Perhaps like other Westerners who are drawn to buddhist meditation for non-religious purposes (wellbeing, stress-busting, generally coping with modern life), I have a bit of a dilemna. Not being a buddhist myself, I feel there is only so much I can take in from the otherwise excellent meditation classes I have attended. The techniques themselves are great – much is focused on breathing, visualising, and feelings of kindness which are common to all human beings. The teachers are welcoming, patient and non-judgemental. But some of the concepts I just don’t get. Apart from the fact that I feel a bit of a fraud chanting in Sanskrit (which some of the classes include) without understanding a word, there are things that don’t make sense to my rational, European brain.
While some of the precepts are fairly universal (non-harming, loving-kindness), I particularly struggle with the idea that we are one, that no-one and nothing in the universe exists in separation from anything else. To me it sounds like saying “me” or “you” or any other living thing/ dead thing/ object are intimately related, and I cannot really say I get it. I wouldn’t argue whether it right or wrong as a concept – I just can’t work my head around it. In my mind, “I” am not “you”, and neither of us are the same as this chair, be it as it may that we are made of the same energy/ atoms/ elements, and however much I like both of you.
And still. If we look around us, the world is full of chances to see that everything is connected, in a way that even I can understand. As I sit at home writing this article and eating a delicious slice of chocolate cake I bough on the market, I try to think of everyone and everything that existed before this moment that made it possible for me to eat this cake. The Portuguese baker who runs the market stall. The ingredients and their provenance. The chocolate, the eggs, the milk. The cocoa beans, the cocoa tree and the people who planted them. The chicken, the cows, the farmers who tend to them. The grass the cows feed on. The rain that makes it grow, the clouds. The plate the cake is on, the spoon I eat it with, the people who designed and made them both. Our ancestors who invented eating from plates and spoons (somebody had to). The person who first had the idea to eat a cocoa bean. The person who first had the idea to bake it.
I begin to feel dizzy with the million connections and people and days and amounts of knowledge that enabled me to sit here and eat this cake. I realise this is not only true of this cake, but the computer I use, the chair I sit on, the clothes I wear. Everything in the house and outside of the house. Everything that comes from nature and everything that is man made. Everything I can see and everything I cannot see. Everything that is in your life, and everyone else’s. Everything connected to our parents, and their parents before them.
I feel grateful to everyone who put in so much effort. I feel humbled and small, and in awe of a world that provides us with so much. The milk, the grass, the cocoa beans. The people.
I feel grateful and I feel connected. I feel the energy of such a perfect system and I feel blessed to be part of it.
I begin to feel with my heart what my head won’t understand. Without the shadow of a doubt, we are one.