Interbeing and Interdependence

Image Description: Sunlight shines on stalks of wheat. The sun is low in the sky.

In his lovely book, Being Peace, Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn says this,

“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. ‘Interbeing’ is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter–‘ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be.

“If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.”

“Independence is a myth,” I said yesterday over the phone. I shared this to encourage someone who felt pressure to stand alone and keep their needs quiet and totally out of view.

Afraid that we will be — cultural shudder — a burden, we have been taught to believe that we are all solitary units and that there is high value in needing as little as possible. Some have been socialized to take up as little space as possible. Some have been socialized to wear a mask of invulnerability and show strength only, carrying an internalized message that it is acceptable to provide for others but completely unacceptable to receive care from others.

“Independence is a myth,” I said. “If we think about it, we all depend upon each other. Every single one of us has needs that are unique to who we are and how we move in the world. And every single one of us has gifts and strengths unique to who we are that allow us to care and provide for others.”

Then looking at my meal on my desk and remembering Thich Nhat Hanh, I added, “I have a bowl of pasta in front of me. If I slow down and think just about this one meal which is sustaining me today, how many people have been involved in bringing this bowl of pasta to me? People grew the wheat. People grew the zucchini, bell peppers, and onions, and likely in different places. How much sunshine, water, and soil participated in growing all of these? How many farmers participated in bringing this to me, and in how many locations? How many workers harvested these foods? Who canned the tomato sauce? Who drove the elements of this food to distribution centers? Who displayed these vegetables in the grocery store?  How did my own coworkers provide funding for me to purchase these items?”

Even a bowl of pasta reveals that independence is a myth.

Interdependence is a reality. It is also our greatest possibility to grow and distribute care so no one is standing solitary, isolated, and without what they deserve to need.

Renee Roederer

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