I 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!