A pie for an eye? Why kindness and interconnectivity really matter
The notion of ‘an eye for an eye’ is that a negative act should warrant a similar reprisal as compensation. If I lose an eye, you lose an eye in return, jab! However, ‘What if the perpetrator was our own family?’ or ‘ourselves?’. Would we want to create harm to ourselves for the sake of revenge? Heard of the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite you face’? Yet this is exactly what we do every time we seek revenge or retribution.
We are all connected in this world, not just on some notional hand holding ‘I see man as my brother’ level – although that’s really nice. But something deeper. An intrinsic connection at a very fundamental level, the fabric of reality. Whereby we are all part of the same collective consciousness of mind.
We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality.Martin Luther King
With a feeling that I really am being too ambitious in attempting to articulate what I mean, here goes.
What happens when you close your eyes to sleep at night? More than likely your mind brings up thoughts. Even those people that fall asleep very quickly, like me, have some mental activity. Paying attention to these thoughts is pretty interesting, even if a little distracting from the goal of sleep. Watching my thoughts I have observed the following. Most of what is thought, is related to what has happened in my preceding period of life or what is being planned for the future. Many years ago, back in my darker days, I used to play cards pretty seriously for money and had terrible trouble during that time falling asleep. I was always analyzing events and thinking what I could have done differently or better. Thankfully, my life is a lot less stressed now, but still perhaps there is some incident from the day. Someone was rude to me, perhaps I said something I later regretted or perhaps I just finished watching or listening to something and its was repeating in my mind. The point is, that there is this kind of momentum in thinking that continues.
This is not really surprising as we are conditioned beings, but don’t take my word for this:
We are what we do.Fromm
We are what we do repeatedlyAristotle
Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.Ghandi
Meditators know this problem from a different angle, they are not trying to sleep but to stay fully and sharply aware while clearing their minds. But, just as with sleep, the events and thoughts of the day have a certain momentum that needs some quietening. So an experienced meditator begins a sitting using various techniques to clear their mind of thoughts, this could involve concentration on bodily sensations, counting breaths or beads; something to stop indulgence in thoughts.
In addition to preparation activities, an important observation from my practice is that having a ‘peaceful’ meditation often requires some cultivation of wholesome stimuli throughout the day. Some people advocate meditating in the morning, before the mind really cranks up its torrent of activity as a solution to thinking bouncing around in the mind; in the morning most people have fairly quite minds. However, I frequently find I don’t have the time in the morning, I have two young kids whose needs are a priority over my own. By the time I finally want to sit and meditate, events have already transpired. Cultivating a good day is an excellent approach, but not always under my control, perhaps then at least I can make peace with the agitations and to let go of the future plans for the duration of the meditation, this is a skill that times some learning – letting go. However, sometimes events are ongoing rather than limited to a particular day, so cultivating a good life becomes important.
Even if you do not meditate, hopeful you can relate to the experience of thoughts being a continuation of what has taken place or needs to take place. Its easier to sleep when you are not stressed out, just as its easier to meditate under calm conditions. We also have some control over the conditions that precede our attempt at quietening the mind.
‘We’ are what we do
One rather startling realisation that changed my view of the world was a result of the mental chatter at the start of the mediation. As per normal, my initial sitting involved the bombardment of thoughts and stimuli. Lots of little things from the day came up in my mind. But, what happened next was really interesting. For small periods of time, my mind stimuli ceased and with them my experiences of the external world also stopped. Instead, I was left with this awareness of nothing, it was a powerful observation, punctured periodically by thoughts but nonetheless a taste of something quite calm. The thought then occurred to me, that the physical world of existence which is made up of everything we sense, people, sounds, touches, speech, etc. – a world which incidentally is the world that the vast majority of people experience as their only world – is mostly responsible for the content of the mind and its thoughts. The mind (aka egoic mind for the ‘Eckhart Tolleites’) is just this reaction to the stimuli to which it has been presented or acquired, just a maelstrom of conditioning. Most of what I think of as me, my thoughts and experiences, are actually the result of external stimuli.
So if my mind is this reaction to stimuli, then ‘What is really me?’ and ‘What am I without stimuli to react to? ‘ This was the first part of something big for me.
They are what I do
This developed a bit further, if my egoic mind is a reaction to the external, then other minds must also be a reaction to the external. Since I am human and you are human, thus we are human. So others then are a reaction to my mind and at the same time my mind is a reaction to them. We are both conditioned by the world and at the same time conditioning the world. There is then, this interplay between beings, between all things, some degree of taking in and giving out, where neither is independent and all are codependent. This is the Martin Luther’s “network of mutuality”. Incidentally, this moment felt like the ground beneath my feet giving way, something profound shifting underneath me, not at all unpleasant, very spacious actually. So, if this thing I took to be ‘myself‘ was constructed mostly of input from things outside of me, then I am intrinsically intertwined with these external things and they with me; we are all dancing together in this world.
This idea really had a profound impact for me, from that moment, I have had the belief that everything I do shapes the collective consciousness of the world, everything is part of the dance where each of us reacts to each other. Every good act to the external world (which is actually not external but rather just the world), has the potential to create a better world for me personally, and likewise bad acts have the potential to create a worse world for me. Thus small changes that I can make throughout my day, much like the lighting of a candle to bring light into the world (see my post on positivity) help to shape the world into something better.
We reap what we sow
“Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I”Sutta Nipata, Pali Canon“Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself”,Prophet Muhammad“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”Gospel of Matthew
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”Immanuel Kant
So how does this shape my world?
Well, I now have a choice every moment of the day, I can create a better me or a worse one, and this involves what I do to others. For example, If I am driving my car, I choose to be rude, to not let others in front of me, to be selfish. This would create the scene whereby the world is more selfish and others behavior would be a little more conditioned. I should not then be surprised if others treat me similarly, since they are just reflecting me, by hurting them, I am hurting me; the dance gets nastier. The alternative is that I could drive nicely, I could let people out at junctions, I could smile and laugh, even when faced with rudeness and hostility. This would give others the view that the world is positive and friendly and they would be so conditioned in future to believe that of the world. Perhaps this has an impact on their world and their behavior; the dance gets better. I am not overly naive, I accept that this won’t shift many people, but perhaps one or two, who then act differently and so the interconnected interplay goes. Being kind to others is being kind to myself.
The feeling of inter-connectivity, that I am everyone else and they are me, is really a beautiful notion. It promotes care and consideration for the entire world, since all of the world shapes what we are individually and collectively. We really are that connected, we are made of the world and the world is made of us, we are all the world together. What better motivation is there to put out kindness into this world than that.
Thanks for reading, peace.
PS There is a deeper realisation too, namely that we are not the mind at all, but rather a conscious observer of the dance of being. But, this is something I cannot easily write about just yet.