Usually, whenever someone talks of feeling small or being made to feel small they are referring to some negative experience of social intercourse. No doubt, all of us have had such an experience at some point in our lives. Perhaps it was at a meeting or a party where you were in the company of someone who intentionally or unintentionally belittled you, or perhaps in your own mind your company was superior to you in some way or other and you had that shrinking feeling of instant inferiority. This sense of feeling small is unwelcome, upsetting and something we all wish to avoid.
However, there is another sense in which you can feel small, one which I always find to be thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating.
I have been fortunate enough in my life to have been able to place myself in the middle of some of the most incredible landscapes on Earth. I have camped out in the heart of the Australian outback under a cloudless sky and gazed upon the story of existence stretching out into time and space. In a hot-air balloon I have floated silently over a deep red canvas of a landscape and seen our life-giving sun emerge over the horizon. In Canada, I have stood amidst an endless panorama of mountains flanked with vast, sweeping blankets of evergreen trees and clung to by moody clouds.
In all of these incredible places I experienced the same feelings. I felt small, very small, tiny even – and meaningless, utterly insignificant, entirely trifling. However, unlike in a social situation, this wasn’t a negative feeling, on the contrary, it was actually a calming and pleasant experience. Basically, I felt happy to be small and I felt free of angst.
I think it felt good to feel small because ‘human size’ was exactly the right size to be in order to fully appreciate the beauty of the landscapes I gazed upon. If I existed on the scale of, say, an ant, those vistas as a whole would have been entirely beyond my comprehension. If I was the size of a planet those landscapes would have been nothing more than barely visible specks. As a result of evolution, the range of human comprehension is perfectly matched to the scale of our existence, both in terms of time and space, which is why we find it impossible to comprehend timescales of millions of years and the vast distances between stars.
I think it felt good to be meaningless and insignificant because in those moments it became a one-to-one relationship between myself and the landscape, in other words between me and the universe; and in this context the meaning of me, of my existence, became abundantly clear. I didn’t have to mean anything because there is only beauty everywhere and nowhere is there meaning. All I had to do was exist and I would be beauty, I would be part of something beautiful, I would be everything I could ever be and therefore what more could any human being want.
So, whenever you feel inferior to some other human being or feel angst at having to choose your future and your meaning, take a trip to some vast, open landscape or other and have a one-to-one with the universe; and you’ll realise you already have all the meaning you will ever need, and are already everything you can ever be.