Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
When my son was learning to walk we had an infestation of ants in our house. They crawled along the floors and over the counters, up the walls, and somehow found their way into the refrigerator. My son, who was just over a year old, was entranced by them. His speed of travel was about the same as the ants’, and he followed them as they crawled around the room. His first impulse was to step on the ants, or squish them between his little fingers.
I stopped him and said: “The ants are beings, Asher.” He looked at me quizzically. “Beings?” he questioned in his pure, sweet voice. “Yes,” I said. “You are a being also. And so am I, and so is mommy. Everything alive is a being. And we have to take care of all beings—be kind to them, and not hurt them.” He turned to something else, as though my little lecture had been lost on him.
To my surprise he began to observe the ants from a distance, and when he couldn’t resist picking them up he was careful, at least as careful as his new hands could be.
I was startled by his receptivity to what might be considered a moral lesson. Rather, it was as though there was an awakening of an impulse that was larger than an ordinary ethical question. It appeared to me that he had gained a sense of compassion that can only come from recognizing that oneself and another share the same existence.
I think we all have within us an original cognition that all life is one. But something impedes that knowledge and we must re-cognize that unity. It is knowledge that is intrinsic, but covered over by accretions of conditioning that make us forget what we know. Observing myself I see a multitude of obstacles to feeling compassion. Primarily I see fear—fear for my safety, fear that if I don’t take care of “number one” I will be abused or defeated.
But there are certain ideas that ring true, and can help to reconnect with something innate. I find it helpful to consider the body as a model, which I first discovered in a book by Rodney Collin (a great but little-known book called The Theory of Celestial Influence). The body is made up of a “beings” that live in various dimensions and scales of time. A red blood cell, for instance, has an independent existence within the “world” of the body. It is part of a population of billions of other red blood cells that live within the body at any given time. But each red blood cell lives for only about 3 months. In fact every cell in the body is replaced with a new one every seven years. So the body is really comprised of multitudes of “beings” that are born, live, and die continuously throughout the its life.
Based on this model, all life on the planet—plants, animals, and humans—comprise one great body of life. Each of us individually is but a part of a being on a scale so vast as to be incomprehensible. Our perspective is the same as an erythrocyte traversing the veins and arteries of our circulatory system. Assuming the cell has powers of comprehension, it would have no way of knowing its place in the world of the body. It might consult its scientist or mystics and receive answers in different terms. Some would say the body is god. Others would call it the universe. But none of these descriptions or explanations would pride a the cell with an understanding of its world.
With this model in mind we can be reminded of our position within the body of life on earth, and within the organ of humanity. Such a reminder might enable us to look at our fellow “cells” differently, and show us that we are all part of something much larger than ourselves. It might help us reconsider our martial impulses, and resist the urge to destroy not only other people, but the natural world in which we live and derive our sustenance. It might help us to become an influence of regeneration instead of destruction.
It is sometimes helpful to know the etymology of a word to discover its deeper meaning. One such word is “consider.” Consider comes from com “with” + sideris “stars.” So to be considerate in this sense is to share the perspective of the stars—a very large perspective indeed. If we can hold such a perspective we might see clearly when our activities are destroying not just each other and our environment, but our own self. Such a view might enable us to become peaceful, or at the very least, as the Hippocratic Oath cautions, to do no harm.
But the knowledge of the unity of life doesn’t require theoretical models. If we relax enough, we can feel it.
Sitting in the cafe finishing this missive, a startling demonstration occurs. A woman chases a fluttering moth around the room, trying to shoo it out the door. Behind her are two small children, watching. After some comical efforts they manage to guide the moth out the door. “She’s safe now!” the mother exclaimed.