Guthrie Center – 7/3/16
Here is a talk I gave at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington on July 3. A few people have asked for copies of it, so here it is…
I would like to wish you all a very happy Independence Day this weekend. Independence, freedom, autonomy, the Puritan work ethic with its belief that if you work hard, YOU will succeed are all the foundation this country was built on. But today, we need more than that. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, so I would like to invite you to move towards the notion of honoring Interdependence Day in your life and your community.
Many consider the ability to tap into our oneness to be a significant part of our spiritual nature– to be able to see and experience the unity, and therefore the interdependence, that exists between us all. This notion starts with tolerating each other’s beliefs, choices, traditions, and quirks so we can live in relative peace with each other in an overpopulated world – but it goes way beyond that. Way beyond tolerance.
First of all, it requires us to accept – even embrace - that as humans we all have every trait, every possibility within us. This often takes us to an uncomfortable place because we don’t want to look at our shadow, that part of us that is capable of so much darkness, even killing. I once heard a spiritual teacher talk about her long lineage of being a lightworker – that for the last 500,000 years she has consistently worked to bring peace and light to this world in all her incarnations. I don’t know of anyone that has not experienced, even caused, darkness in their life or the lives of others. I know I have been gifted with some very dark, hard awareness of me in earlier lives choosing power over everything, sacrificing hundreds if not thousands of people in the building of that power. I was jarred by this realization and it took me months to find some peace around it and be able to integrate it within me. I innately knew, however, that this was crucial to me being able to see myself in others and others in me. The Upanishads from the Hindu tradition offers this perspective in the teaching “He who sees all beings in his Self and his Self in all beings, he never suffers; because when he sees all creatures within his true Self, then jealousy, grief and hatred vanish.”
Peace activist and Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn also writes about this beautifully in the poem, Call Me By My True Names. His words:
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
It is powerful – and important – to remember that we truly can never know what we’d do if we were walking in another’s shoes. It helps me to come from empathy and compassion instead of judgement and separation.
Another beautiful practice in honoring our interdependence is the Native American tradition that their elders consider the impact of any of their decisions on 7 generations from today. Consider how easily our Congress could pass reasonable gun control laws if they looked at the escalation in violence and mass shootings and saw how that would play out over the next 7 generations if allowed to continue unchecked. Think about one GE executive having the courage to bring up the environmental impact of PCB’s in the land and water of this community for the next 150 years as opposed to the financial hit of cleaning it up the right way and what that will do to the next quarter’s stock performance. And think about the little shortcuts you take in your life that add just a little bit to the pollution and the downfall of Mother Earth. The can you throw in the garbage instead of the recycling because it would take too much to clean it out. The times you choose to drive to the city instead of taking the train because it’s more convenient. The purchase you make supporting the company you know has unethical principles because it’s cheaper or fits in with your décor best. That’s where it gets uncomfortable – but it truly does need to start with each and every one of us…and each and every one of our actions. And trust me, I am nowhere near perfect on this. Where do you think those examples came from?
While we are in the mode of looking at ourselves, let’s delve a little deeper and look at the people we are most challenged to see our oneness and our interdependence with. For me, a biggie is an ex-cop, ex-military Republican brother who I often describe as “racist, homophobic, somewhat misogynistic – but otherwise a pretty nice guy.” It is hard for me to see that we share our humanity, let alone the same bloodline and DNA. Another thing I need to do is look at the actions of others I may disagree with and see where my own actions may be parallel. For instance, I was angered by the Kentucky state official, Kim Smith, who took it upon herself to go against the law and deny homosexual partners marriage licenses. Then I need to remember to look at the times I don’t adhere to the rules when it’s against what I believe in or is just inconvenient. This can range from speeding when I’m late to not filing some report I find silly even when my responsibility tells me I need to. Different scenario, yes – but the same self-righteous making up the rules on my own. Last but definitely not least, what do I have in common with Donald Trump, the xenophobic, narcissistic, boor that I find him to be. Where do I shut out “the other” – someone different from me who I am not comfortable with? Where am I self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and total self-centeredness? Where am I loud and obnoxious? It is SO not comfortable to look at these similarities with people who I truthfully hold in such low regard, but it is necessary.
As this world gets more and more crowded, we need to look at the impact we have on each other more closely. How that snarky little throw-away comment can hurt someone and ruin their day – and the days of several people they interact with because of the bad mood it brought on. Or how taking the time with a young person to understand what’s going on in their heart can make them feel love and valued and confident they matter. It’s your choice.
I am going to close with a statement I heard earlier this year about this perspective. It was:
“The truth is, at some level, when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our back on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping on the street, and we can develop a psyche that says, I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m going to worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.
But what I believe human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing.
So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child….I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say, “Hey, this world, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.” That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in….That we are in it together as human beings.
And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don’t deal with climate change….Trust me, we are all in it together…That is my spirituality.”
Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for those words and that sentiment.
May you all have a glorious Interdependence Day with your loved ones – and with all sentient beings on Earth.