Cross-posted from bodhisim.org, a blog that I contribute to under the name of Nate Maeterlinck:
Waiting this evening in a near-sweltering Metro station for the commute home, I opened my book and started reading one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on “inter-being.” Using the example of a cloud that is able to look down on the Earth and see the flowing rivers that are formed from its rain, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages each of us to recognize the interconnectedness that exists within our own environments.
But as the train rolled into my home station, another thought occurred to me, and instead of heading above ground, I sat on a bench and wrote the following in my notebook:
We are “of” this world in every way, and just as the clouds in the sky eventually fall to the Earth before they are reborn again as clouds, doesn’t it make sense that we, too, would encounter this timeless cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth — being recycled over and over again throughout the millennia?
For the first time in my life, the concept of interconnectedness made complete sense.
At the most fundamental level, my body — and everything that makes the concept of “me” that I grasp on to — is created from the same elements as everything else on our planet. When I die, my body will be recycled, returning to earth as those basic elements, and in my next life, my body will come about from those same building blocks that once belonged to another object or being.
It’s not unlike an example that I remember clearly from early elementary school. As we learned about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, I raised my hand. Anticipating another of my often wild questions, Mrs. Buddin took a deep breath.
“Yes, Sean?” she asked.
“When we drink water from the fountain,” I said, earnestly seeking an answer to what was an honest question, “did that water used to be dinosaur pee?”
The answer, of course, was yes, and even at the age of seven, I suppose I had a basic concept on interconnectedness. But I wasn’t able to see the complete picture until today.
Suddenly, letting go of my “I” seems a tiny bit easier, because this life that I grasp on to so dearly — this body which defines so much of who “I” am — isn’t really mine after all. “It” belongs to everyone — to you, to Mrs. Buddin, and to those dinosaurs that roamed the Earth so many millions of years ago.
There isn’t so much of an “I” as there is an “us.”