I confess that it is both exciting and daunting to write a piece each week that brings to light some aspect of mindfulness that has moved me and might move others. I had been playing with several possibilities for today’s post, and then I read an email that my wife had forwarded to me.
The article said that Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer are proposing July 5 as Interdependence Day "to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we’re all in this together and need each other. On this day, we highlight our connections to one another, we celebrate the interdependence of nature and the human community, and we remember the abundance we can generate when we come together to care for each other and Mother Earth."
This notion of interdependence and interconnectedness is shared by so many people from so many traditions. Here are just a few examples that have inspired me.
Let us begin in the United States with a quote from John Muir: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Reflect on this for a few moments. Whew!
Staying on this continent, Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, writes "one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come...What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?"
The following story, from Blackfoot Physics, illustrates this principle in action. A Mohawk told the author that when one hunts for a medicine plant, one does not pick the first or second plant that one comes upon but always the third. This has to do both with respect for the plant and an acknowledgement of the seventh generation.
Thich Nhat Hanh and Interconnectedness
Thich Nhat Hanh, a beloved Vietnamese monk, wrote a poem Please Call Me By My True Names. During the 1980's "Boat People" refugee crisis, he heard "about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself." He said that, "In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate."
When we recognize the conditions that have caused hatred and violence, we can move beyond anger and rage to compassion and forgiveness. In a mindfulness course for educators this past spring, we each told a story of a student who "pushed our buttons" until we heard their story. One of the teachers reflected from his story about a fourth grader who is very manipulative, "He wasn't born this way. This is a learned behavior."
Forgiveness and Restorative Justice
Mary Johnson's son was killed in a gang related altercation. Because of her strong faith, she worked toward forgiving her son's killer, but it was hard. The turning point came 10 years later when her pastor asked her to teach a class on forgiveness and she realized she still had internal work to do toward the man who killed her son. Eventually she requested a meeting with him in prison. During that meeting she felt all the hatred and bitterness inside her leave. After he got out of prison, she helped him begin his new life and now they are neighbors.
This story in itself is amazing, but what is more amazing is that it is not an isolated story. You can read hundreds of stories of forgiveness from all over the world at theforgivenessproject.com. I am involved in local Restorative Justice project, which is part of an international movement which is guided by the fundamental assumption that we are all interconnected.
During my two years in Nepal, I was touched by the traditional greeting "Namaste." A colleague and I brought a group of students to Nepal in 2012. On our last day, we asked the students to share what they felt might last a long time from their experiences. One student said "Namaste." Everyone laughed and he said, "No really. When we first got here, saying 'Namaste' was really cool, but it really went inside." He pointed out that virtually every time they said Namaste, he noted that the person made strong eye contact, smiled, nodded their head, put their hands together, and said "namaste" deliberately, that is, "consciously and intentionally." So different that the quickly said "how are you" that our students were used to.
These are wonderful stories and principles, and they are not easy to put into daily practice: simple and complex. Thich Nhat Hanh coined a term 'habit energy' to explain why it is hard to change habits. "Because of habit energies, we are not able to perceive things as they truly are. We interpret everything we see or hear in terms of our habit energy." When I am impatient with myself in my efforts to change, I find it helpful to visualize how much energy and time it takes for an ocean liner to turn around.
I offer four possible actions we might take to cultivate a deeper sense of interdependence and interconnectedness. All of these have been important in my own growth.
Slow down (even if only for three breaths worth of time).
Practice gratitude, perhaps keeping a gratitude journal, or reflecting on what you are grateful for at the end of each day.
Send thank you letters or emails to people who have inspired or moved you.
This is my prayer/meditation before meals, adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh:
I am grateful for this abundance of nutritious food.
I acknowledge the effort required by many beings to bring this food to me
I acknowledge my own fortune and privilege and vow to work toward a world where no one goes hungry.
Please share your own ideas and practices. We can learn from each other!