Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


The Self is not an Island: Finding Our Place in the Natural World

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

lazypoint.jpgI was captivated listening to the NPR program, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, yesterday. His guest was Carl Safina, ecologist and author of The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. You can read excerpts and listen to the program from the On Point website

What struck me most in the conversation was the discussion of self and how notions of the self in Western culture are contributing to the degradation of the planet. The self as individual, or what scholar Ed Sampson called “self-contained individualism” is how we typically regard ourselves. I am an autonomous unit interacting with other autonomous units. This view is certainly consistent with rugged American individualism. 
However, as Safina pointed out, this self, while having some validity is not autonomous. We are in constant interaction with the natural world when we breathe, drink water, and eat the foods that sustain us. We are self-in-exchange then and inextricably connected to the world around us — proximal and remote.
The ad copy of an eco-friendly product I have on my shelf says, “We are the environment.” And this is precisely the point that Safina makes. We are not part of the environment; we are the environment. There is no duality unless we impose one. And humankind has imposed this duality at our peril. 
Self-in-connection is less likely to do damage to our self and the other beings around us. It’s only when we get lost in the story of “me” that we become disconnected from the world around us that is also us. 
Being mindful brings this connection into focus. Just breathing is all we need to remind us of our dependence on the things “outside” of this contiguous sack of flesh, bone, organs, and fluids we call “my body.”
Richard Dawkins says playfully and to the same point of interconnectedness that the sip of water you just took has an atom that passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell! In fact, we exchange all of our atoms just about annually. So we are constantly self-in-exchange.
A Buddhist meal chant recognizes this interconnectedness when it reminds us, “This food is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.” And it all might fall apart if we are not mindful moving forward. 
So, from one part of the natural world to the part you are reading this from, enjoy being part of this magnificent being we call earth and universe and take good care of yourself and the rest of us!


  • http://flipperthedolphin flipperthedolphin

    It is interesting you discuss that, Amie, as, for some time,now, I’ve been reading a book on Buddhism, simply entitiled “Buddha” by, what I reckon is one of the world’s best authorities on interfaith, Karen Armstrong. For many yesrs, now, I have had a long term goal of reading a bit more interfaith material(not that there’s anything wrong with the Christian material I have read, to the contrary,in fact). Anyway, in one of the earlier chapters, it discusses how Gotama tried to master dwelling in a state known as dhamma, by one of his contempories, Alara Kalama so, in so doing, he could achieve a sense of tranquility and oneness, come to think of it, similar to meditation, which is how I see Christian prayer, by the way.
    Good stuff, Amie, and all the best.flipperthedolphin.

  • http://exquisitemind.com Dr. Arnie Kozak

    Thanks for your comment. That book you hold in your hands, “Buddha” by Karen Armstrong is, perhaps, the best book on the subject you’ll find. It’s certainly my favorite. Armstrong is a strong voice for the value of religion as a source of compassion (see her Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org/site/). When the Buddha studied with Alara Kalama he went into and out of profound meditative states. What distinguishes the Buddha’s teachings and later accomplishments is that he found a way to change his perception that was not a “state” change, but an enduring shift in the way reality was experienced. The good news is that this relationship to reality is available to everyone, regardless of religious persuasion, and can be experienced just by being here in the moment. Practicing mindfulness meditation can facilitate that access. With blessings and gratitude, Arnie.

  • Colleen

    This reminds me of a song my mother used to sing:
    No man is an island
    No man stands alone
    Each man’s joy is joy to me
    Each man’s grief is my own
    We need one another, so I will defend
    Each man as my brother
    Each man as my friend…etc. etc.
    We are all interconnected with each other and the earth that sustains us. When we recognize this, we experience more peace, calm, contentment in ourselves:>)Nice to know that the enduring shift in the way reality is experienced is available to all of us:>)

  • Your Name Tim mcCullough aka Rex Mundi

    That’s right let’s all get down to the bear necessities! Whoa! Peace n love Rex Mundi III

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