Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident. Such a truth has emerged in our lifetime. It informs us that we exist as a tiny fragment of an immensely larger interlocking whole in which all of the parts are interconnected and dependent upon each other for survival. Allow me to repeat that. A truth has emerged that informs us that we exist as a tiny fragment of an immensely larger interlocking whole in which all of the parts are interconnected and dependent upon each other for survival. Simply put, everything is connected to everything else. We exist, not separately, but in communion with all living things. Life is an interrelated, interdependent phenomenon. Everything is in relationship. That is the nature of the universe. That is the nature of life.
“Everything is in relationship. So what,” one might respond, and ask, “What is the practical value of that understanding?” It’s a good question. The practical value lies in the realization that there are several relationships that are foundational. I refer to these as the foundational relationships of our lives. These are three relationships out of which all other relationships follow and occur. The first is our relationship with our self. The second is our relationship with others, and the third is our relationship with our environment. If we chose one word to summarize each of these relationships, our relationship with our self is about health, in all of its dimensions. Our relationship with others is about kindness. Our relationship with our environment is about respect.
Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Health
Others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kindness
Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Respect
The quality of our lives reflects the quality of these foundational relationships. This is a sacred construct that exists as an integral part of reality. This is not a human construct. Why do I say this is a sacred construct? Recall that our understanding of the word sacred is that which is associated with religion. Religion is a belief system that has to do with the nature of life. The nature of life is relational. This is simply the way life works. This is not contrived or fictional. This is not arbitrary or subject to dismissal. Nor is this in any way negotiable. How we take care of ourselves, each other, and our environment determines not only the quality of our lives but whether we and humanity will live or die – whether we are at peace or war. These relationships are sacred. They are the wellsprings of life. We emerged from these relationships. We are sustained by them. We are surrounded by the very sacredness that, historically, we have sought from afar.
This understanding of sacredness must be recognized and addressed as a dynamic reality. It’s not unchanging and vested in the past like archaic dogma. We are continually refining our understanding of how to optimize these three foundational relationships-how to better care for ourselves, relate to each other, and care for our environment. It is as Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, “You cannot step into the same river twice.” Why is that? It is because the river is forever flowing and changing. Yet, it remains the same river. Similarly, our understanding of what optimizes these relationships flows out of a stream of knowledge that continually changes. These foundational relationships will always exist. Our understanding of how to optimize them evolves as our knowledge grows.
The spirit (from the Latin spiritus for breath) that animates life exists in, expresses itself through, and is sustained by these foundational relationships. These are the vessels of life. When we destroy any of these relationships (our health, our relationships with each other, or our environment), there we extinguish the spirit (the breath) of life. When we destroy these relationships there is no place left through which the phenomenon that we call life can express itself (can breathe). The vitality is gone as it is in a person without breath. To live a spiritual life (to breathe) is to honor these three basic relationships in all their manifestations.
This is the much sought after key to the concept of sustainability: the understanding that we must leave this planet as we found it or improve it so those generations that follow us will have the same opportunities we have enjoyed. This is an awesome challenge given that we add approximately 80 million people a year to our planet. That is an addition of approximately 1,538,000 people each week to feed, clothe, house, educate, employ, transport, govern, protect and keep healthy. The key to sustainability is to take the word apart and make two words of it: sustain ability, i.e., our ability to sustain these three foundational relationships: our health, our relationships with others, and the health of our environment. How do we do this?
To do this, we have to identify our responsibilities. So often we ask, “What is the purpose or the meaning of life?” These are questions that send us only in circles. The appropriate question is, “What are the responsibilities of life?” The answer again lies in taking the word apart and making two words of it: response abilities. We must develop our abilities to respond to life’s challenges and stimuli so as to optimize and sustain our foundational relationships.
This understanding of sacredness does not mandate worship but responsibility. Right living is about behavior, not worship. Salvation (saving ourselves from harm or loss) is not delivered, it is earned by ourselves. The forgiveness of our “sins” lies not in the hands of some external god; it lies in our alignment with the uncompromising demands of the reality in which we exist. At this time in our evolution, this understanding of sacredness is easily within our perception and grasp.
To be continued…