Time, to an atom locked in a rock, does not pass. The break came when a bur-oak root nosed down a crack and began prying and sucking. In the flash of a century the rock decayed, and X was pulled out and up into the world of living things. He helped build a flower, which became an acorn, which fattened a deer, which fed an Indian, all in a single year. — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949
It is a romantic notion that all the elements of our world are interconnected, as Wisconsin author Aldo Leopold captured in his 1949 ode to our ecology. But, it is also an accurate notion. This is, after all, how the cycles of our world have survived, century after century, adapting and adopting new formations of atoms and cells.
A scientist I met at a Science and Non-Duality conference a few years ago put it even more simply. He is a liver pathologist who looks into microscopes at cancer cells all day. He said most of us think of ourselves as separate individuals. Yet for someone like him, who studies at the cellular level, it is easy to see that our “selves” are transformed into other selves all the time. Nothing about the make-up of our foundation is permanently “us.” We share bacteria with others. Our cells and viruses and molecules are exchanged all the time. Pheromones, sweat, breath, all extend the boundaries of self. We eat and drink that which largely comes from plants. So why, he wondered, do we tend to see the biology of a “self” as an independent entity? Aren’t we more like a cluster of always transitioning, interconnected bodies?
Like a flock of birds migrating south. A constellation of networked elements shifting together as one.
It might be natural to think of ourselves as individual entities, not a constantly moving collection of cells. But as the liver pathologist, and an Alzheimer’s researcher, and a Pixar co-founder I’ve met have suggested, we might be wrong about that. As Carl Jung put it: “Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules.”
Many years ago I was enchanted with the old PBS show “Connections” with James Burke. The message of his show: nothing about our modern world was created in isolation. One idea leads to another and merges with another, to give us the comforts of home we couldn’t replicate on our own. Everything we know is the result of a web of interconnected events, transcending time and space. Were it not for the flooding of the Nile, for example, and the intelligence that led to a calendar that could predict the overflow of water, and the invention of the plow, that led to a surplus of grains, stored in containers made by a potters wheel — our small communities would not have been able to grow into civilizations.
How often today do we recognize what we take for granted in daily life?
Commerce, industry, technology and political rivalries have largely been allowed to take over the storyline. We’ve devalued the human and glorified the machinery and the capital and the drama. What if we refocused our conversations on the relationships that lead to our ability to BE a society?