Thoughts from Annie
When I first started studying mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh, he spoke a lot about the need for a sangha – a community of practice. He said, “You allow the sangha to transport you like a boat so that you can cross the ocean of sorrow.”
There is an often-quoted story about the Buddha. When the Buddha was asked whether spiritual friends were half of the path to awakening, he said no. He went on to say that spiritual friends are actually the whole of the path.
The whole? What about meditation and doing the dishes mindfully?
As it turns out, I think he was right. I always believed I was enough on my own, but I need people too. During this pandemic, we are being reminded of just how much we need each other, aren’t we?
I’ve been a member of 12-step groups for a few years, in addition to my meditation community. In the first of the twelve traditions of one of the 12-steps groups (in recovery, as in Buddhism, everything is in numbered lists) it states: Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.
Prioritizing unity has not come easily to me. As a young person, I learned to fight for myself. In conflicts, I always focused on what I wanted and tried to win. Unity was only possible if I got my way. And, in order to feel safe, I needed to be right. As a mindfulness practitioner, I have learned the value of sangha and unity. Unity means putting the needs of the relationship or the group before my individual needs in order to create the best world for everyone. I may have missed this lesson when I skipped Kindergarten, but I am catching up now.
“THE STATE OF INTERBEING IS A VULNERABLE STATE. IT IS THE VULNERABILITY OF THE NAIVE ALTRUIST, OF THE TRUSTING LOVER, OF THE UNGUARDED SHARER. TO ENTER IT, ONE MUST LEAVE BEHIND THE SEEMING SHELTER OF A CONTROL-BASED LIFE, PROTECTED BY WALLS OF CYNICISM, JUDGMENT, AND BLAME.” ― CHARLES EISENSTEIN, THE MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD OUR HEARTS KNOW IS POSSIBLE
During these days of sheltering-in-place, we are all giving up some freedom for the greater good. This is how unity works. The needs of the whole supersede the needs of the one. Practicing unity requires that we see we are not the only center of the universe. It’s always true that the continuation of all beings depends upon each of us doing our part, it’s just a little more obvious right now.
SUPERIORITY, INFERIORITY, AND EQUALITY COMPLEXES
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about the superiority complex, the inferiority complex, and the equality complex, (read my blog about that here).
When we are caught in the superiority complex, we make every situation all about us. We are always a victim rebelling against the “other” and thinking we are the only one who really understands. When we are caught in the inferiority complex, we think other people are more important than we are. We let people make decisions for us and we play the martyr.
The trickiest of the three is the equality complex. It sounds good, right? The equality complex is thinking we are all separate, equal individuals, rather than seeing that we are part of the unity. We think we each have an equal vote for our individual needs. The truth is, we inter-are with each other. If one of us suffers, we all suffer. Recognizing interbeing is the same as knowing that personal progress depends upon unity. As the reality of interbeing lands in us, we can allow more and more people into our hearts and start considering every being when choosing right action.
“AS PRACTICE EXPANDS FROM THE PERSONAL TO THE COLLECTIVE, FROM THE INTERNAL TO THE EXTERNAL, FROM THE PARTICULAR TO THE UNIVERSAL, IT COMES TO EMBODY THE VALUE OF INCLUSION OF ALL THINGS, OF ALL PEOPLE, OF ALL DIFFERENCES. ALL OF OUR EXPERIENCES ARE INVITED AND BELONG; NONE OF US IS MARGINALIZED OR EXCLUDED.” —LARRY YANG, AWAKENING TOGETHER
WE GO BY WE
I heard someone recently, when asked for their preferred pronoun, refer to themselves as We. Not she/her, he/him, or they/them, but simply We. What would our lives look and feel like if we identified as We instead of Me, I, she, he, or them?
So during these days of isolation, I plan to try to practice identifying as a We. We are taking longer morning walks with the dogs and we are watching the entire Tiger King series. Everything I do affects you and everyone else. And everything you do, affects me. We really are a We. As Mother Theresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Let’s promise that We will not forget.