Happy Interdependence Day!
"'To be' is to inter-be." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
In honor of what many are calling 'Interdependence Day,' I thought the topic of "interbeing" would be a fitting subject for today. And who better to share on that than the one who coined the term, Thich Nhat Hanh? Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk that was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He has been, and continues to be, a significant inspiration and teacher in my life.
This gorgeous passage is from his book, Peace is Every Step, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite books. I cannot recommend it enough! Give yourself the gift of bathing in his words and spend an afternoon under a tree reading this book. Here is a beautiful section on interbeing:
“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this 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. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “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 and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “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.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”
So wherever you are today, whatever you do, I invite you to contemplate how you inter-exist with the rest of existence. Who would you be without the sunshine, plants, trees, water, earth worms, and ancient stars that exploded to create the iron pulsing through your body? Take a moment to pause in gratitude for all that must exist in order for you to also exist.