Buddhism, spirituality

A pie for an eye? Why kindness and interconnectivity really matter

Inter-connectivity and mutuality - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

The notion of ‘an eye for an eye’ is that a negative act should warrant a similar reprisal as compensation. If I lose an eye, you lose an eye in return, jab! However, ‘What if the perpetrator was our own family?’ or ‘ourselves?’. Would we want to create harm to ourselves for the sake of revenge? Heard of the expression ‘cutting off your nose to spite you face’? Yet this is exactly what we do every time we seek revenge or retribution.

We are all connected in this world, not just on some notional hand holding ‘I see man as my brother’  level – although that’s really nice.  But something deeper.  An intrinsic connection at a very fundamental level, the fabric of reality.  Whereby we are all part of the same collective consciousness of mind.

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. 
Martin Luther King

With a feeling that I really am being too ambitious in attempting to articulate what I mean, here goes.

Conditioning

What happens when you close your eyes to sleep at night? More than likely your mind brings up thoughts. Even those people that fall asleep very quickly, like me, have some mental activity.  Paying attention to these thoughts is pretty interesting, even if a little distracting from the goal of sleep. Watching my thoughts I have observed the following. Most of what is thought, is related to what has happened in my preceding period of life or what is being planned for the future. Many years ago, back in my darker days, I used to play cards pretty seriously for money and had terrible trouble during that time falling asleep. I was always analyzing events and thinking what I could have done differently or better. Thankfully, my life is a lot less stressed now, but still perhaps there is some incident from the day. Someone was rude to me, perhaps I said something I later regretted or perhaps I just finished watching or listening to something and its was repeating in my mind. The point is, that there is this kind of momentum in thinking that continues.

This is not really surprising as we are conditioned beings, but don’t take my word for this:

We are what we do.
Fromm

 

We are what we do repeatedly
Aristotle

 

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.
Ghandi
The unconditioned

Meditators know this problem from a different angle, they are not trying to sleep but to stay fully and sharply aware while clearing their minds. But, just as with sleep, the events and thoughts of the day have a certain momentum that needs some quietening. So an experienced meditator begins a sitting using various techniques to clear their mind of thoughts, this could involve concentration on bodily sensations, counting breaths or beads; something to stop indulgence in thoughts.

In addition to preparation activities, an important observation from my practice is that having a ‘peaceful’ meditation often requires some cultivation of wholesome stimuli throughout the day. Some people advocate meditating in the morning, before the mind really cranks up its torrent of activity as a solution to thinking bouncing around in the mind; in the morning most people have fairly quite minds. However, I frequently find I don’t have the time in the morning, I have two young kids whose needs are a priority over my own. By the time I finally want to sit and meditate, events have already transpired. Cultivating a good day is an excellent approach, but not always under my control, perhaps then at least I can make peace with the agitations and to let go of the future plans for the duration of the meditation, this is a skill that times some learning – letting go. However, sometimes events are ongoing rather than limited to a particular day, so cultivating a good life becomes important.  

Even if you do not meditate, hopeful you can relate to the experience of thoughts being a continuation of what has taken place or needs to take place. Its easier to sleep when you are not stressed out, just as its easier to meditate under calm conditions. We also have some control over the conditions that precede our attempt at quietening the mind. 

‘We’ are what we do

One rather startling realisation that changed my view of the world was a result of the mental chatter at the start of the mediation. As per normal, my initial sitting involved the bombardment of thoughts and stimuli. Lots of little things from the day came up in my mind.  But, what happened next was really interesting. For small periods of time, my mind stimuli ceased and with them my experiences of the external world also stopped. Instead, I was left with this awareness of nothing, it was a powerful observation, punctured periodically by thoughts but nonetheless a taste of something quite calm.  The thought then occurred to me, that the physical world of existence which is made up of everything we sense, people, sounds, touches, speech, etc. – a world which incidentally is the world that the vast majority of people experience as their only world – is mostly responsible for the content of the mind and its thoughts. The mind (aka egoic mind for the ‘Eckhart  Tolleites’) is just this reaction to the stimuli to which it has been presented or acquired, just a maelstrom of conditioning. Most of what I think of as me, my thoughts and experiences, are actually the result of external stimuli.

So if my mind is this reaction to stimuli, then ‘What is really me?’  and ‘What am I without stimuli to react to? ‘  This was the first part of something big for me.

They are what I do

This developed a bit further, if my egoic mind is a reaction to the external, then other minds must also be a reaction to the external.  Since I am human and you are human, thus we are human. So others then are a reaction to my mind and at the same time my mind is a reaction to them.  We are both conditioned by the world and at the same time conditioning the world. There is then, this interplay between beings, between all things, some degree of taking in and giving out, where neither is independent and all are codependent. This is the Martin Luther’s “network of mutuality”. Incidentally, this moment felt like the ground beneath my feet giving way, something profound shifting underneath me, not at all unpleasant, very spacious actually. So, if this thing I took to be ‘myself‘ was constructed mostly of input from things outside of me, then I am intrinsically intertwined with these external things and they with me; we are all dancing together in this world.

What now?

This idea really had a profound impact for me, from that moment, I have had the belief that everything I do shapes the collective consciousness of the world, everything is part of the dance where each of us reacts to each other. Every good act to the external world (which is actually not external but rather just the world), has the potential to create a better world for me personally, and likewise bad acts have the potential to create a worse world for me. Thus small changes that I can make throughout my day, much like the lighting of a candle to bring light into the world (see my post on positivity) help to shape the world into something better.

We reap what we sow
This idea is not new, just about every religious or ethical doctrine has this notion at its heart.  They all give a high priority to the ‘golden rule’:
“Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I”
Sutta Nipata, Pali Canon
“Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself”,
Prophet Muhammad
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Gospel of Matthew
Likewise, ethical philosophers such as Kant also came to a similar conclusion:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”
 Immanuel Kant
So how does this shape my world?

Well, I now have a choice every moment of the day, I can create a better me or a worse one, and this involves what I do to others. For example, If I am driving my car, I choose to be rude, to not let others in front of me, to be selfish. This would create the scene whereby the world is more selfish and others behavior would be a little more conditioned.  I should not then be surprised if others treat me similarly, since they are just reflecting me, by hurting them, I am hurting me; the dance gets nastier. The alternative is that I could drive nicely, I could let people out at junctions, I could smile and laugh, even when faced with rudeness and hostility. This would give others the view that the world is positive and friendly and they would be so conditioned in future to believe that of the world. Perhaps this has an impact on their world and their behavior; the dance gets better. I am not overly naive, I accept that this won’t shift many people, but perhaps one or two, who then act differently and so the interconnected interplay goes. Being kind to others is being kind to myself.

The feeling of inter-connectivity, that I am everyone else and they are me, is really a beautiful notion. It promotes care and consideration for the entire world, since all of the world shapes what we are individually and collectively. We really are that connected, we are made of the world and the world is made of us, we are all the world together. What better motivation is there to put out kindness into this world than that.

Thanks for reading, peace.

PS There is a deeper realisation too, namely that we are not the mind at all, but rather a conscious observer of the dance of being. But, this is something I cannot easily write about just yet.

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  1. This is a very fundamental exploration of what we term reality. I have thought about this my whole life and come to some rather personal conclusions. Early in my career as an exhibit designer I was involved in the workings of the central nervous system and, with the help of a neurologist, dissected a few human brains, I was impressed with the process a sensory signal underwent in reaching the area of the cortex devoted to a particular sense and how that was integrated into a conscious matrix. The simple signals from the basic sense apparatus were processed with intermediate nerve organs to fit them into the basic demands of the functioning totality. For example, the nerves from the retina of the eyes pass through two small bodies, the lateral geniculates, on either side of the brain and thence are carried to the visual cortex at the rear of the brain. Doubtlessly there are auxiliary exports and inputs to and from other parts of the brain but in this preprocessing huge amounts of basic data are eliminated as irrelevant to the fundamental objectives of the nervous system for self-preservation, maintenance and reproduction. So the bulk of “reality” never reaches the cortex as it is overwhelming and confusing and probably mostly useless.

    Therefore, the residual tailored impulses are what we as conscious beings assume as reality are used by each of us to construct as what we assume is the universe. Since, as individuals, we are more or less unique in not only experiencing the universe but in evaluating out of our cultural influences and the weight we attribute to the importance of this input, we each live in rather different universes. Other creatures such as bats and lobsters and trees and sponges no doubt evaluate different kinds of inputs in different ways to make universes that would totally puzzle us but our common human ancestry permits humans to deal with each other and our environment in a kind of rough uniformity. I have assumed that this is why a hypnotized person can be persuaded to fully sense things not in general actuality since none of us really lives in the external world, we live in the worlds we construct.

    To return to your basic proposal that our individual actions shape the entire world my outlook presents something of an obstacle since each individual observer evaluates our motives and actions through a personal evaluational sieve and not at all necessarily views our actions in the same way that we do. Whatever result this has on the world in general must therefore be quite indeterminate.

    • Thanks Jan. Very interesting comment. Perhaps that is why is so important to be careful what we put out in the face of ambiguous input and interpretation. There is a really nice story about blind wise men and an elephant that I will post sometime 🙂 apart from natural events and animals, which in the west we are relatively protected against, most of our reality is the creation of our mind and others.

  2. Amazing! You have perfectly articulated my beliefs. We are “one”, our actions have either a positive or negative outcome on the collective “whole”. Mindfulness of this is imperative.
    Namaste

  3. The point of punishment for misbehavior is roughly based on educational principles as in the manner of social control to maintain some sort of social norm. When a punishment is treated as revenge to the point where it is harmful to the extent of disabling a violator from becoming a functional member of society nobody benefits. A good deal of the legal system disables a rather large number of violators creating a criminal class since a criminal record does not permit a previous violator from becoming a normal member of society. It merely exacerbates the situation. What is lacking in society is a sensible method of changing behavior to create a healthy society. Although punishment may work for some individuals to prevent recurrence of misbehavior, with many individuals it only educates to be more careful to avoid capture and punishment. A good deal of the major business culture, especially in the financial section, has learned to behave in such a way as to misbehave immensely but penalize society rather than themselves if they are incarcerated. Much of government throughput the world misbehaves grossly because it is immensely profitable and in many cases, not punished. No real solution seems to be forthcoming.

    • I take responsible for myself, that’s all I really can do, put out good will, love, generosity, and compassion. There is an open invitation for everyone else to do likewise but I have no expectation of them.

  4. I appreciate that and try to do the same but in a society our responsibilities are both negative in refraining from harming others and positive in influencing other individuals to act likewise and doing our best to see to it that social norms to give all social members get a square deal. In a society as complex as ours where benefits to some can be extremely harmful to others it is no easy matter to determine how to behave. It’s only a matter to get the damned thing to function properly and I claim no simple and easy system to manage that. It works for some people and fails completely for others and I hate to see people suffer.

  5. Kane

    There is a very inspiring book where I read, “Who we are is what we do,” I recommend giving it a read if you ever get your hands on it. “The Crossroads of Should and Must”
    https://medium.com/@elleluna/the-crossroads-of-should-and-must-90c75eb7c5b0#.4hsyigxxh

    And I wrote a paragraph about the dance of being a couple days ago, I will leave it in your hands for consideration if you ever do decide to write it 🙂

    “I know it takes time for people to understand the nature of their being because they find it silly to go in any other direction than forward in what they already know. What they don’t know is they can sometimes be misleading by going forward too. They forget the dance of their life for dancing involves steps in all directions. To be apart of something larger than themselves and experiencing from which they came. Knowing we enter through places we are unwanted, but no longer taken for granted as we have lived such darkness through and through. Someone’s got to be the one to show the way in all the dark places people will follow back to their inherit natural state of being.”

    I wish you all the best!

    • Thanks Kane, my response seems to have got lost on mobile uploads. I looked at the link you posted and found it quite inspirational, thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. Emily

    This is a beautiful post and I resonate completely. Such a huge topic but then not really that huge at all! Oneness feels so natural, so freeing when felt yet it’s very easy to slip back into familiar, programmed habits. It’s certainly a bumpy trip to feel complete within ourselves but such a vital journey, I think so anyway :). Thank you for sharing.

  7. may you joyfully
    feel inter-connectivity
    whilst riding
    or in transit
    with the crowds 🙂

    • Hahah, I thought about that before. I was on a bus and everyone was trying to hold a spare seat with a bag and looked somewhat upset when the bus filled and they had to have someone sat next to them. I was musing the idea that it’s only through the collective sharing of the bus that the bus exists, is profitable and we can all benefit from it. So I moved my bag and celebrated the oneness.

  8. I’ve often thought of this as if we are nerves in the body. Being part of the body, we interrelate and are connected to each other. Nerves not only feel but also send messages which we all do consciously or unconsciously, to the whole body. I love your post.

  9. Well done – these concepts are not easy to put into words, and you did a great job … enjoying your site very much!

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