In my A to Z of Becoming, J can stand for the verb “join”.
When we think of “joins” we might think of connections, or of interfaces. We can think of bonds and relationships. We can think of the quality of a connection.
Iain McGilchrist, in his Master and His Emissary, shows clearly how the two halves of our brain are well designed to approach the world in two distinct ways – the left hemisphere tends to approach the world by drilling right down, by isolating parts and examining them. It’s great for focus and for labelling or categorising. It is largely responsible for how we see the world as full of “things” – objects which are separate from each other.
The right hemisphere, on the other hand is great at putting things together, seeing the patterns of connections, focusing on the relatedness rather than on the things. This approach to the world doesn’t see anything as isolated and unconnected. It’s great for seeing the contexts, for appreciating the whole without breaking it into parts.
He makes the point that our societies have developed in a strongly “left hemisphere way” and suggests it would be better if we got our right hemispheres working more effectively, and, especially it would be better if we used our whole brains instead of only half of them.
So, here’s something to explore this week. Instead of using the lens of objects and parts, how about looking for the joins? How about seeing the connections, reflecting on the relationships in your life? I don’t just mean the relationships you have with other people. I mean the relationships between you and the world….the world of objects, as well as the world of other subjects!
Whatever you turn your attention to next, see if you can put it in its context, see if you can see it as a transient, emergent part of the whole, see it as inextricably part of the flow.
Here’s a passage from the teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn where he uses a piece of paper to illustrate this idea beautifully –
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we ha vea new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And wesee the wheat. We now the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.