“Oneness is like a butterfly: it has two wings but one body.”— Pamir Kiciman, spiritual teacher and Reiki master
“Can you name the world’s largest living organism?”
When I first heard the question, I wondered if the organism might be the blue whale or perhaps on a grander scale, the earth itself.
I was with a group of friends and we were discussing little-known facts — a kind of impromptu trivia game. I was surprised to discover the world’s largest living organism was Pando, The Trembling Giant. Pando (Latin for “I spread”) is an aspen grove at Fishlake National Park at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in South-Central Utah. DNA testing has determined that Pando is indeed one single, living organism.
Pando has an estimated 47,000 stems but only one massive underground root system.
It weighs an estimated six million kg and encompasses 43 hectares (106 acres). Incredible!
Pando’s age has been estimated at approximately 80,000 years. And though forest fires have often ravaged this Trembling Giant, researchers believe Pando survived underground with its root system sending up new stems in the aftermath of each conflagration.
I’m certainly not the first to recognize Pando’s value as a metaphor for our shared humanity: what looks to be many is really only one. I think most of us habitually look for differences rather than similarities when we encounter new people or cultures. This is understandable as we have been taught to seek individuality in the form of appearance and have invested heavily into the ego which seeks and promotes separation.
It would seem that who we are, or more accurately who we have come to believe we are, is most often defined by our differences.
I have come to believe that the better our self-esteem, the more willing we are to look for our shared humanity, our similarities rather than our differences and separateness.
There are two places from which we can express ourselves: love or fear. Fear will prompt us to express judgments and unfavourable comparisons and view our fellow human beings as threatening.
Love, on the other hand, looks for similarities and seeks to build bridges of understanding.
I read once that we are all in this together, yet believe ourselves to be alone. Our belief in separation disconnects us, which might explain why so many people suffer from depression and anxiety born out of loneliness and isolation. Acknowledging that we are all one — and seeking out the human qualities that bring us together — can provide us with the impetus to give, grow and gain as much as we possibly can from our interactions and shared human experience.
The notion of separateness extends far beyond the individual. Some might say that a sense of separateness lies at the root of most conflict, struggle and oppression.
If we’re coming from a place of fear, seeing others as different can be frightening and our fear can prompt us to build walls or strike out. Ego tells us that different is dangerous and in order to protect ourselves we must strive for power or control over others — we must collect wealth and possessions to keep us safe. The stronger and higher the walls become, the more separated and fearful we become and the less empathy we have for others. It is a vicious cycle.
The ego promotes the idea of a separate self, making it difficult to build rapport or to consider the world from the viewpoint of another human being.
Focusing on perceived differences can leave us emotionally numb and can separate our hearts from cruel and violent acts (and subsequent suffering) perpetrated around the world. It may even leave us feeling justified for our fearful thoughts and fear-driven actions.
Down through history, a focus on perceived differences has driven otherwise rational people to exclude, control, manipulate and even attempt to obliterate entire races.
Some have even suggested that our sense of separateness is the root cause of our abuse of the environment.
We experience a sense of separation from nature and therefore can’t sense its aliveness — its connection to us and thus have no qualms about exploiting and abusing it.
If we think about it, we build healthy and successful relationships by seeking out similarities, shared interests and perspectives.
Later we learn to embrace and accept our differences. It would seem that an alteration in our thinking is required — a shift in our perception.
By building our self-esteem, we can move from a place of fear to a place of love and in doing so, cultivate the practice of looking for points of attraction and connection rather than repulsion.
“If we have no peace,” said Mother Teresa, “it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” This simple, yet profound statement, acts as a compass that guides us towards kindness, compassion and acceptance. Sure, feelings of anger, fear, inadequacy, jealousy and envy get in our way but, with effort, knowing that we are one can gently nudge us in the direction of being open, non-judgmental and even curiosity.
Quantum physics suggests that our similarity — our oneness — goes much deeper than we might even imagine.
The idea that we are all one energetically (comprised of the same “stuff”) has prompted more than one heated discussion on scientific, spiritual and esoteric levels.
Are we different? Certainly we are — in many ways — but the benefit of recognizing our oneness – our connectedness — is that it immediately provides us with common ground, a place to start. It was the renowned American author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir who once wrote, “In our sameness we connect and in our differences, we grow.”
And perhaps Pando teaches us an even greater lesson: that by building our self-esteem, expanding our awareness and forging strong and lasting relationships with others, we can grow and nurture a strong and vibrant root system that will sustain us through all of life’s wildfires.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca