-along a wilderness trail-
Most of the letters I receive nowadays come in the form of email, so I was rather surprised to find a real paper letter in my actual mailbox yesterday. What surprised me even more was the return address on the envelope. I did a double-take when I saw the name of someone I hadn't seen or heard from in over 40 years. We were friends in seminary many years ago back in Buffalo, New York. I moved away and totally lost contact with him. And that was the end of it (or so I thought).
Last year I published a book which is essentially a journal of my own spiritual journey over the years. My "old friend" was writing to inform me that he had used my book as a Lenten study guide this year in his parish in Buffalo. He wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed the book and that he thought of me often when he read it. He also wanted me to know that the people in his parish also enjoyed the stories in the book and that they were passing the book on to their friends.
As I read that letter yesterday, I was overwhelmed by a sense of how intricately interconnected we human beings are. Here I am in the middle of the Southern California desert, intimately linked with someone I hadn't heard from for over 40 years who has been talking about some of my personal stories with people I have never met who live 3000 miles away back in Buffalo, New York.
They say that any one of us is only "six degrees of separation" away from everyone in the entire world - in six or less "friend of a friend" connections, any two people in the entire world are linked to each other. When I read yesterday's letter, I had a "six degrees of separation" moment.
As I see it, people often confuse consciousness with awareness, and they are not the same. I am "aware" of something or someone when I "think" about them -bringing them to mind. But consciousness goes beyond awareness. Consciousness is not something that happens inside an individual's brain. We all share a common universal human consciousness- all of us, everywhere, are connected and linked to one another whether we are aware of it or not.
Our common consciousness is at the core of our human identity.
Buddhists teach that people fool themselves into thinking that a separated, individual, isolated ego exists. The idea of an isolated "ego" is a construct - a way of thinking about our "self" that isn't real. When we place walls around our "selves" and hide out behind borders, we are like "ostriches hiding their heads in the sand" - pretending that we aren't all woven into the one common tapestry of life.
In our own culture in which individuality is so highly prized, where people are so alienated and estranged from one another, a lot of people fool themselves into thinking they are something they are not.
A few months ago as I sat in the garden of my everyday life out here in the desert, I had no "idea" that at that very moment a group of "strangers" 3000 miles away were sharing the stories of my own spiritual journey. Although I was unaware of it, we were all intimately connected to one another in a common consciousness. I was them and they were me. There are no strangers.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes:
We are many parts of one body,
and we all belong to each other.
Amen to that!