Unity

Nearly everyone would agree that all things are in some sense connected. Because our actions have consequences that affect other living things, at a minimum we are connected in that way.

But it’s possible to imagine the interconnectedness of things in a deeper and more profound way. Maybe it’s not just that we are connected in the sense of being moving particles that sometimes collide with one another. Maybe our connectedness is more purposeful.

In her recent post about moving onto their new homestead, Katie referred to the earth as a living organism. I’ve had that sense about our farm–that it isn’t two people, some trees, plants and animals that sometimes bump into each other, but rather a unified living organism. But if that’s true and real, then it obviously doesn’t stop at the border of our farm. If we’re part of unified organism, then it must be the entire biotic community. Actually , the organism must be planetary. No, universal.

Pondering this unity of all things can have a significant impact on our worldviews. I know it has on mine.

It seems to me that there are 3 ways to think of this unifying connectedness.

The first way is spiritual. Some spiritual traditions pursue this belief explicitly–the notion that there is ultimately only one unified being and that all perceptions of separation are illusions. Common to mystics of nearly all traditions is the “unitive experience”–the perception, achieved through meditative or contemplative discipline, of a oneness with all things, or as some would put it, the experience of a unity with God.

one with everything.jpg

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

The second way is physical. Physicalists and secularists who dismiss the ultimate validity of anything transcendental or mystical nevertheless agree that all material things are connected. In fact, the interconnectedness of all things may be even more obvious at a purely material level than at a mystical level.

There is nothing in the universe today that wasn’t there 14 billion years ago when it came into existence. While human self-consciousness renders us distinct (maybe) from every other thing on this planet, at the most fundamental level we are still ultimately just like everything else in the universe–a rearrangement of the stuff spit out at the Big Bang. That’s pretty amazing.

Scientists can also easily demonstrate our kinship with the rest of the biotic community on earth. Geneticists have been able to prove that not only do we humans all have common ancestors, but we share common ancestors with every other living thing too. That’s pretty amazing too.

So science, like mysticism, reveals the unity of all things.

Lately I’ve been fascinated with a third way to think about this universal unity, a way that combines the mystic and scientific understandings of ultimate unity.

Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh describes what he calls “evolutionary spirituality.” He argues that there is a telos (purpose/meaning) behind cosmological, biological and cultural evolution. I’ve had a sense of the truth of this for several years now, but am only just now discovering that there is a body of philosophical work on it.

I take the fact that all things are connected materially, together with the fact that evolutionary history proceeds ever toward greater complexity and goodness, to be compelling evidence that our spiritual sense of oneness with all things (and with the Ultimate) is valid. I’m persuaded that the entire universe is on a journey toward some goal, and that self-conscious humans are to play an essential role in attaining that goal.

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe human self-consciousness is just an illusion, or some randomly selected evolutionary artifact, and humanity is nothing more than another arbitrary assembly of matter in a universe that has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Maybe, but I don’t think so.

There are probably plenty of other ways to look at it too. But however we slice it, the interconnectness of all things seems hard to deny.

This quote from naturalist John Muir is one of my favorites: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

So from here on White Flint Farm, a component part of our awesome common organism, best wishes for a great week to all my cousins reading this.

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16 comments on “Unity

  1. Annie says:

    John Muir said it best and I was thinking of his quote as I read your post. You give us a lot to think about.

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  2. I’ve thought this way for a long time, Bill. I want to believe, need to believe, that we are a part of something larger, moving forward toward some universal purpose. Excellent post. –Curt

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  3. avwalters says:

    Okay, but “Make me one with everything?” Good thing spirituality doesn’t require you to leave your sense of humor at the gate.

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    • Bill says:

      I recall seeing the Dalai Lama being interviewed on Australian television. The interviewer said something like, “If you were a pizza maker, could you make me one with everything?” The Dalai Lama didn’t understand the joke and watching him (and his translator) struggling to make sense of the question was both awkward and awkwardly funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, we are just getting deeper and deeper into the philosophical side of life. That part of my brain has never been developed more than it has this Winter. Perhaps this season of life is the time for me to be challenged in that area. I’m not one with the universe but I do feel connected with my garden. I suppose that’s a start. Life for me was never to philosophical but you have given me thought to think about some things in a different way. The Dalai Lama comment made me chuckle.

    I hope life in the high tunnel is alive and well. Have a great unity day.

    Nebraska Dave
    Urban Farmer
    dbentz24@gmail.com

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    • Bill says:

      Yep, the high tunnel is doing well. If I could do it over again though I’d make a building pad before putting it up. I measured the drop and it was within the allowances for the building, but I didn’t take into account that in heavy rains the water flowing downhill will seep under the house. The row along the uphill side has been soggy all winter as a result. I think I’ll be able to fix it, but in hindsight I wish I’d sloped the ground before building it.

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  5. And to you, Bill, my best wishes. Thank you for calling us all your cousins.

    Bryan, a Canadian originally from Wales, was once asked what race he was and replied: “African. We’re all African.” So I referred to him as my cousin, and a funny thing happened: we proceeded to treat each other as cousins, till many people in our church actually thought we were related.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is one reason I love reading your posts. They might be about goats. They might be about cosmology.

    My viewpoint has been enlarged and my sense of unifying purpose enhanced by taking an in-depth class called Powers of the Universe based on Brian Swimme’s work on evolutionary spirituality, I’ve taken the same class twice to let it sink in more fully because it’s heavily scientific and deeply affecting. Neat to know you and I are standing in line at the same hot dog vendor.

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    • Bill says:

      Why does that not surprise me? 🙂

      I’ve been noodling around with the idea of “evolutionary spirituality” for years, without knowing it had a name and was an established discipline. I’m excited to have discovered it, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper. The class sounds great!

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  7. roscoe74 says:

    I’m also reminded of the Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body of Christ. If you understand and apply this properly, it should be an corrective against individualism and selfishness in Christians. Put another way, it’s like letting the team down when one member isn’t pulling their weight.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, excellent observation. As I was typing the post I included a reference to the Christian concept of “the body of Christ” but ultimately left it out.

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