In a talk by Alan Watts, he said something that shone a light from a different angle, instantly completing a mental puzzle for me. It was something I had been struggling with for a while because there are just so many different explanations out there about this topic.
The topic of everything being one. Everything being connected and interdependent. No separation.
It is called many things like non-duality and oneness. The idea that everything is just a part of one consciousness. The explanations just as varied as the people giving them.
Watts’ description was different, eye-opening, and … quite simple. He mentioned, in an example, that our breathing apparatus consists of two parts.
One part is you. Your body, your lungs, and everything else inside of you making your breathing possible. However, the second part of it is outside of us.
The second part is that in nature, which gives us the oxygen needed to breathe. The trees around us, and the plankton in the oceans (which account for almost 80% of the oxygen generated). Without this, we would not be able to breathe, and thus it is part of the combined system of breathing.
Take one away. and the system doesn’t work. Essentially it can’t exist without both parts being there at the same time.
The dictionary defines ‘relative’ as:
considered in relation or in proportion to something else.
Therefore, I think the best way to describe existence is: relative existence. Everything exists only relative to another thing (it’s the opposite usually). Let me give you a few examples:
We need warm to decide what is cold. If everything is the same temperature, we can’t speak in terms of hot or cold anymore. These terms need their opposite to mean anything.
We need near to decide what is far. If everything is the same distance from everything else, then it is neither near nor far. We need different measures to form an opinion about the distance between things.
We need soft to decide what is hard. If everything feels the same way, then we can’t make a distinction between the two. Something is only soft compared to something hard(er). Take away one, and the other doesn’t make sense anymore on its own.
We need sweet to decide what is sour. Or salty, or bitter, etc. If everything were to taste the same, then how can we call it a particular flavor? There is no other flavor to compare it to.
And we need evil to decide what is good. If everyone acts the same, we have no way of differentiating behavior and making a good/evil judgment about it. It is all the same. It is neither good nor evil; it’s just behavior.
Every definition of something relies on its counterpart to also exist; otherwise, they both stop existing.
If we take away the duality of things, we see them for what they truly are, without a value/judgment attached to it. It is just what it is and doesn’t require a comparison.
Taking away the comparison usually means taking away our opinion and just stating an observation objectively. Water then isn’t “nice and warm water” or “terrible freezing cold water,” it’s just… water.
Are you still with me?
Even if the spiritual and philosophical implications of this are lost on you (or something that you choose not to believe) there is still something here that we can all agree on.
We live in a world where everything depends on something else, even in the most practical way.
No sunshine? No plants.
No water? No fish.
- No grain? No bread.
Instead of saying you need one to have the other, we might also say they are both parts of the same thing—part of the same system.
Bacteria in your body
A good example of this being the case is our own body. There are an estimated 100 trillion microbial cells in the human body. The studies and estimates keep changing, but it is widely agreed upon that there are more microbial cells than human cells making up our bodies.
That’s right. Let me repeat that:
there are fewer human cells than other cells making up the human body.
That alone is interesting food for thought, and another layer of “are you really the ‘you’ that you think you are?” along the lines of atomic emptiness.
It is also an interesting metaphor. If your body is only what it is because of these other organisms, then aren’t they just as much you as the actual human cells? Without them, we wouldn’t be what we are. We wouldn’t even be able to live. So even literally speaking:
You are made up of others, and without them, you wouldn’t exist.
How can we use this in daily life?
All of this might sound a little out there, but it has a very practical application. It is not about attaining enlightenment. It is about just taking a little distance from your negative emotions and realizing we have more in common than we usually think. We need each other more than we, sometimes, like to admit.
Become conscious of the fact that we need everything else to be exactly as it is, for us to be what we are. As weird as this sounds, it’s a worthwhile exercise. If you get annoyed by someone for being ”irresponsible,” just remember: if they weren’t that you couldn’t be not-that. Someone has to be irresponsible for you to define yourself as responsible.
If we realize that everything and everyone outside us is just as much us as what is inside us, then maybe we can be more kind to each other and the nature we need to survive and thrive.