Seeing the Ties That Bind
Goldstein Director, The
Women’s Institute at Omega
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Activism main page
Principle 2. Interdependence
see relationships to others and the world in the context of our
interdependence. We no longer see the “enemy” or “other” as isolated
from ourselves. This does not strip away our ability to recognize
and name injustice, but helps us understand that the root of both
suffering and joy ultimately circles back to us because of our
unity as a whole organism.
Hindu Myth: Indra’s Net
Down the River of Time, an ancient legend has come to
us. Indra, originallychief of the gods, slew a great dragon,
thereby releasing Water and Lightand so creating the Universe.
Once created, Indra threw a Net over theWorld and at the
connecting places where each thread met another, he tiedlittle
bells so that no thing, no creature, could make a movement
withoutsetting the whole Net ringing.
One of our favorite mealtime blessings
is to name everything that contributed to the table’s bounty.
We thank whoever cooked, shopped, farmed, packed, transported,
shelved and sold the food in the store. We thank the sun, the
earth and the Great Spirit for growing the food, and we thank
the food itself. Then we dig in.
Recently when we had some guests for dinner, the blessing took
on a fun game-like twist because the list just kept growing and
growing -- it included important historical events, all the elements
of the atmosphere, our great ancestors, and on and on. My daughter
nailed the heart of our interdependent nature when she said,
“I guess we have to thank everything that has ever been and everyone
who has ever lived because it’s all connected.”
Most people would say they have a yearning for feeling connected
to others and to the larger “web of life,” or to be in union with
something greater than themselves. Our interconnectedness has been
described powerfully and poetically in our religious, spiritual,
philosophical and scientific teachings. Yet we often live as if
it isn’t true. We forget that “no [person] is an island.”
The rapid speed and technological basis of contemporary life make
it very difficult to see the big picture of what’s happening around
us and to understand our own part in the larger world. While technology
serves mighty purposes and connects us in profound ways, it also
fosters a real disconnect between the cause and effect of our actions.
For example, we can ship our garbage far from where we live without
knowing where it’s buried; shop for things made half-way around
the world without knowing the working conditions of those who made
them; eat food grown in other states without knowing how the food
was cultivated; and, most horrifyingly, drop bombs remotely that
kill people without knowing the pain we have caused.
When we live in an “out of sight, out of mind” landscape, we lose
touch with the natural feedback loop that reflects the impact we
are having on the people and environment around us. When we lose
touch with the feedback loop, we forget the truth of our interdependent
nature, which in turn, allows us to hurt others without realizing
that we are ultimately hurting ourselves. We lose sight of the
fact that the separation we feel from others is something we have
built with our own mind.
Since technology is just a human tool, the real root of the disconnect
is our own state of awareness. And awareness is something we can
cultivate! When we see each other as members of the same family
and connected in a greater web of life, our empathy for each other
and for all life grows. So, too, does our interest in helping each
other. As Tibetan Monk Thich Nhat Hahn says, once we feel a sense
of relatedness, then our capacity to care for each other expands.
To illustrate this notion of interconnectedness, he tells a wonderful
story about one hand accidentally hammering his other hand instead
of the nail it was holding:
“[My right hand] put the hammer
down and took care of my left hand in a very tender way, as if
it were taking care of itself. It did not say, 'Left Hand, you
have to remember that I have taken good care of you and you have
to pay me back in the future.' There was no such thinking. And
my left hand did not say, "Right
Hand, you have done me a lot of harm -- give me that hammer, I
want justice.' My two hands know that they are members of one body;
they are in each other."
The two hands know without any doubt that they are part of the
same body, creating a strong motivation for caring for each other.
So why don’t we bring that same kind of knowing and motivation
for caring for each other to all of our relationships? Part of
our confusion may come from our “holon” nature, a term used by
Philosopher Ken Wilber to capture the idea that people, like all
other systems in the universe, are both independent and dependent
at the same time. While we are good at knowing ourselves as independent
beings, we hide from our dependent nature.
From our first breath we are taught about our independence, and
from there our entire education system is based on teaching people
how to take care of themselves. Our American culture rests on the
notion of self-reliance and rugged individualism with an expectation
that everyone can “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” While
it is true that self-responsibility is a necessity for survival,
we have left behind an important aspect of what the “self” actually
is – the self is fundamentally connected to all else! So, we need
to apply the same diligence in caring for our individual beings
as we do for all that is around us. Self- responsibility means
to take care of all that is -- our earth, our fellow creatures,
and our entire human family.
Taking care of everything can seem like an overwhelming
and unrealistic suggestion. In some ways it is almost impossible
to imagine how we could live -- eat, work, raise our families --
without doing harm to the larger world around us. But there have
been cultures in history and there are cultures now living with
a high level of integration with the world around them that we
can learn from. The key is to bring a balanced approach to caring
for ourselves as independent individuals, and ourselves as dependent
parts of the larger the world.
An important step towards living in greater balance with all that
is around us is cultivating an awareness of our interconnected
nature. Listed below are several simple exercises that can increase
an awareness of our interconnectedness. This list may seem a little
“been there, done that,” but it is in the doing and the practice
of being aware that we cultivate awareness -- which is always easier
said than done:
Consumer Goods: Pick a consumer item you use often and
research where it comes from and where it goes when you are done
Food: Research your favorite food. Is it healthy? How is
it cultivated? Is it in abundant supply? What are the working conditions
of those who produce it?
Work: What are the ripple effects of the work you do? Who
and what do you rely upon for your livelihood and who and how do
others rely upon you for their livelihood?
People: Become a student of interaction. How do other people
impact your mood, feelings, and behavior? Pay attention to how
your mood impacts your family, co-workers, or friends.
Contemplation: Spend time in meditation or quiet contemplation
and notice how it impacts how you feel afterwards and how you interact
with others afterwards.
Environment: Use a carbon footprint calculator to estimate
your impact on the environment. Pay closer attention to how much
garbage you generate and find out where your garbage goes after
it leaves your home and your local dump.
Public Policy and Taxes: Pick any national issue you care
about and find out exactly how much the US government spends on
it and what the key policy issues are. Find out exactly where your
representatives stand on that issue.
Global Affairs: Pick a country you know nothing about and
do some basic research about their daily customs including how
they greet their children at birth, how they celebrate the seasons,
and what drives their economy?
There are countless ways to raise our awareness of our interconnectedness.
The beauty and promise of committing to this kind of practice is
that over time it naturally leads to greater compassion for each
other. As we grow in our understanding of how we are bound together,
we become more careful with each other and with the earth. When
we realize that it feels better to comfort the other hand than
to isolate it or be angry at it or hurt it even more, we will be
on the path to a stronger, healthier web of life.
Carla Goldstein, J.D., J.D., is Omega's Director of External
Affairs and Director of The
Women’s Institute at Omega. Carla is
an attorney with 20 years of experience in public interest advocacy
and has worked extensively in city and state government on issues
related to women's rights, poverty, public health and social justice.
She has contributed to over 100 city, state and federal laws. Carla
has appeared on local and national radio and television and makes
public presentations to a wide range of audiences on issues related
to women’s empowerment and activism. Prior to joining the Omega
Institute, Carla was the VP for Public Affairsat Planned Parenthood
of New York City where she directed the agency's advocacy and strategic
communications work. She also served as the founding director of
the PPNYC Action Fund, the political arm of PPNYC. For eight years
Carla was an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens College, where she
taught, “Law and Social Justice,” a course designed to empower
students to be effective advocates for progressive social change.
As part of Omega’s Faculty, Carla teaches “Spiritual Activism,”
a workshop designed to help people develop their activism in creative
ways that align with their values and lives.
Founded in 1977, Omega is
the nation's largest holistic learning center whose mission is provide
innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human
spirit, providing hope and healing for individuals and society. Every
year more than 20,000 people attend workshops, retreats, and conferences
on its 195-acre campus in the countryside of Rhinebeck, New York,
and at other sites around the country.
Women’s Institute, a dynamic new component of Omega, is dedicated
to empowering women around the world. It has grown out of the momentum
created by the annual Women and Power conferences that Omega Institute
has presented in partnership with V-Day since 2002. It seeks to
sustain throughout the year the community and inspiration generated
at the conferences. Women’s deep wisdom is essential to the creation
of a more sustainable and loving culture in every facet of life,
from the personal to the political. The Women’s Institute provides
opportunities for women and men to inspire and strengthen their
visions and authentic voices through unique learning and community
For more information, visit www.eomega.org.