We are all interconnected. On a most basic level, we all share the same planet on which we depend for survival. When one nation pollutes the air, we all breathe it. When one nation poisons the oceans, we are all impacted by the consequences to our water supply. We cannot escape the myriad ways in which we influence and are influenced by other beings and the environment.
No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were.
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
– John Donne
Even our own bodies are made of up microorganisms we depend upon to live. They help us digest food, support our immune system, and impact our moods. There are more microbes in our bodies than what we consider distinctly human cells and many of these organisms also depend on the specific conditions of the Earth’s environment to survive. Studies have shown that astronauts in space lose some of the microbes that help keep us healthy. If we destroy the Earth, we destroy ourselves.
In this modern world, even such manmade conditions as finance, are deeply interconnected. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 started in the US with excessive risk-taking in lending practices and resulted in deleterious global effects. Businesses failed worldwide, people lost their jobs and homes. and income inequality has continued to grow. When we harm ourselves, we harm others.
Interconnection transcends space and time. There is evidence that seasonal, circadian, solar and lunar cycles can impact the behavior of both animals and humans. There is also emerging evidence that the stresses and fears experienced by one generation may be genetically transmitted to subsequent generations. One version of the Big Bang theory proposes that the cosmos is perpetually contracting and expanding as a result of the density and distance relationships among phenomena. The consequences of actions ripple out far beyond the phenomena that produce them.
Our own thoughts, emotions, and actions are also deeply interconnected. Mental conditioning occurs when we are unaware of the processes that are happening in our minds and we identify with them. We become attached to the perceived short-term and superficial “rewards” of our unexamined thought-feeling-reaction chain. This keeps us in a state of ignorance that can lead to unskillful behavior and result in greater suffering for ourselves and others.
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This famous cause and effect question is a metaphor for the dilemma that, although we know that all worldly things arise in dependence upon other things, we often don’t understand the origins. It is a compelling question, but it might not matter so much that we don’t know the answer. It may be more important that we clearly see and understand the interconnection of all things so that we can behave in ways that ultimately reduce suffering for ourselves and others.
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn’t, that isn’t.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
– Bodhi Sutta: Awakening