A few days ago I bought some holiday gifts at a street fair. I bought quite a few items, and the artist asked me how many people were on my holiday gift list. I thought about it for a few minutes and tried to calculate in my head, but soon realized that it was a much trickier question than it seemed.
Gift buying seems to be tied up with the roles and relationships we have in our lives. So it’s funny to think about all the people I have relationships with in my life for whom I don’t buy gifts. How do we differentiate our relationships? There are people we see every day on our morning walk, people we stand on the sidelines with weekend after weekend, and people we chat with at work, but who would never make it on our holiday list. What about the background people in our lives? Shouldn’t we be giving to everyone?
Several years ago, one of my regular Tuesday morning yoga students was killed. Everyone in my class was devastated, including me. We were very surprised to discover how much each of us cared about Mary (not her real name), even though the majority had never talked to her outside of our one hour every Tuesday morning. We cried, we hugged, and we created our own evening ritual to support each other and process our own deep feelings of loss. I discovered later, that while cleaning out Mary’s house, her daughter had found files full of clippings on yoga and mindfulness, including many of my posts. Before her death, none of us had any idea of the depth of connection we shared with each other.
Quantum physics seems to be describing the concept that many Buddhists and mystics have also noted. Every “thing” in the universe is connected to every other “thing.” Some quantum physicists have described the world as “dynamic patterns continually changing into one another — the continuous dance of energy” and the parts as “in essence, a set of relationships that reach outward to other things” (Fritjof Capra). As they study these wave particles, scientists say that they can plot the probability and results of interactions between particles, but they are unable to draw any single particle independent from any other particle.
“None of us exists independent of our relationships with others. Different settings and people evoke some qualities from us and leave others dormant. In each of these relationships we are different, new in some way… In the quantum world, relationships are not just interesting; to many physicists they are all there is to reality.” — Margaret Wheatley
So in this world of quantum physics, the world we all live in, relationships are everywhere and everything is related. On the surface it may seem we have a small number of people in our “inner circle,” those for whom we buy holiday gifts. But underneath our inner circle is this web of interconnectedness, described by ancient Indians as Indra’s Net. Indra’s Net is as a net of jewels that hangs over the God Indra’s palace. Each of us is like one of the jewels in a net, each jewel reflecting every other jewel, and each holding the net together in our own small stretch of fabric. The net suggests our individuality as well as our interconnectedness. As Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi says, “To shine one corner of the world–that is enough. Not the whole world. Just make it clear where you are.”
On the one hand, it now sounds like I have an infinite number of holiday gifts to buy. If I’m interconnected with everyone else, then everyone is on my list, right? Or, does interconnection instead show us the special importance of our own little stretch of net? If each of us shines our light beautifully in our own corner, our gifts will be reflected to every one and every place in the world. And everything we do will be reflected in some way by everyone else. It’s a beautiful image that some quantum physicists are suggesting represents the true nature of our universe — relate globally, shine locally.