be said of all times) is a significant time in our species' history, with big choices looming. AND the Garden is only ever a glimpse away - we can choose to take that route in any moment, individually, can't we? I love Margaret Meade's thought: 'Never believe that a group of committed individuals can't change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever can.'

  3. Great post Roselle.

    As a non-scientist, the best I can do is to apply a usable metaphor to a scientific explanation. Which in many respects is what religion does if only people would realise it. Interestingly Joni's Stardust line is very much an occultist explanaton from a few centuries back and is absolutely literal; we are, and everything else is, stardust.

    When I saw little rabbits with their heads crushed on roads
    I knew I rode the wheel of the galaxy.

    Ted Hughes: The Scream

  4. I agree - science offers literal truths, spiritual searches, myth and poetry, and creativity, metaphorical. Both approaches are 'true'. Yes - I also agree re the occult flavour of those lines: as a statement of the perennial philosophy, I think they stretch back millenia, in fact, don't you? - I really appreciate your comment; thank you. And also thanks so much re the Hughes poem - had completely forgotten it, and am now off to dig out my Collected!


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