I am one life and you are another. We assume this to be fact without even thinking about it. And it seems even more obvious that my life is separate from the life of a tree or an elephant. But what if we are wrong? What if—somehow— life is just one thing?
For example, the people in my town who drive on the same streets as I do, go to the same stores, and who are served by the same public servants—are we all part of one life?
What about people of Syria, who seem far away, but whom we hear about in the news—whose homes are rubble, whose neighbors may lie dead, and who themselves have become refugees? Is it possible that we share one life with them?
And life is more than people. The oak tree was here long before us—and the squirrel, and the salmon. It seems odd to ask, but are we somehow one with the plants and animals that occupy the same planet we do, and whose ancestors were here long before humans arrived?
What about the very small: the carbon atom so basic to all life on our planet? And the quark—10 million times smaller than the carbon atom? Is that what we are too?
Dare we press our question even farther, to the large and the distant: Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun, 24 trillion miles away? And what of the nearest galaxy to ours, 12 million trillion miles away?
Are all these aspects of life part of us? Are we part of them? Could all this be one life and not many lives?
It feels unnatural to ask such questions.
Maybe that’s because we are normally so impressed with our separateness. It’s an impression that had an early start. From the age of about two we asserted ourselves— and discovered ourselves as beings separate from other people. We learned to have individual desires, and when we grew older, we had our own jobs and cared for our own families. This individuality seems natural—and it is. It is part of our evolution. Without our sense of separateness, we would still be infants, unable to relate to others in any useful way.
But this other thing—this mind with which we can imagine the whole, this awareness and questioning—this too must be a part of our evolution. It seems to give us a glimpse into a larger, more wonderful reality. It humbles us too.
It has been said that we are the universe becoming conscious of itself. If that is true, how do we fit together our sense of individuality and our sense of the whole? It is not an easy question to answer.
Here is at least one thought. Maybe our life as humans is a special sort of dance, a dance in which each of us is actually two partners—with one half of each person dancing with his or her other half. A dance in which we sometimes follow the lead of our individual self, and at other times follow the lead of the greater self, the self that senses life as a whole—as one.
In this very special dance—our personal dance of life—at some times our work, our family, and our uniqueness take the lead. At other times, our awareness of the whole takes the lead—our awareness of our wonderful world, its billions of humans, the stars, the universe. Maybe now is the time for our unique self to take fewer turns leading and for our self that is aware of the whole to lead more often. Perhaps this is our spiritual evolution—learning to balance our two worlds—dancing…dancing…dancing.
(This piece is a revision of a meditation delivered at C3—West Michigan’s Inclusive Spiritual Connection.)by