The Whole and Its Parts

August 31st, 2011

A physicist, biologist and a chemist visit the ocean for the first time in their lives.

The physicist sees the ocean and is fascinated by the waves. He decides to do some research on the fluid dynamics of the waves and walks into the ocean, never to be seen again.

The biologist decides to research the flora and fauna inside the ocean and wades into the ocean. He too drowns.

The chemist stands and watches for a long time before writing in his notebook, “Physicists and biologists dissolve in ocean water”.

Those chemists are a wacky bunch. You’ve got to keep your ion them. 🙂

Jokes aside, oneness is a profound spiritual truth that is taught in all of the ancient traditions. Now physics, biology and chemistry have all found their own paths to this same truth. Everything shares a common chemistry that unites us with all of nature. Physics points to the connection of wave and particle, and the unity of atoms once joined and now separated by distances, like an invisible leg rope uniting the surfer to his board. Biology points to the fragile ecosystems within the human body and outside. We become what we eat, and the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote about this interconnectedness:

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 water; without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper. And if you look more deeply … you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here: the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father … the paper is full of everything, the entire cosmos. The presence of this tiny sheet of paper proves the presence of the whole cosmos.

Realizing (or remembering) that you are connected to the whole and all the parts fills you with gratitude, humility, openness and self responsibility. You are a wave in the ocean of life, here today and gone tomorrow. But while you are here, you make your own mark, sometimes bobbing up and down quietly, other times raging and pounding the shoreline. Either way, you eventually merge back into the ocean. As Alan Watts said, “You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”

Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, tells a short story about waves in the ocean. The dying Morrie tells this story towards the end of his lbook.

A little wave was bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air–until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.

“This is terrible,” the wave says. “Look what’s going to happen to me!”

Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, “Why do you look so sad?”

The first wave says, “You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t this terrible?”

The second wave says, “No, YOU don’t understand. Don’t think of yourself as a wave about to crash, think of yourself as water and energy about to merge with the ocean.”

Albom concludes, “Morrie closes his eyes again. ‘Part of the ocean,’ he says, ‘part of the ocean.’ I watch him breath, in and out, in and out.” Like an ocean.

When it feels like your life is crashing down around you, or endings are weighing heavily on you, it can be incredibly liberating to remember that you part of something larger than yourself. Breathe in. Breathe out. Like an ocean. You and every other part of the universe is linked, whether a strong link or a weak link. You have an important role to play and you don’t need to worry about making mistakes. No mistake is irredeemable and nothing truly ends. Oceanic love holds all of it, all waves, all tides, all currents, in balance.

At the same time, live mindfully. An ocean is a delicate ecosystem, as we saw with the Gulf oil spill last year. Your effect on others is like being out in a boat and creating waves. It can be fun and part of the adventure of life for yourself and others, and it can also be dangerous. You have to be aware of your effect on others.

One of the greatest measures of six degrees of separation in a shrinking world is the ability to break down the boundaries that divide us. When I was a kid, it was a miracle for Presbyterians and Baptists, or any two different denominations, to sit down together and have a civil conversation. It was unthinkable for Protestants and Catholics to work together. Eventually, we evolved beyond that. Protestants and Catholics began working together on community programs, but it was unthinkable for Muslims and Christians to work together. We still struggle with this one. What the world needs now is for people to come together across all boundaries of difference- christian, muslim, theist, atheist, non religious, humanist, scientist, artist, all of us, to practice being human together.

The world is one. The problem is that we don’t recognize each other. You know the old saying. “Jews don’t recognize Jesus. Protestants don’t recognize the Pope. And Baptists don’t recognize each other in Hooters.” The tragedy is that we fail to recognize each other; the beauty, the potential, the wholeness of each, and we fail to recognize the oneness of life; the beauty, the wholeness, the symmetry, the wonder of life.

An old Jewish story describes the possibility of connections.

A Rabbi asked his students how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.

“Could it be,” asked one of the students, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the Rabbi.

Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”

“No,” answered the Rabbi.

“Then what is it?” the pupils demanded.

“It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night. If you see them truly as they are, then it is daylight.”

We could extend the teaching of the Rabbi to include all beings. When you can look in the face of any woman or man, any being, any situation, any experience, any memory, any shadow, and see reflected back to you the unity of all things, then it is daylight.

The essence of unity, to which six degrees of separation points, is that everything touches everything else. Or as Kahlil Gibran wrote,

All things in this creation exist within you, and all things in you exist in creation; there is no border between you and the closest things, and there is no distance between you and the farthest things, and all things, from the lowest to the loftiest, from the smallest to the greatest, are within you as equal things. In one atom are found all the elements of the earth; in one motion of the mind are found the motions of all the laws of existence; in one drop of water are found the secrets of all the endless oceans; in one aspect of you are found all the aspects of existence.

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  1. […] aspects of six degrees of separation, including the gift of “weak” connections, the effect of the parts on the whole, the need to reconnect widely and culminating in an article on 360 degrees of […]

  2. Thanks, Ian.  In time of strife and disagreement I will try to see the sun in my fellow man–see that we are all connnected.  It’s hard though, when some deny global warming and are careless with the very earth that teaches us this profound lesson.

  3. ian says:

    Sure is Beth. The trick is to BE one even when our opinions and perspectives are not one- easier said than done, but worth aiming for.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the share. How easily we forget that we are connected. Being in nature is the easiest way for me to dwell in a place that reminds me of the magic that surrounds us. I’m doing yoga today on the beach just for that reason. I’ll think of your wave metaphor in this piece I’m sure. Such magic in waves. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. shereen says:

    Recently I have being through unpleasant experience,  the outcome of it, is distrust people around me, I do not know how to get rid of that’ ’distrust’’, I do really need to get myself back to what I was. soulseeds need your support

  6. Emma emma says:

    Shereen, I too found it hard to trust after my trust being hurt by many. Give yourself time to heal, and you will in time find that it becomes easier. And you will find people who show you that they can be trusted. X

  7. […] » Blog Archive » The Whole and Its Parts Posted by MagMan on 27/10/2011 in Papers | Subscribe posted by friends:  (5) @EarthLifeShop: RT @Soulseedzforall: Everything touches […]

  8. SUMMER says:

    I think, the idea is everything on earth or  everything existent in the universe,
    or…  EVERYTHING EXISTING; no matter where and when they ARE, CONNECTED!
    BUT we wanna feel ALONE maybe, just to feel SPECIAL, but the thing is EVERYything is SPecial!
    WE need to find out, develop, everyone of us, not excluding ANYTHING or ANYONE!

  9. Enjoyed reading this. Breaking down boundaries and seeing each other with love is what it is all about.

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