Tone Magazine: 
June 2008: Separation

At the microbiological level we humans are certainly not separate selves or individual human beings.  Only 10% of each one of us is comprised of distinctly human cells.  The remaining 90% is made up of microbes that provide the energy to drive our cellular activity, brains, digestive and motor functions.  Any sense of superiority is made absurd by this evidence. We should be humbled by the proven realization that we are mostly non-human bacteria on two legs!  So the incorrect notion that humans are separate from the rest of nature has to be abandoned.  Lynn Margulis has explored this microcosmic world for over forty years and developed the concept of “endosymbiosis” to explain that our complex cellular structure depends on simpler microbial tenants, without whom we could not live.  Our cells are in fact powered by structures called mitochondria that have their own DNA and we have more than one mitochondrial genome in our body, each with its distinctive DNA.  Genetic science has long recognized that human cells, though bigger than bacterial cells are outnumbered by the estimated 100 trillion bacteria that work to maintain us as functioning human organisms.  In other words the human genome is only a fraction of what it is that makes us human, for the bacterial genomes contain 100 times more genes than the human genome.  The humbling inference is that while the bacteria could survive without us, we would perish without the catalytic energy conversions provided by the collective bacterial genomes in our body.  Our preoccupations with being a separate self, superior to nature, have boomeranged into our faces with the Global Ecological Emergency.  Created by this particular view of human separation from nature.  The consequences of these preoccupations endanger all of life.  Science has clearly validated the insight that we are not a separate self, so it is long overdue that humans take themselves off the pedestal of being superior to nature.  This is a notion that has no validity – spiritually or scientifically.

Ecology and Psychology readily appeal to the modern western mind. Placed together as eco-psychology they provide us with a palatable 21st century science. They also open a doorway for some of the Buddha’s most cogent practices, as he was perhaps the first eco-psychologist. In the Diamond Sutra or to give its full name – The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion - the Buddha sets out a game plan. The “Illusion” is the sense of human separateness. “The Diamond” is the clear mind that sees through such illusion to the reality that humans and nature are totally interconnected, and if we want to look after humans we have to look after mother earth.  Just as important is that if we wish to take care of mother earth we must also take good care of ourselves.  “The taking care of” is through meditation, the practice of mindfulness, the actualization of interconnectedness and being aware of the consequences of our actions.  These aspects of meditation, mindfulness, interconnectedness and awareness with respect to the earth are found in many spiritual traditions, especially aboriginal ones. Yet neglect, ignorance and exploitation of the earth are the present order of the day whatever the spiritual tradition. The map of reality is that we are interconnected with everything, so if we wish to make a difference to the world, to care for it, we must also journey inwards and take care of our minds – this is the point of engineering the causes and conditions for a dramatic internal Climate Change.  Once there, we will find the strength, wisdom and clarity to provide the new guidance required for 21st century crises.  Being present with “That” is the foundation from which new leadership and management can emerge.  We already possess a means to regulate planetary and universal affairs, but have simply forgotten to turn on the switch - Being Fully Present In This Moment.  The journey to it is through meditation and mindfulness practice.  These components of new leadership are slowly emerging.

Ian is the resident teacher at Pine Gate Sangha, Zen Buddhist community in the west end. Teachings given on Thursday evenings at 7.00pm, 1252 Rideout Cr., Ottawa. Tel 613 726 0881.  Also the founder of Friends for Peace..