As I was writing this blog on my laptop—which happens to be about how oblivious we usually are to our interconnection—the sofa started to shake. “Earthquake,” I thought, suddenly really aware that I was in was on the earth and that it was trembling beneath me. I thought of the earth shaking in recognition of the Buddha’s awakening. It was as if the earth knew that Buddha was awake and fully perceiving its life.
“It is fairly obvious by now that life on earth forms a vast interconnected and interdependent network,” writes Christian Wertenbaker in the “Seeing” issue of Parabola. This really has become general knowledge. Most of us accept (however grudgingly) that we live inside an ecosystem—and that we ourselves are ecosystems: just as birds keep a hippopotamus clean, intestinal bacteria help us digest. We are used to hearing by now that the building blocks of life—carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and the rest—“were formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars and distributed by the explosions of supernovae, as part of vast cosmic cycles of stellar formation, growth, and death.”
We are deeply embedded in life and we are made to participate in life. Most of us get this, yet Wertenbaker reminds us that something more is possible. We are also capable of resonating with (and therefore discovering) the underlying mathematical forms or laws of reality. Wertenbaker draws on Gurdjieff who draws on a very ancient idea: By perceiving consciously instead of in our usual state of unawareness “we are, or can be, part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness….” Just as our bodies are made of atoms, our inner life in the form of our conscious perceptions and reflection connects us to the Whole.
Many of us resonate with this. Yet many of us treat having an inner life as a solitary pursuit, something we keep to ourselves. Is that not strange? I wrote last time about being young and learning that it was best to be a kind of secret agent, to keep my innermost thoughts and perceptions to myself, to keep my vulnerability hidden under a cloak of cool (or at least an attempt at cool). None of this is unusual in this culture. Nor is the love I had of outlaws who were secretly pure and innocent—from the Kerouac to Count of Monte Cristo (who was intent on revenge for his wrongful imprisonment, but that’s another story). This is a pretty standard part of growing up. But it is also intensely ironic, because even these romantic figures (certainly Kerouac) were seeking a sense of interconnection and resonance with higher laws.
Solitary as the spiritual search might seem, there inevitably comes a moment when I find myself sitting with in a shadowy hall somewhere. Wrapped in shawls or yoga blankets, sitting still with backs straight on cushions, we look like the earliest humans, at least as I imagine them. Or maybe we just look like earliest humans in the sense of being like children again, facing life with our whole beings. At those times, I know that for all my shyness, all the defenses I have picked up over the years, I am still capable of real connection with the others, all of us coming so far to be together—and not just New York and California but through all kinds of difficulties. And all of that common effort made just to risk trying for greater awareness–for a consciousness that isn’t attached to memories and feelings and views, that isn’t separate from life by being attached to being a particular “someone” who needs to be defended.
“There is no way out; there is only healing,” a teacherwho really knows what she is talking about said to me. There is no escape from our situation. Everyone has their reasons, their wounds. There is nowhere to go but down into our common humanity. There usually comes a moment when I am sitting in a room full of fellow humans, all of us drawing our attention to the breathing (among the most basic and easy to track exchange with the outside world), when we can feel like we are descending into a vast subterranean cave full of forces and energies unknown to the ordinary thinking mind with its obsession on protecting and defending.
When I go on retreat (even if it is just a moment of turning inward during the day) I see that my own attention was weak, just a kind of dim, flickering light, but I am always certain that if I just keep following it, leaving the known world of my thinking for the unknown, I may come upon wonders. In such a moment, I begin to grasp something that the great spiritual traditions teach, that we and our ancestors all the way back to the beginning of humanity are one. They exist in us. We resonate with the same rhythms: the day and night, the heartbeat, the breathing. And some of us we have another possibility also, to resonate with the laws under reality, to be the eye that reflects the Whole.