Early this morning, I turned on the radio and listened to a brief political report on WNYC, the local public radio station here in NYC. What I heard was a recording of a recent political rally where what I call “the language of separateness” characterized what was said by the speaker. In addition to the sadness I felt at hearing language that had a violent and aggressive tone, language that demonized the “other”, I also began to think about the difference between “the language of separateness” and “the language of interbeing’. Interbeing is a verb created by the Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, and is now used beautifully and often by Charles Eisenstein, a speaker who focuses on social, economic, and ecological issues.
Later, I listened to an interview with Krista Tippett in her On Being broadcast where she talked with a woman who described how she engages people on the opposite side of the spectrum from where she lives politically and socially as a way to discover what was of key importance to both her and to the other person. She attempts to find some common ground of at least understanding, if not agreement. In her comments, there were no negative labels of the “other”, no need to make people wrong. There was no demonizing, a dynamic that is far too prevalent in my country at this point in time.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to track how you think and talk about people with whom you disagree and notice the quality and tone of both your expression and of your inner life. If you find that your thoughts orient to attacking an “other”, or in some other way support an experience of separation, notice how that may affect your interactions with others as you move through the world that day. Then, notice what happens if you deliberately limit yourself to thinking from a basic assumption of oneness, of interbeing, of our inescapable interdependence and relatedness. Pay attention to the quality of your internal experience when you do this and also to the quality of your interactions with others when you are out in the world.
As Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist teacher, has said, there’s no way we aren’t going to judge. It’s just what the brain does. What matters most is our relationship to those judgments. Mine is to pat them gently on the head and allow them to move on through. I don’t struggle with them or wish they weren’t there. I simply notice them without giving them any additional attention. They arise from the brain’s need to make meaning and sense of what’s happening and they most often represent activation rather than useful information.
In fact, it’s very helpful to deepen awareness of those thoughts that tell you that you’re activated, upset, or otherwise distressed about something versus thoughts that actually bring you information you can use, or that help you understand something. When thoughts are symptoms of activation, they can alert you to the fact that you may have to do something to soothe yourself or to rectify the situation you’re thinking about. When thoughts bring useful information, they offer you what you may need in a given situation to either understand something or to take meaningful action.
As with all these kinds of practices, there are no right answers. This one invites you to become more aware of when you may slip into a frequency that expresses and promotes a sense of separateness. To recognize this opens the door to the possibility of choice rather than being carried away by a reaction, if you find you’d like to shift to another quality or frequency. If you find that you are orienting toward interbeing and oneness, a sense of connection with all the life around you, you can nurture that quality through your presence in that moment.
Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and, yes, to pat judgments on the head and let them move on by. And, most of all, take time to notice the quality of your inner life and interactions in the world as you track what inner focus brings you a sense of being that feels right to you.