One of the most important spiritual and ethical insights I have discovered and embraced during the past twenty years has been the concept of interdependence. When I truly could take in that all of life, from tiny atoms to the vastness of the universe, is simply interdependent with all the other parts of the web of life, my theological and ethical lens shifted, and the concept of interconnectedness and interdependency has become the primary basis for my spirit-led work in peace and justice.
Many astrophysicists, I am told, and mystics and daydreamers like myself, attest to the reality of the interdependent unity of all of creation. And for me, as well I believe for most of us, at some level of our being we know we are part of an intimate web of co-dependence and mutuality. We are children of the Grand Commons. In spite of the dangerous idea that we are independent and self sufficient, we need each other and the planet that graciously supports or challenges us, as the Covid-19 epidemic has taught us. My experience of a sacred awareness of the interdependent, transcendent web of creation is for me a concept, or confirmation, of the presence of God.
I find the concept of interdependence endlessly fascinating. These past few days I have been enjoying a period of quiet in the late afternoon sunshine sitting on our deck just trying to take in how everything is so interrelated: the flowers and the hummingbirds; the trees and the sun and moisture that feeds the chlorophyll working in each leaf that in turn sustains and grows the tree; the hospital I see across the Sound as it offers an incredible array of medicines and loving healing and comfort; the varied parenting habits of the different species of birds. And in addition it is easy to also try to include all the millions - more likely billions and billions - of versions of mutuality I can’t see before that are creating and co-mingling in a dance of interconnectedness and interdependence. And I can then extend my mind to the whole planet, and, indeed to the whole cosmos, in millions of variations of orderly interconnections I can only imagine. For me the interdependencies of life leads to a sacred awareness, an awareness of the transcendent web of creation that feels to me like a concept or confirmation of the presence of God.
Vietnamese spiritual leader, scholar and nonviolent peacemaker, Thich Nhat Hanh, takes the concept to an even more profound level by coining the word “interbeing.” (No, my spell check doesn’t like the word, but, yes, it is in the computer dictionary!). I cannot adequately define the word in my brief SEP entry here, but the gist of it that it grounds the concept of interdependency into concentrating on the way reality is intimately experienced in the present here and now through the practice of mindfulness and being fully present and alive to the wonders and gifts of creation that are ours to engage and love.
I find the concept of interbeing and mindfulness profound and liberating. It shows me a way out of a life too often bound by distractions and “busyness.” I grant that without pressing work and family responsibilities is is easier for me to be more mindful, but I also know that even in the daily strivings of a demanding life, mindful living is possible, and, I would offer, necessary. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to perhaps choose an alternative pace of our lives that would likely promote more peace and equilibrium.
In addition to the personal benefits of mindfulness and a reverence for the immediacy of life, the concept of interbeing and interdependence has an equally profound meaning in terms of ethics. The ability to humbly and warmly grasp my unity, my interbeing, with all other people and all of creation, is the foundational basis of peacemaking. Living with a sense of interbeing is the way of nonviolence, empathy and the ability to identify with the full humanity of others, warts and all. It is a way of countering violence, repression and oppression.
When we individually or collectively assert unaccountable power over each other and all of creation we create the havoc and violence we are experiencing during the present administration and, to be honest, much of U.S. history. By emphasizing the power of recognizing our mutuality, our interdependency and Interbeing, we counter the separateness that creates and condones violence. To “be” intimate with life in the universe, as well as life immediately surrounding me in the mode of interbeing, I am now capable of being peaceful in my own being, of engaging from within opportunities for peacemaking and peace building.
Throughout our history Quakers have created language and practices that lead us in the direction of what I am suggesting is interbeing. We often speak of “that of God in all of us and in all of creation” as a means of affirming the sacredness of each of us and whole of creation. And when we speak of our historic peace testimony we quote founder George Fox saying, “I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars and I knew from whence all wars did rise,” we are trying to claim a commitment to the unity of sacred life, and when that unity is broken or exploited, the result often is violence and war. In response the goal is to live with mindfulness of our interbeing, our intention fo follow a path of profound interconnections and interdependencies in love, respect and reverence.
And a second example is when we deal with current challenges of dismantling racism, the core challenge is to overcome the enculturated racially based prejudices and separateness that allows, or even encourages, us to deny the humanity and respect of another person or group, especially based on skin color and ethnicity, that then justifies the sense of superiority that rationalizes exploitation from a position of assumed white superiority or privilege.
I want to close by asking how you understand the concept interdependency and interbeing I have been exploring? How does the practice of mindfulness apply to your personal life and the life of your personal relationships and spiritual community? I truly believe internalizing the profound interconnectedness of all of life is an extremely important concept to embrace.
My intention is to provide an opportunity to explore how our prejudices might be better identified and countered by seeking an ever more profound understanding of the awesomely mysterious, but also tangible, unity and interdependency of creation as a means of supporting peace and justice among each other and all of creation. That is, to live as “inter beings” in lives of peace and mutual respect.