Meditation Talk: Interconnectedness
I want to begin tonight with a story. Not long ago I was sitting in traffic on Boulevard (this is not an unusual occurrence as you might imagine), when my mind began wandering toward our current state of social and political affairs. As thoughts generated in my mind, I could feel my body begin to tense and my heart begin to tighten. I thought about all the anger, the hate, the right-wing rhetoric that was seeking to limit how I could express myself and the choices that I might be free to make in my life. I thought about how the simple act of being me was offensive to so many of these people, and it was then that the idea of how I am different from them began to form in my mind. “The difference,” I told myself, “is that it doesn’t bother me that people believe or feel different than I do. It only becomes a problem for me when they force their beliefs on me through policy - when they don’t give me the same respect I give to them.” As my mind flooded with confirming, logical, and rational reasons why this was true, I began to feel the almost literal barrier forming in my heart and spirit: “me” and “them”, “self” and “other.” It’s largely thanks to my meditation practice and years of training on mindful reflection that it occured to me to delve in a little: what I was experiencing in that moment was a story, but what was beneath the story? What emotions were here driving the story? The answer, I think, was a little difficult to chew on. What I was feeling was anger. Below the anger? Separation and hurt. Frustration that “these people” were impacting my life. In that moment I just wanted permission to seek happiness in my own life, to be me so that I could be free and happy.
I wanted to be free, to feel loved, to feel good enough and accepted, and unafraid for my future.
The scary part of this understanding was that in all likelihood, I felt the EXACT same way “they” do. In taking the time to consider how I was feeling in that moment, I also took the time to inquire within myself how homophobes, religious activists, and other outspoken “they”s might feel. Though the process and timing of their experience might differ from mine (I imagine that just seeing me or knowing that I and others like me exist might cause turmoil in and of itself), the human and emotional experience of their journey is likely not too much different than my own. They are likely afraid for their future. In order to even experience anger and hate, they must see themselves as separate and different than “me and mine.” By existing, I impact them in the same way that their rhetoric and policy impacts me. In being human, they are seeking the same connection to happiness that I desire, and without question they fear and hate what they believe will keep them from that happiness. I was doing the exact same thing and validating to myself why I was so different.
I tell this story for a number of reasons. Because of the times we are living in and the ideology of separateness that is being thrust upon us. Because today marks the beginning of Pride - a time of both celebration and beauty as well as great fear in my own heart following so many acts of hate and the knowing that protesters will be present the whole weekend. For this reason, I think it becomes even more important that we take as many opportunities as possible to remember that we are all connected and that only through love do we have even the smallest possibility of beating hate.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King who said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I think we have to be careful to not become the enemy our mind sees as other, and the truth is that by hating someone for hating us we have become exactly what we are fighting so hard against and ignoring the fact that our actions, words, deeds….how we choose to feel and act can either help or harm the situation in so many unseen ways. The idea of interconnectedness, that we are all one: one human family as much as one giant web of connected living experience, means that how I think today affects how I behave tomorrow and how I behave toward one person in this moment will have lasting effects on many more people, places, things than I could ever imagine. The idea of interconnectedness is deeply complex, and I think if we really took the time to delve into all the ways it touches our lives we’d be here for years, but I want to point to what I feel as its meaning as it pertains to our interactions with people with whom we may disagree. In this sense, I have found experientially that to even see a self separate from “other” creates a barrier to love. On a fundamental level, this pains me. This keeps me from happiness and connection. The Buddha described the root of suffering as desire - desire to have what we want and to not have what we don’t want. If this is true, than the simple act of wanting someone to be different creates suffering whereas a willingness to accept them for who they are, to love them regardless, keeps us from suffering. More deeply, I think we can all acknowledge that it’s hurt people that hurt people, so who do we become when we are hurting except the people we blame for hurting us, and moreover in those acts we prove to those who are hurt by us that they are right for blaming us for their hurt.
Interconnectedness is the antidote to this suffering, and the hate that we see awash in our society today is nothing more than people’s failed attempts to ease their own suffering. Hate is a byproduct, an expression of hurt, of pain. Interconnectedness reminds us that every human being is seeking happiness and love, and that even when they act in unskillful or even directly unkind ways, the roots of their actions are deeply ingrained in a hurting human being trying to ease their own pain in the only way they know how, by blaming or harming someone else.
I want to be abundantly clear that I am not advocating for passivity or quietness or allowing someone, anyone to harm another. I am not making excuses for the inappropriate or harmful actions of anyone, but instead, I am simply offering a space for us to explore our own responses to these things - a space for reflection on who we are in moments of pain and how we want to teach others to manage suffering by our own experiences with it. Interconnectedness is the reminder that every breath I take, every energetic expression, every word, every smile, every choice makes a difference even if I never see what it is, and I guess in that, the question becomes “Can I be the love that I desire to feel in the world?”