Last updated October, 2019.
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We've written a lot about compassion in the past, saying things like
"Compassion isn't writing a check, giving a homeless person $5, or working in a soup kitchen. Those things are important, but they aren't compassion. Compassion is recognizing our relationship with everyone else."
This is often easier said than done. Our everyday lives present a lot of challenges, and stopping to reflect on our relationship with others usually isn't at the top of our priority list. But, it's an exercise that can greatly aid our ability to develop compassion.
One thing that will help you realize your relationship to everyone (and everything) is the concept of "interconnectedness." There are two quotes I like to reference when discussing this subject. The first is from Carl Sagan:
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
This quote is simple in its premise: nothing exists without everything else, and what exists now is the result of events that stretch back in time (events we have little insight into, and little control over).
That apple pie isn't just the product of a few ingredients and an oven. Those ingredients and that oven are made up of myriad other things, which are made up of myriad other things, and on and on and on.
In Sagan's summation, you can trace back all the causes and conditions until you reach the beginning of the universe. As he points out:
"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are all made of starstuff."
When searching for commonality with our fellow man, reflecting on the ultimate beginning of everything helps tear down the walls that we continuously build in our minds.
The second quote I like to reference when discussing interconnectedness is from Thich Nhat Hanh:
There is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud.
Our normal mode is to look at objects (such as a sheet of paper) and consider them separate and distinct from everything else. Hanh's quote encourages us to change that perspective. The sheet of paper is not separate and distinct, and it would not exist without the cloud that brings rain. He goes on to add:
"Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper."
As you can see, taking the time to mindfully examine a sheet of paper - something you probably see every day - brings insight to the interconnectedness of everything. He continues:
"And if you look more deeply...you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here; the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father - everything is in this sheet of paper."
You can take this further, and consider all the things that ultimately gave rise to the logger's father. And all of the things that gave rise to the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat.
Pick something and perform the same analysis. I am sitting on a wooden chair as I type this article. Some of the same factors come into play: the rain, sun, and soil that helped the tree grow. The people who cut down the tree and transported it. The people that made the chair. The store that sold it, and all of the people who worked at the store. And on and on and on.
There are uncountable causes and conditions that led to me sitting in this chair right now. What brought about the weather that led to the tree growing over the years? Where did the food come from that all the people responsible for the chair ate? What actions did their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents (and so on) take to bring everyone to this exact point in time?
The questions that can be asked over something as simple as a chair are endless!
"It's a small world" is a quote we hear often. When you expand your perspective and consider the dependency that any one thing has on everything else, this quote rings true. Interconnectedness isn't a new-age platitude - it's something you can easily prove to yourself with mindful examination.
Whether you are examining an apple pie, a sheet of paper, a chair, or a person, you will find that no one thing is distinct and separate from everything else. To the contrary, everything exists because of the causes and conditions that brought it into being. And, in turn, everything will become part of causes and conditions that bring other things into being.
Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world. - Nadeem Aslam
"Your inner narrative"
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