“Through widening circles of identification, we extend the boundaries of our self interest.” ~Joanna Macy
I am in deep mourning for Mother Earth, Gaia. I am grieving for the multitude of species who, at this moment, are on their way to extinction, or who are already extinct, on my watch. Will my species also disappear? Before my great grandchildren are born? I grieve that the current pandemic will cause great suffering to individuals and our culture. However, I wish to ward off fear and open to seeing the role that COVID-19 will play for all our relations, for the whole biosphere.
Since novel coronavirus has introduced itself to us, I have been opening myself to incorporating this new being into my worldview. How do I expand “my” so-called “identity” to include this unusual aspect of life unfolding? Can we expand our circles of identification enough to include coronavirus? I feel some hope as I explore the principles in Joanna Macy’s book Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory.
Mutual causality is an alternative to the linear and hierarchical expression of cause and effect that has shaped our Western mind. We must understand that we live in a world of profound interdependence. We are not separate. We are “interbeing” with everything. Each of us, each species, each awareness, each soul, holds a position in a vast network, the Web of Life. Illustrated in the image of Indra’s Net, each of us is an infinitely reflective hologramatic jewel of awareness, resting in our unique position in this immeasurable web.
It is through this system, earth’s neural network, that the Buddha’s idea of mutual causality and dependent co-arising takes shape. “Our reality” as Joanna Macy says, is a “dynamically interdependent process.” Trees talk through their “world wood web.”¹ The grove of aspen trees is one great organism. There are vast nets of mycelium under the ground, making the soil a transmitter of information.² Everything is conscious and is made of consciousness. I think I can safely say that the impact and “skillful means” of coronavirus is a perfect demonstration of this dynamic interdependence principle.
We are each, in this moment, the current form of stardust released billions of years ago; unique but not separate. Here we are…Milky Way, outer spiral. As you read this, can you feel us spinning, can you align with the North Star? This time of year, we are beginning our lean towards the equator. Can you feel this Earth as earth, air, fire and water? Always shaping, reshaping, evolving, shifting. Can you feel these elements alive in your human body?
We can choose, in each moment, to be transmitters of loving awareness into our Web of Life. I intend to become more aware of, and take responsibility for my thoughts, my actions, my words, and my intentions. I feel more connected to this network and have greater hope that my life is a healthy contribution in this greater dance of life.
General systems theory (GST), developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, tells us that open systems will naturally expand into larger, more inclusive systems. The smaller system won’t necessarily know that it is a part of a greater system until or unless its “identity” makes a leap, a shift to the greater being. We are always a part of a greater system unfolding and evolving. Just as I am becoming more aware of my identity as a unique function of this bio-system, I am simultaneously becoming aware that this “I” can be a moment-to-moment construct of my preferences and viewpoints.
“In what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry call ‘one of the greatest acts of creativity in the four billion years of the living Earth,’ prokaryotes (single cell organisms) learned to capture photons of light from the Sun…to use their own bodies to create photosynthesis.”³ Just as that single cell transformed life on Earth, I’m exploring how I can be the mutant cell that makes the leap from my limited “mistaken identity” into knowing I AM the One Being Breathing Itself into Aware Manifestation. I offer my “self” to be pulled into this surrender to the larger system of which I am a part: Mother Gaia.
It is through a global shift into our understanding of this interdependence and interconnection that we can each find our unique place in this hologramatic, jeweled web of life. What you refer to as “I” is the “body cam” of your neighborhood in Infinite Awareness. Our hope lies in the process of actively resting in this moment, in this body of earth, air, fire, water and presence. We breathe in oxygen, which we gather from the trees, the plants, the rainforests and the oceans. We breathe out carbon dioxide, which we offer back into our biosphere. Let’s learn to identify as an aware and loving presence in this vast web. Here is a practice:
The Practice of Active Presence. Sit quietly. You can even take a moment right now while you’re reading this. Take some long slow deep breaths and lean back, deeply relaxing.
Imagine that what you identify with as “I” is resting as a jeweled point of light right now; here in this vast spherical silk spider web of aware presence that surrounds and permeates this Earth. Floating in space. This is your home, rest here.
Rest in the net that is shifting, adjusting, dancing with wave like impulses. Inhale. Rest in what is. Just here, just now… exhale. Sharing compassion and presence.
Enjoy this dance of the web as you feel it in the neural networks of your body. Feel how receptive your body can be to the loving support of this silken web that holds you. This is our “life support.” It is in the food you eat; the water you drink, the air you breathe. You share breath with the trees. Can you feel it? Breathe and rest. Take refuge in this moment and be held in this Divine Web. Inhale; allow loving presence to be with what is. Exhale and dissolve into the Web of Life, which holds us all.
All of us resting here, in this moment, in our home. Each one saying “I AM.”
We must not lose hope. We must resist apathy and despair. Even in the face of apparent catastrophe, we must remember what Albert Einstein pointed out:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us, universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feeling, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”⁴
I believe this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to be transformed; to be initiated as the Mutant Sapient Cells that learn to breathe the new “I AM.” How can we become transformers of light from our star? Now is our time to identify with the greater system that we are: to be the sparking, electric neural nodes in the greater body of Gaia. Our human birth gives us the power to choose. Let’s choose to see from the perspective of our whole Being.
Jessica Zeller, co-founder of Natural Pathways Foundation, taught Ecopsychology at Naropa University and guided Vision Quests for Animas Valley Institute, Omega Institute and Lama Foundation. Widening Our Circles is adapted from Jessica’s presentation at the October 2019 Science and Non-Duality (SAND) Conference. She utilizes meditation, imagery, sound and movement as ways to assist people in embodying an expanded human experience. She is currently working to establish the Center for the Study of Interdependence in Durango, Colorado.
¹ Simard, Suzanne. “How Trees Talk to Each Other.” Ted. Jun 2016.
² Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees. Vancouver, Greystone Books, 2015.
³ Haugen, Geneen Marie. “Chaos, and a Collective Initiatory Journey.” Part I SM165: Weekly Soulcraft Musing
⁴ Hammond, Bryce. “Einstein’s Misquote on the Illusion of Feeling Separate from the Whole.” themindoman.com.