It's a common misconception that you and I live by, in our own separate realities:
"I do my thing and you do your thing. ," goes "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim" -- the goovy poster that hung on our dorm room walls in the post-Woodstock '70s --
"You are you,
and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other,
If not, it can't be helped."
But while Fritz Perls' poem may have hooked many, I was stuck on one by none other than e.e. cummings:
It's not so much the loneliness of a leaf falling that captured me back then as the one, one, one -iness, reinforced during a solitary point in life between being with my family of origin and my family with a wife and children. I was focused on one, along with trying to make "eye" contact and focus on "I" statements, that a focus on "I am one" seemed grounding.
I've never formally studied Buddhism, and this isn't really about "becoming one with the Universe." Or even as that old joke about the Buddhist monk saying to the hot dog vendor, "Make me one with everything."
The older I get, the clearer it seems to me that everything truly is one, that the distinctions we make between I and you are misguided.
That's to say that all humans have the same needs and the same potential faults, to one degree or another. The separations we make may help us keep clear which one of us ordered the pizza and which one is delivering it. But it also leads to labeling "the other," and faulting "that one" for, well, forgetting to deliver the pizza, or to take out the pizza box with the rest of the garbage.
No, I truly know that I'm the one who ordered the pizza, and needs to pay for it, but I also know I need to thank the delivery person and treat him/her/they with the same respect I would my rabbi, my doctor, my garbageman, my mother, myself. Because any distinction I see between myself and my fellow human has diminished through the years, even though in this country, the political divide has widened astronomically. to In fact, it's the apparent distinctions of the moment, when some clamor that we need to "build a wall," that I'm drawn to hail our invisible commonalities.)
No, that doesn't mean I have to agree with those numbskulls on the other side. BUT we all share the same foibles and fascinations, facets and facsimiles. Only to different degrees, in different concentrations and sometimes in different directions.
Instead of trying to clobber one another, or seeing society through the lens of constant competition, what if -- like in many cultures -- we emphasized cooperation and collaboration. Without it, solving the really big crises before us, like turning back climate change before we're all scrambling for the scraps of land that aren't underwater, could get really ugly.
If truly, I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together, as John Lennon described, where does that leave the rest of the world?
I've been reading Donald Kroosma's fascinating book, "The Singing Life of Birds," in which he ornithologist describes myriad bicycle expeditions into the wilderness to record hours and hours of the singing of our fine feathered friends. We discover that, for example, in various species, an individual bird may have a repertoire of hundreds of songs, that the songs may have regional dialects, and that some birds learn those songs from their neighbors, in some cases as a test of initiation to move into the neighborhood.
Then there are birds that have their favorite tune, which they repeat again and again. Just down the road from the wooded area where I live, Kroosma spends a night recording a whippoorwill singing the same song over 2,000 times. To spend an entire night in the Montague Plains so that you can listen to and count the number of times that bird repeats that single three-syllable song (OK, so there's a clicking upbeat that makes it a four-note song!) is truly the kind of act of love ness.that we'll need to prevent the kind of mass extinction that we're already beginning to witness on this Earth.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Overstory," Richard Powers quotes a fictitious tree-huger Patricia Westerford's book, "The Secret Forest" as describing, "You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, the tree and you still share a quarter of your genes."
It turns out that that book, written by German forester Peter Wohlleben, enlightens us about how trees actually do communicate in "a sophisticated silent language, communicating complex information via smell, taste, and electrical impulses," as writer Maria Popova explains in a Brain Pickings article.
Another fascinating book, "Witness Tree" by Lynda Mapes, gives us a fascinating example of how "An oak under heavy caterpillar assault in spring can change the chemistry of its leaves so they become unpalatable and even emit an attractant in the air to call in a defensive air force of predators to devour its tormentors. Neighboring oaks can 'eavesdrop' on the struggle, detecting the chemicals emitter by the oak, and gear up for battle, too, even before being attacked."
Mapes describes mycorrhizal networks, which long predate our contemporary Internet and make it seem humble by comparison.
Truly fascinating is "the extensive root network also thriving below any tree and how far it continues out from its trunk," she writes. "Typically, tree roots extend beyond the trunk one and a half times the height of a tree. The tree roots aren't deep; mostly they are in the top foot of soil. But the tree's life underground doesn't stop there. A fantastic unseen network of fungal filaments also intertwines with the big oak's roots and the soil, carrying on a constant give-and-take with the tree. Usually visible aboveground only as mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of this fungi are ajust a hint of the actual fungal organisms underground, which often are much larger, spreading in busy networks of filaments. The thin threads of these mycorrhizal fungi grow in and around the tree's roots, insinuating themselves into tiny interstices, living out their days in a symbiosis between the tree and the fungus.
"The network grows among different plants, too, connecting individuals of the same, and even different, species. The staid, silent, orderly, discrete, noble bearing of the big oak that we see aboveground in the forest, standing seemingly unto itself, sedately alongside its neighbors, is nothing like the welter of interplay under way underground. Cooperation, competition, inhibition, mutualism, parasitism, it's all going on in the soil, along with a babble of communication by chemical compounds."
Alas, I've digressed. I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me, perhaps because they have better things to do. Or they're deeply aware, because they understand on a much longer time frame, that they can do better without us humans, when we're gone.
So what does all of this tell us? I've been reading about DNA studies examining whether we humans are all related, with a single Mitochondrial Mama, and the answer seems to be ... not quite. But if we wend our way back a few dozen generations, we're likely to find that the six degrees of separation that we now find among us would likely have been narrowed down for our great-great-great, very, very great grandparents, with the number of ancestors are a surprising few.
My point, though, goes way beyond that. In my heart of hearts, we truly are one person, and we need to work to break down rather than build barriers. At our root, we're entirely a part of the world from which we've all but cut ourselves off. And that needs to change, we need to get ourselves back to the Garden if we still can.