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THE COSMOS: Parabola Volume 48, No. 2, Summer 2023

In 1980 I watched a dark-featured man with bright eyes stride past my Manhattan office in order to meet with his literary agent, my boss, in the bigger office down the hall. The man was astronomer Carl Sagan, and thanks to him the word “Cosmos” was at last on everyone’s lips, due to his TV series of that name seen by a half billion people around the world.

What is a cosmos? To Sagan, it was the universe and all it contains—“billions and billions of stars,” in his popular phrase—but cosmos can also refer to a level of organized being, as in the traditional consideration of humanity as a “microcosmos.” To speak of multiple and mysterious cosmoses is today more common, with the theory of the multiverse and the growing recognition that our cosmos may be fundamentally resistant to logic and measurement. As former National Institutes of Health director Francis S. Collins says here, you can “step out of the …limits that science insists upon, and there are other ways of knowing the truth.” An inspiring witness to these ways can be found in this issue in Paramahansa Yogananda’s epic poem “Samadhi.”

Sufi teacher and author Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee returns to these pages with a powerful meditation on our relationship to time and season in the cosmos, and he is joined here by another esteemed Sufi, Kabir Helminski, who emphasizes attention as a path through our challenges. From this magazine’s editorial director, Tracy Cochran, there is an opening essay on our relationship to the cosmos, and from spirituality writer Andrew Harvey, a look at various intelligent beings—wolves, whales, octopi—with whom we share our world.

Our kaleidoscopic look at the cosmos reaches back to a gem from two centuries ago, Drops of Water, by pioneering woman science writer Agnes Catlow, who takes us on exciting foray into the microscopic, and forward to a speculation by bestselling science writer Brian Swimme  as to the ultimate aim and meaning of the universe. 

May this issue of Parabola help all of us to understand our own lives in this sacred Cosmos.

—Jeff Zaleski

table of contents

Who Are You?  Tracy Cochran
Listening for an answer beyond words

A New Cosmology  Brian Thomas Swimme
Born of ancient wisdom and modern knowledge  

Sacred Time  Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The seasons and the Cosmos 

Starlight  Stephen Aronson
Everything is connected

A Turning Point in the Cosmos  Mary A. Osborne
Owen Barfield and the history of consciousness

Cosmic Wonder  Kara Petersen
Psyche, psychology, and physics

Encounters with Animal Consciousness  Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker Beings who share our world

By the River of a Thousand Lingas  Mary Lane Potter 
Harmony, deep in the Cambodian jungle

To Become Attention Itself  Kabir Helminski  
A Sufi teacher offers a fundamental lesson

George Swede  Robert Hirschfield
The haiku journey of a secular contemplative

Drops of Water  Agnes Catlow
A microscopic voyage

And So On  Kent Jones
Within the chaos, a door to “the inexhaustible Now”

The Science of Not Getting Lost  John Shirley
Experiments in navigating the way 

Some Great Consciousness  P.D. Ouspensky 
Thoughts on a living Cosmos

A Sense of the Sacred  The Editors
Conversations with top scientists Francis S. Collins and Lloyd Motz 


The Moon Is Like a Boy and Sun Is Like a Girl
Anonymous / Jewish  
Retold by Maia Zelkha

The Lazy Girl and the Butter-Yellow Pot
Anonymous / African  
Retold by Nartana Premachandra


Samadhi  Paramahansa Yogananda

Four Poems  Mark Nepo

The Tone in the Center of the Bell

At Sea with Time

Able to Touch

The Inside of Jade

book review

Seven Games of Life: And How to Play Richard Smoley / reviewed by John Shirley

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again Johann Hari / reviewed by Jan Cheripko