Yet Untitled 021 - The Multiverse Of Us
How many versions of yourself are you packin'?
Hello dear Yet Untitler,
Over the past week, it’s as if I’ve been steeping in a cauldron suffused with the Multiverse; more specifically, the multiverse referenced in some of the recent films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Don’t worry, I’m not going to expose you to hot rays from some nerd-supernova about the complex storylines and biographies of Marvel Studios’ superheroes. However, the idea of the multiverse got me thinking about a lot of stuff and et voila, instalment 021 was born.
Firstly; what the heck is a Multiverse? Apparently, the idea of many parallel universes - all complete in themselves - existing alongside each other has existed for a while. In my memory, the DC comics I used to read as a 12 year old already referred to a Superman from a second Earth in a parallel universe who crossed over / did stuff to / replaced his counterpart in our original Earth. Even then, I remember thinking that it was only a matter of time before Indian soap operas create parallel universes of their own, so that popular characters who die could be brought back repeatedly so that the series would continue indefinitely.
Interestingly, Indian soaps didn't need no firkin’ multiverse to pull this off. Read this:
I’m sure some of the soaps mentioned above deserve a Wiki of their own, but they’re not the subject of this instalment. The subject is the little expedition my brain did after watching Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness, Spiderman: No Way Home and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.
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“3000 realms in a single moment of life”
Who needs parallel universes when at least three thousand realms exist right here, right now?
Says who? Says the great Buddhist teacher T’ien Tai in his commentary on The Lotus Sutra. He says that life contains the capacity of exhibiting 10 conditions or ‘worlds’ at any given moment. Each of these ten worlds is endowed with all ten worlds cumulatively, making 100 possible states of being. Each of these worlds possesses 30 realms, hence 10x10x30 = 3000.
(S)o long as one is alive, one’s life at each moment possesses three thousand realms, each of which is unique and distinct from the others.
This principle keeps popping up in my Buddhist study, and I am totally intrigued by it. The real treasure at the heart of this teaching is that “Buddhahood” (read: “Unlimited Courage + Unlimited Wisdom + Unlimited Compassion”) is one possible scenario, no matter what the situation; and this life condition may be accessed in any moment given the right stimuli.
This gives me great hope - a sneaky feeling that our kind may still be able to roll out of catastrophe’s way before it’s too late.
Take a breather with this Spiderman (and his apprentice) who fell into our universe through a rent in the space-time. (I’d stay away from his parallel universe, and his tailor, if I could help it!).
I am my many selves in this instant
It doesn’t seem necessary for these other selves to find other universes to pitch their tents in. They’re quite happy living in my body, right now, showing up when (yup!) given the correct stimulus.
In Panipat, I have a self that experiences time very differently than my Mumbai version, who’s always feeling guilty when he’s not working. My Panipat self takes very long naps and thinks nothing of it.
My self that interacts with Paul and Jeremy on our lovely writing project says “Darling” a lot. None of my other selves say “Darling” in the same way. One of my selves tried once. He was silenced decisively.
The self who hangs with Takesh and works with Neha, Ishita and Rangita cracks the worst jokes ever. My other selves would not dare utter one line that remotely resonates with what that self terms as humour.
My self who has long, long chats with Michael in Berlin, is a really thoughtful self - much like Michael. He wishes his other selves were as thoughtful, and because of this self, my other selves are improving in their empathy. Yes, my multiverse cross-pollenates!
One of my versions feels like a kid, because he likes hanging out with my (much older) brothers. I know that sometimes he hates it, and tries - failingly - to appear all grown up. Other times, he’s really glad to have them in the absence of our dear old dad.
There’s this other self who feels like a fogey - especially when he’s hanging out with my nephews and nieces. Again the feeling is mixed, but more delight than the abject despair of redundancy.
Reconciling all these selves into one recognisable entity can be exhausting. That’s when I seek out the company of someone I admire. Like Superman. A version of him where he’s the kinda guy you can have a beer with.
Luckily, one such Super-dude crash-landed into my universe sometime in 2015.
It’s not easy…
I bet the Supers - with so many versions of themselves in so many multiverses - find themselves in an existential pit every too often. It reminds me of one of my favourite songs:
I’m seriously moved every time I hear this song. And today, while writing a newsletter about the multiple versions of me, hearing Five For Fighting sonorously meditate on versions of ourselves moved me again.
I'm only a man in a silly red sheet... Looking for special things inside of me... I'm only a man in a funny red sheet I'm only a man looking for a dream I'm only a man in a funny red sheet And it's not easy, ooh, ooh, ooh It's not easy to be me
It’s a song dripping with ennui, perhaps because the man in the song sees his many versions as a burden. I empathise. These’s definitely a few versions of Vasant out there who’ve been a pain in the ass from time time (you don’t want to get me started about my hangry self!).
However, much as I love the track, I wouldn’t stop where the song stops. I’d push further and speak some more about selves who I’m grateful for.
Here are a few:
There’s a version of Vasant who doesn’t say the horrible thing he’s dying to say in an argument, because he knows that it will only make things worse. I’m always glad when he’s the one in the driver’s seat when things get hot.
There’s a version of Vasant who reminds himself to stop talking and listens. God, the others versions talk so much. This guys makes it so clear that there’s gold in listening, but then of course, the others don’t listen.
There’s the Vasant who’s generous. Believe me - it’s a fight to put him out front, but the Vasant home base feels like a much better place all around when this guy manages to push his way to the front line.
I do I do I do wonder what remains constant, what remains recognisable, what carries over between all these versions and universes. Is there a Truth that binds it all (us all?) connecting each version of ourselves to the other?
Sigh. That last paragraph….I wish I was back in college where it felt more legit saying these things.
This wistfulness - that’s the rub, isn’t it? Wanting to access the better (younger, richer, smarter, problem-free) version of ourselves. The whole Metaverse plotline is built upon this conundrum - this need to jump from self to self in the search for…for what?
It isn’t surprising that the Supers never find it to begin with. All roads lead back to their rusty, old, seemingly inadequate present selves. I believe that this is as much for the Supers as it is for us. The fight is here, not elsewhere in some other parallel universe. As Milton said in Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
It’s us who travel within ourselves, not elsewhere, to discover how many possible Us’s exist. It’s us who ultimately choose and settle to nurture our shells in the shape of the best or the worse of versions of us that can and do exist.
A lot depends on how we choose.
Thank you for listening to this one. I’ll be interested to know about the self that’s most desirable yet most elusive to you. You know what I mean.
I want to know.