Interbeing – No Man Is An Island
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Not only is no man an island, but rather his “interbeing” is shared with the plants and animals he eats, the people who make his clothes and food, the people who populate his home, country and the very world he perceives, the insects that pollinate the trees that yield his fruit, shade him from the sun, and provide lumber or his house.”                                                                                                                           

— Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh

There is something about the world “interbeing” that tugs at my soul leaving a joyous and very comfortable feeling. In one word, “Interbeing”  describes all of the processes that drive our planet because it describes the processes of  inter-dependence and co-existence among all things. Without interbeing, Nature would fail to function. In human terms, interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on all other people and objects. Interbeing is the  process that describes Nature as a living system as well as a well functioning human society.

One of my favorite environmental writers is Dr. Scott Sampson who is a  dinosaur paleontologist, science communicator, and author of the book  How To Raise A Wild Child. In a 2011 essay at edge.org , Scott does a great job of describing the absurd mindset of a very large group of human adults over the age of 25.

Arguably the most cherished and deeply ingrained notion in the Western mindset is the separateness of our skin-encapsulated selves — the belief that we can be likened to isolated, static machines. Having externalized the world beyond our bodies, we are consumed with thoughts of furthering our own ends and protecting ourselves. Yet this deeply rooted notion of isolation is illusory, as evidenced by our constant exchange of matter and energy with the “outside” world. At what point did your last breath of air, sip of water, or bite of food cease to be part of the outside world and become you? Precisely when did your exhalations and wastes cease being you? Our skin is as much permeable membrane as barrier, so much so that, like a whirlpool, it is difficult to discern where “you” end and the remainder of the world begins. Energized by sunlight, life converts inanimate rock into nutrients, which then pass through plants, herbivores, and carnivores before being decomposed and returned to the inanimate Earth, beginning the cycle anew. Our internal metabolisms are intimately interwoven with this Earthly metabolism; one result is the replacement of every atom in our bodies every seven years or so.”

The idea that we humans are separate from Nature and can control Nature is blatantly false. The truth is that we humans are totally dependent on Nature and each other in order to live. Like every other creature on Earth, we are in a state of “interbeing” — this highly interconnected state of dependency on Nature. We humans must embrace the fact that we are not outside or above Nature, but fully enmeshed within it!!! As a result, every act that we do can affect everything else. But most of the time we have no idea what the consequence of that act might be. WHY?? Because we have no way of predicting what Nature will do.

The tragedy is that we adults are blindly consuming and abusing Nature at a rate that destroys or alters Nature’s ecosystems in addition to leaving little or nothing for our children, our grandchildren, future generations, and life in general.

Scott Sampson goes on to then pose the question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” His response to his question is that humanity “would greatly benefit by embracing and practicing the concept of interbeing” .

The idea of interbeing comes from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who says:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in [a] 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.

‘Interbeing’   is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have a paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. . . . ‘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.

We must learn to see ourselves not as isolated but as permeable and interwoven — selves within larger selves, including the species self (humanity) and the biospheric self (life). The interbeing perspective encourages us to view other life forms not as objects but subjects, fellow travelers in the current of this ancient river. On a still more profound level, it enables us to envision ourselves and other organisms not as static “things” at all, but as processes deeply and inextricably embedded in the background flow.

Interbeing, an expression of ancient wisdom backed by science, can help us comprehend this radical ecology, fostering a much-needed transformation in mindset.”

The solution to climate change problems, human over-population, and over-consumption rests with those humans who have embraced a consciousness for the “interbeing” of everything on our Earth. When our central organizing priority becomes the interbeing of all life, we then experience the recovery of our world. When a person is gifted with a consciousness of interbeing and acts upon an ecosystem in some way, that action is always accompanied by the question:

If I do this here, what might happen over there? 

Here is a famous example. If I kill all the wolves at Yellowstone  National Park, what will happen to the ecosystem where those wolves lived? (Hint: Look at the video “Lords of Nature).  The killing of all the wolves at Yellowstone in the early 1900s by ranchers and hunters resulted in major, unexpected changes in the Yellowstone ecosystem. In the later 1900s, scientists recognized the negative ecological impact of the wolf killings and wolf reintroduction began. This recovery effort demonstrated the power of interbeing. This is a video worth watching !!!

It is a sad fact that the development of a consciousness for interbeing will not come from the current generations of human adults who are separated from Nature, are focused on near term financial “growth”, and who choose not to consider the welfare of Earth’s creatures or the well-being of future human generations. This group of adult humans have left a mess for future human generations.

However, in all good stories there are heroes that come to the rescue. These heroes are environmental educators, other specialists in education, scientists, college students, and those other folks who are angry about what is going on. What is essential for the long term survival of the human race is a strong sense of interbeing with Earth and all life on Earth. Interbeing exists as a profoundly important tool in the arsenal of those who, through education, direct action, or example, will help define a new and positive future for all life on earth.

For Your Further Consideration

Video:  The Story of Interbeing   (8:44 minutes) Charles Eisenstein

In this video on interbeing, Charles Eisenstein explains how the real power we have to create change comes from alignment with the web of being.

Video: If We Don’t Protect Nature We Can’t Protect Ourselves  (5:34 minutes) Harrison Ford

This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  2. Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generations.

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

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