From 1993-1996, I lived one block from Lake Superior’s Chequamegnon Bay. I was a student at Northland College, a very small liberal arts/environmental studies school. I was an English major, but I took courses in other wonderful things like Native American studies and Buddhism. One of the things I loved about this school was the interdisciplinary approach it took to the curriculum. A favorite environmental studies course had 3 professors: one each from sociology, philosophy, and biology. The course considered environmental issues through the lenses of people/society; philosophy/spirituality; and science and looked at the ways these things overlapped and affected one another.
It was in that course that I learned about the Gaia hypothesis, which was developed by chemist James Lovelock in the 1970s. Named after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, the Gaia hypothesis posits that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge single entity—as one. It was in this course that I really came to understand fully the intricate and delicately balanced web of life—the deeply interdependent and interconnected nature of life on earth. Buddhist teacher Thich That Hanh calls this interconnectedness “inter-being.” He says all beings (human and non-human) “inter-are.” What we do to one, we do to all. And while our individual actions and choices have a widespread ripple effect, our collective impact as humans has an even more profound effect upon all life on Earth. As the delicate balance of nature shows us, unity is at the heart of life on Mother Earth.
Unity is also at the heart of yoga. Baba Neem Karoli (known affectionately as Maharaji to his devotees) was the guru of Ram Dass and Krishna Das. Krishna Das recalls, “Many times we'd be sitting with Maharajji, and he'd look at us and hold up one finger, as if he were calling us out on something. We knew that he knew everything - past, present, and future - so we couldn't imagine what we were getting busted for. Was it something we did, were doing, or were going to do? So one day someone just up and asked, ‘Maharajji, what does it mean when you do that ?’ By way of explanation, he looked at us intensely and held up his 'pointer' finger in front of us. Then he held up all five fingers, one by one, shook them around and held up that one finger again. He said, ‘Many names, many forms...Sub Ek, All One.’”
It’s All One. Maharaji’s teaching summarizes the highest aim yoga—realization of the Oneness of Being. All beings—human beings, fish beings, bird beings, cow beings, cat and dog beings, snake beings, shark beings, insect beings—all that is in manifestation—it’s all One. Many names, many forms, but ultimately it’s all One. Maharaji would name that One “Love.” James Lovelock might have called it “Gaia.” What is your name for the One?
Until we become enlightened beings who see only Oneness, we tend to see only separation. We have to work at seeing oneness. We might catch glimpses of it, but then life with its busyness and distractions sweeps us back up. So during this month of Mother’s Day (and all throughout the year), let’s remember look for and to cultivate unity. Let’s remember and honor our connection to Mother Earth and to the countless beings with whom we share her. The May Jivamukti Yoga Focus-of-the-Month is called “Mothering the Mother.” In it Martyna Eder asks, “Can we give something back to honor our universal mother and restore balance to the relationship? Can we see the sacredness of motherhood in other species and in the planet itself? Can we protect this relationship instead of destroying it?” In remembering our unity, in remembering that what we do effects the whole, let’s start making choices that support, nurture, and care for our Mother Earth.