All the things we think we’ve got to find on the outside are already there inside us. Loving-kindness, understanding, and compassion are there within us. We need only to clear some of the rock obstructing the way in order to reveal them. There is no essence of holiness we need to seek outside. And there is no essence of the ordinary we have to destroy. We already are what we want to become. Even in our most difficult moments, everything that is good, true, and beautiful is already there, within us and around us. We just have to live in such a way that allows it to be revealed.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, in “The Art of Living”.
“Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.”
— Pope Francis
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
— Albert Einstein
“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colours, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
There’s a sticking point implied in these statements, which strangely enough, we seem unable to notice. We seem determined to keep our lives small by how we conceive of it. Our busy minds admit only a limited circle of loved ones. Love is conceived of as only personal. From the rest of existence we are distant and distinct participants. There is no sense of involvement or relationship with all those other beings because they look so different because of their language, color or body shape.
A culture that says “all our relatives” when referring to other species of animals and even insects and plants seems curious, fanciful, poetic, but misguided in the end. We up-to-date folks know that we’re separate and more-than-equal. Our religion teaches us that God made this world for us to rule over. He must really like us, this god, He must want us to get rich off of the banquet of “resources” He has provided.
That belief has created a race of spoiled brats, creating havoc wherever they live. The scale of desecration of nature grows by the minute. Anyone pointing out the inconvenient truth that we are the source of a looming catastrophe is ridiculed. Our deity is still in his heaven, a senator has recently remarked. We need not worry about such imaginary problems as ecological destruction.
Our “leaders” are using their influence and energies to push us over the cliff, for the most part.
Einstein hits the nail on the head with his term “optical delusion.” Our whole culture is captured by our belief in non-relation to the world around us. But how we see is how we live. Our sense of separation renders us non compassionate. Non compassionate is just another word for cruel, in my way of thinking. Our cruelty seems normal to us because we know no other way of being. Our vision can’t be any bigger than our hearts, unfortunately.
This is our real task, to widen our vision by widening our sense of caring for all our relatives large and small. Waking up to the world we live in means seeing its beauty, smelling its perfume and caring for it in all its astounding manifestations.
Until we graduate to that basic level of humanity we will continue to sail in a rudderless ship.