The Unity of All Life

"I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness."

Walt Whitman Song of the Open Road

Being the big, smart, king of the world type species that we are, it is not unusual for humans to forget that we are just part of the puzzle that makes up life in the universe. As a species, we easily fall into the fallacy that we matter and other life forms don’t, just as individuals may fail to grow out of the belief that "I count" and "you don’t."

If we’ve learned anything from all those nature shows on TV, it is that each creature has its place in the world. A snail’s job may be to suck the slime from rocks in a brook. Not a glamorous job, but one that affects the character of the stream and the life that it carries. The purity of the water you drink may depend on the well-being of microorganisms living in the gut of that snail high in some mountain stream you will never visit.

We only really become at home in the world when we recognize the unity of all life. We become fully human when we join the rest of the animal kingdom in their family. The web of life is deep and complex. We are part of its weaving, and it is our responsibility to go easy on its threads.

The spider, the fly, the wolf, the sheep, the swan that swims so gracefully and the vulture that tears the flesh of the dead, the saintly nun feeding the poor, and the thief who steals a child’s milk; each breathes the same air. Each hungers for sustenance. Each tires with exertion. Each seeks to be warm and comfortable. Each will feel pain and each will die. Each will make their mark on the world some way.

Take some time to contemplate this  web of life. Relax and close off your mind to the pressures of your day. Set worry aside and give your mind to quiet thought. Breathe out slowly and fully to make room for the air that will flow into your lungs to fill the need. Let your conscious breathing calm you. Bid your muscles to relax. Scan your body for any muscles that didn’t get the message. Where you feel tension, invite relaxation. Be calm. Be open. Take time to create images that use all your senses. In your mind, see, feel, hear, taste and smell. In your body feel emotion, feel the wonder of being what you are not aware of being.

Turn your mind to thoughts of the unity of life.

See the world filled with living beings. Think of the oceans, the forests, the deserts and plains.

Think of the white fox trailing the white bear in the frozen North.

Think of the mite sipping moisture from the desert mouse asleep in its burrow.

Imagine the rain forest ant carrying a crumb dropped by a monkey high in the trees.

Feel the push of life as the sprout breaks from the seed.

Breathe through your skin as the patient redwood tree rooted in the soil  and rustling in the wind.

Soar with the seabird skimming the waves. Look for that flash in the water that signals a meal to be had.

Swim with the fish as it veers away from the shadow of the bird up above.

Pause with the lioness who watches for prey. Be with her in still alertness.

Run with the zebra who hears an alarm.

Crawl with the spider across the wall in your room. Give thanks with the spider that you have not crushed her.

Rest with the eaglet still in its shell.

Rise with the colt taking its first steps.

Gather firewood with the mother of a hungry child in the dry lands of Africa.

Wait with the prisoner on death row in Texas.

Bend with the farmer pushing rice stalks into the mud.

Breathe with the elder waiting to die.

Pause with the baby about to be born.

Sit with these images and create your own. Feel life in its many forms. Practice perceiving the world through the senses of other beings. If like an insect you could see infrared, how beautiful would a flower be? If you could smell with a dog’s nose, how much more joy could you have on a summer day? If like a whale, your whole body sensed the voices of your pals over many miles of ocean, how much more connected would you feel?

As you perceive the world in new ways, let your heart open to all beings. Choose to be in the world as an expression of love. Allow compassion to inform your choices. Make friends with all the world.

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© 1999-2002 Tom Barrett