Mind Matters — Interbeing

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, defines our connectedness to self, to other, to the earth, as interbeing. Interbeing does not dismiss the I or the self but does reframe it in such a way that we see how connected we are to everyone and everything.

Recently, a client reflected on his life and world events and how the two intersect. He pondered what effect he has as one person in the vast array of the moment’s tragedies—what is the relationship between his banking job and the fact that millions of bats are dying in the US of a fungus disease? Meanwhile a gunman has killed twelve people in Washington, DC. Of course, human life is priceless but he reflects if bats—and bees too—are goners, are we far behind? After all, one bat eats thousands of insects a night and bees pollinate crops. Both are a farmer’s friends—hence, everyone’s life support system. Without their work, we perish.

At first sight what we consider trivial may have dire consequences. We wake up to gunmen killing people—and we care, at least momentarily. Yet, we hardly “bat” an eyelash at news about creatures we may believe to be useless or disdainful. That tragedy is not so visible. However, without awareness of “interbeing,” we do violence to ourselves and each other. So there is a connection between human behavior and nature! Consider that there is a continuum of violence: the acts of killing innocent victims are most horrendous, but the spectre/spectrum of violence does not stop there. Blatant disregard of vanishing species, the pollution of the air and water is collectively abusive also.

Ah, but here is where the “I” comes into play. Rather than despair, “What’s a person to do?” the rallying cry can be what can “I” do in my own way to care for the “interbeing-ness” of the world. Heroic acts aside, baby steps are wondrous!

Instead of putting discarded, yet still usable, objects of affluence in the trash, fill the SUV or minivan and take them to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store, or whatever charity suits you. Landscape with native plants to invite the birds and bees! Recycle, yes, but beyond that, note the words of violence many of us use towards the anonymous drivers that surround us. Breathe and be aware—we are not ego-centric islands but interbeings walking not just on but with the earth. Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”

And drive as though your mother or your son is in front of you.