Focus of the Month: November 2016


No Separation

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

I sit sometimes and study my harmonium. When I look at the screws, the clasps, the eyelets, the keys, the polished wood, the bellows, and all the other pieces, I cultivate a sense of gratitude because I know there isn’t a single piece of this wonderful device I am capable of making on my own. Someone had the idea to make a screw and then figured out how to make one. Someone else made the piano keys, the shiny knobs, and all the other little tiny components. Another person took each of those individual tiny parts and put them together in a way that allowed beautiful sounds to come from them. And eventually, after all that, and against all odds, that device made its way around the world from India and into my home.

So before I play my harmonium, I study it, and I humbly acknowledge all the people (past and present) who contributed to it being in front of me. It took a tremendous amount of effort by MANY other people for a harmonium to be here. I see, contained in this small device, the story of countless beings, each doing their part to make something amazing happen. Each person played their role with skill and enthusiasm, and because they did, I get to make music.

Studying my harmonium, I also see through the illusion of separateness. There is no separation. Before the wood in my harmonium was coated red and polished, it was a tree. Before it was a tree, it was a seed, a drop of rain, and some rays of sunshine. Before it was a seed, a rain drop, and a ray of sunshine, it was a flower on a tree, a cloud, and a ball of flame millions of miles away. Before that it was the season of spring, the ocean, and a dense ball of gasses. Before all of that, it was pure potential in the consciousness of the indescribable creative intelligence that pervades the entire cosmos. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, contained in the harmonium then is the seed, the cloud, and the ray of light; indeed, the entire cosmos.

It is up to us to learn to learn to see the whole cosmos contained in all things and all beings. When you look around you, at “others,” other beings and objects, do you feel a sense of connection or separation? How would you feel if you noticed connection first? If you feel isolated, look for the connections that link you with everything around you. These connections are called interdependence. Until we understand how interrelated we truly are, we will see countless individual, separate objects, including ourselves and others, and we will continue enduring great suffering because of the way we see the world.

I offer all of this as an invitation to begin cultivating awareness and gratitude for all of the people who have contributed (directly or indirectly) to your life, your comfort, your happiness, and your success. It is an invitation to begin to see that there truly is no separation; that each person contributes to the fabric of life and is every bit as important as you are. It is an invitation to begin looking beyond the shallow illusion of separateness and to see that all of creation is inseparable from itself and is all-contained in the oneness that pervades the entire Universe.

This is also an invitation to take on the debt and the responsibility of good stewardship for all things and all beings. You depend on others, but others also depend on you. Each of us has a part to play. We all have our svadharma, our duty to perform. The world needs each function, including yours. Remember, the harmonium would not work if someone hadn’t made the screws that hold it together. Each component is critical to the whole. No one piece has more value than another. It is just so with each component of creation. It all has to work – or none of it works.

As you move through your Asana, can you feel how the in-breath depends on the out-breath? Can you feel the expansion of organic energy and contraction of muscle energy working together to form the shape of the pose? Can you recall the directions of Patanjali regarding asana (2.46): Stira Sukham Asanam – That both steadiness AND ease depend on one another to make the pose perfect. Can you see that without the foot, the mighty muscles of the legs would have nothing to push against? Can you feel the subtle whispering of all the teachers, saints, sages, angels, devas, and deities who went before you, moving through you on your mat? Can you see all of creation within yourself?

The pose that exemplifies connectedness for me is urdhva dhanurasana – wheel pose. The wheel exemplifies the number 0 in numerology, which signifies unity and completeness. A wheel needs all of its components; the outer rim, the spokes, and the hub to function properly. If any of these components are out of alignment, the wheel will not function smoothly. To practice urdhva dhanurasana, we must integrate the feet and hands, the arms and legs, the hips and spine, the front and backside body to make the pose. If any one component is misaligned, the pose does not go smoothly for us. The whole depends on the many to form wheel pose.

Krishna said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (7.7): “The entire Universe rests upon me, like pearls on a string.” I recall this teaching whenever I feel very alone and separate in the world and I use it like a springboard to catapult me back into higher states of consciousness. When I recall Krishna’s words, I see that the whole of creation is like the vast ocean, composed of endless drops of water. One may say to themselves, “Look at this wave!” Or another might say, “Look at the tide coming in.” But the wise look and see only the ocean. All of creation, including us, are drops of water in the never-ending ocean of consciousness. No one drop is more or less important than another. When I recall all of this, I remember to be grateful for ALL of creation, of which I am part.

Written by Tim Vanderkamp
November, 2016