Have you ever heard the saying that "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with?
For me, that saying took on a deeper meaning after reflecting on Ya Ahad from the Islamic tradition. One of the ninety-nine names for the divine, Ya Ahad translates (I’m told) as something like absolute and total oneness.
To be very clear, I am not an Islamic theologian or scholar. At the risk of appropriating something out of context from a revered religion, I offer that what I share comes through the lens of my own identity. Any misreading or insult is unintentional. Having said that, the Sufi Sheikh I first heard this term from smiled gently and said, “there is nothing that is not The One” when I asked about this name.
What is Unity?
With that I’d like to talk about unity—about how everything there is in the universe is contained in you. In the scripture from Abrahamic religions like Christianity, one of the creation stories says as much—humans were created from the dust.
Another source that I hold sacred is science, and one of my favorite scientists, Carl Sagan, was famous for saying, "You are made of star stuff.”—meaning that we evolved from, or are made of, the same elements that have been here since the beginning of time.
In a scientific sense, when humans first went to space and looked back at the blue-green ball of earth floating there - that was the first time that earth saw herself. I don't know about you but I got chills the first time I heard that. Earth sees herself for the first time.
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, there is a kōan: On the tips of ten thousand grasses, each and every morning dewdrop contains the light of the moon that IS the moon.
I'm not a quantum physicist, but it is increasingly understood that matter and energy are arguably the same thing.
If the light of the moon is refracted through a dewdrop, then in a way, the moon really is there—in all of the dewdrops.
Unity. Everything in everything.
The Challenging Part
While this sounds like interesting fodder for conversation at a cocktail party, it’s also something like an onion. I’m invited to go deeper, peeling back layer upon layer. In addition to discover, this process holds the promise of discomfort and watery eyes.
Unity means that everything—EVERYTHING—is in me too, no?
It’s an immense world filled with wonder and amazing things. At the same time, there are some crazy, scary bits as well. Does that mean the wonderful stuff is in me? And the crazy, scary bits too?
One of our blessings and struggles as humans is how tribal we are. We were born to be in relationship with each other... we need to belong. If we're in a group small enough to know each person (I've heard anthropologists say ten or twelve up to maybe a few dozen) then things work pretty simply. But as there are more and more of us, we just can't know everyone, so we start to use labels to help us sort and divide people into groups. In our tribal minds, there needs to be an us. Our tribe. You know—the “good” ones.
For there to be an us, what do we need? That's right. A them.
Now in my small family group, there are still disagreements.... I mean, Uncle Joe may be a little irritating sometimes, but that's just his nature. He always likes to be difficult. It's okay though. He’s family.
What happens, though, with all the Uncle Joe’s who are not in our group? Does that mean that they're worse people? What if Uncle Joe (or Aunt Belinda) sleeps in a doorway on a piece of cardboard and yells when there's nobody around?
We Are Each a Part of the Problem and the Solution
I'm in Boston as I write this, staying in a comfortable hotel. It's the kind of place where "my people" stay. On the way here, I came into close proximity with lots of those other people... Hanging out in alleys, or sleeping on the sidewalk grate that had warm air coming out.
I don't know about you, but I sometimes get uncomfortable around that. I’m ashamed to admit that, on occasion, I try to cross the street or slip past her without getting pulled in because, well, she's one of them.... not one of us.
My father often likes to say that “there is no them.”
“There is only us.”
In spite of my attempts to label the bad-smelling guy on the sidewalk so I can convince myself - "that isn't me"
It is me.
The guy on the sidewalk grate is tired and doesn't like to be cold.
Neither do I.
I just get to turn up the thermostat in this hotel room.
Now, did I go invite the folks outside into my warm hotel room? No.
You see, I'm a part of the problem and part of the solution just as much as anyone.
We are all made of star stuff. We come from the same place.
Yet we work hard all our lives to find our tribe and differentiate ourselves from the rest.
How to Answer the Call of Unity
What if we realized that the things we hate the most about others are right there inside ourselves?
What if we realized that the things we love about others - are right there inside of us too?
How about you and I set a goal of seeing another person this week? Perhaps some total stranger—really seeing them so they know we did?
That seems like a good place to start.
I see you, my friend with all your hopes and all your struggles. I see you.
May we be reminded that our differences are both real and temporary.
May we be called to share from our own abundance and when we are faced with someone who pushes our buttons, to remember that this person has a valuable teaching for us that no one else can offer.
May we remember that we too are someone else’s greatest fear, and when things go badly, may we begin again in love.
Interfaith student, coach, and minister to non-religious, skeptics, and doubters.
Learn more at www.prolificate.com
This article was adapted from an episode of the Prolificate podcast series called 99: A Journey.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all our guest blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harmony Interfaith Initiative.
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