It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
An adage I first heard growing up in India goes, “As you are, so is the world.” At first glance these words are easy to agree with. Everyone has an impact on the world. You can’t expect to live in a clean town if you throw litter out of your car window. You can’t expect to live in a better world if you identify with the worst aspects of the world today.
Some people think the worst aspect of the world is that ice is melting at the poles and the whole climate crisis. But violence is worse when you consider the innocent casualties of war, and yet in the tradition of Yoga, worst of all is to be asleep. When horrible things are done by governments, the people tacitly give permission for those horrible things by self-blindness. I choose not to look’ therefore, nothing bad is happening. For all practicalities, identity involves a single choice. Either I am involved in everything around me, because everything is part of me, or I am alone and isolated.
Most people naturally want to be comfortable, and the easiest way to do that is to identify with “me” as a separate ego looking out for itself, although also including close family members. Your ego fools itself into believing that the rising oceans will never get to your doorstep, and dirty air will never reach suffocating levels where you live. More than that, the ego never believes that it could be held responsible for violence, war, racism, poverty, and famine. Those things exist somewhere else, caused by people unlike “me.”
It is possible to choose another identity, summarized as “I am the world.” This isn’t an idealistic or mystical choice, although the ego uses those rationalizations all the time. There’s nothing more realistic than identifying with the world. All of us breathe the same air. The jet stream carries atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon that were breathed out by someone in China or India a few days ago. Viruses travel around the world and enter my body. I feel the same anger in myself as someone in the Taliban, the same despair as a suicide bomber. To say that those people are less human is an argument that comes around to kick you in the rear, because those people are saying the same about you.
I know lots of good-hearted people who have cherished ideals; they want only the best outcomes in the world. But still they identify with the isolated, self-defending ego. Unlike rabble-rousers who try to foment hatred against “the other,” be it immigrants or terrorists, these good-hearted people are caught in a more subtle trap. They feel better than “the other” in sophisticated ways. The other is poor, uneducated, tribal, constantly smoking the opium pipe of religion. The other is too impossible to put up with except at a comfortable distance.
Then we arrive at the extremes when the other is a fanatic and can’t be reasoned with. The other wants to hurt us and take us down. Then their violence must be defeated with equal violence. This is how weaponry led from crossbows to bullets to hydrogen bombs. The rationale never changed, only the means of inflicting death. So now we find ourselves deploring the depravity of a roadside bomber in Iraq or Afghanistan while allowing the powers that be to wipe out a hundred thousand civilians from the air with surgical bombing. When we are asleep, the ego, it turns out, can lull us into deadly consequences.
If you say “I am the world” and truly believe it, you will start to wake up. Reality begins to dawn, and subtle traps no longer ensnare you. Isn’t a person just as dead from a civilized “smart bomb” as from a crude dynamite device taped under a roadside car? If I foul the air with my SUV, doesn’t a putt-putt rickshaw driver in Calcutta have the same right to foul his air? We have no right to place any demands on “the other” while arrogating privilege to ourselves. We have no right to blame the other for his backward ways when the whole concept of “the other” is our creation to begin with. From their perspective, we are “the other,” as blameworthy in our so-called civilized lifestyle as they are in their so-called barbarity.
These mental barriers must come down. Otherwise, a better world is just a flattering fiction, an empty ideal. When there is no “other,” we can begin to talk realistically about a reset, a new world order. So far, globalization has been external. It has been about fighting the pandemic and adopting strategies for global warming. Internally, people still prefer to sleep. On this planet we breathe one air, drink one water, sail one ocean. But when faced with the prospect of one world, nations turn away or worse still, fight to maintain their isolation.
For seventy years good-hearted people shook their heads over the Soviet Union pretending to be a workers’ paradise when the reality was oppression, backwardness, and steady erosion in the workers’ lives. For just as long good-hearted people have been shaking their heads over violence in the Middle East. In time we will be shaking our heads over new troubles somewhere “out there.” One can always choose not to say “I am the world,” but not for much longer. The future is unity among an awakened humanity, if there is to be a future at all.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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