What if we stopped imagining ourselves to be separate, finished, closed ‘egos’; individuals who must control their environment in order not to perish, and colonize the world in order to keep their rigid identity, laced with fear?
What if we imagined instead a process of becoming (or rather, co-becoming) the ego and all other beings, energies, phenomena. What if we saw that the air which we breathe, too, is part of our process, as well as water – which constitutes a substantial part of our organisms – and food – the bodies of plants and animals that become part of out body? Words, too: those that give us joy and those that hurt us; views that we share and views that we oppose? Isn’t this vision closer to the actual experience of time and change that we all undergo, and wouldn’t it make it easier for us to care about our environment – human and more than human – if we understood that in caring about others, we really care about ourselves? Might this form the foundation for a rethinking of agency, politics and economy? A foundation for the inclusion – as postulated by philosophers of science such as Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway – of non-human actors?
According to the recent UN report that was news for about three days (but not first-page news in Poland), wild nature is in the worst shape in human history, with a million species threatened with extinction. This sixth great extinction is the work of humans; mammals who in their brief history have imagined themselves to be in various ways unique, believing that they are the only species that has a soul, language, intelligence, higher feelings, etc. We closed ourselves so tightly in this imagined uniqueness that it sucked up the outside – like a black hole – and we never even noticed when the world began to disappear.
It is, of course, risky to speak of ‘us’. Not all people are equally responsible for the destruction of the wild. The Earth is mostly exploited by the richest, while the poorest pay the biggest price for this exploitation. Most Poles do not rank among the wealthiest. Nevertheless, as Europeans we are privileged. It is those in other parts of the world who pay the price for our relative well-being, for the comfort of our lives.
Everything is connected with everything else – that is the first law of ecology, but also of economics (both words derive from the Greek oikos, meaning ‘household’). It is impossible to single out a piece of reality and pretend that what we do with it has no bearing on the whole – it does. That calls for responsibility, but also gives us hope. We cannot accept the fact that the corporations destroying the world are trying to transfer responsibility to us, the consumers. We must demand systemic, political solutions, yet our individual actions, however small, are not without impact.
Everything is connected with everything else. This intuition can often be found in the work of poets. It is where – I am certain of it – science can meet with poetry and spirituality.
Interconnectedness is also one of the foundations of Buddhist thought. Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese monk, peace activist and pioneer of mindfulness – the practice of which has now been completely appropriated by capitalism – speaks of ‘interbeing’ as a means of describing the infinitely complex network of inter-dependencies between all the elements of the universe. One of the fundamental Buddhist texts, the so-called Flower Garland Sutra (Avataṃsaka Sūtra), depicts the same intuition by using the metaphor of Indra’s Net – a huge, diamond-studded net in which every diamond reflects and is in turn reflected by all the other diamonds. Explaining this metaphor to Western readers, Alan Watts relied on a familiar image:
“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh gives a different example. Appealing to the poetic sense of his readers, he speaks about a cloud in a sheet of paper:
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.”
We could relate these metaphors to contemporary science and the phenomena it describes, such as quantum entanglements. Or we could take a deep breath and quietly, for a moment, watch our own soul. Who is the one doing the watching? Who is the one just now becoming extinct?