- A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest ― a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. [Albert Einstein; see also this widely circulated revision by an unknown author.]
- You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. [Max Ehrmann, Desiderata (1927).]
- Jane Crofut, the Crofut farm, Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, United States of America, continent of North America, the Western Hemisphere, the world, the solar system, the universe, the mind of God. [Thornton Wilder, “Our Town,” Act I.]
It is mostly true. Each of us is a child of the universe, products of natural forces, or of God if you choose to see it that way. We are real. Our lives are real, and each life is a product of that reality.
You have no right to be here but there is no reason why you should not be. In this, you are no less than the trees and the stars. There is no reason for you, or any of us, to be ashamed of our lives, or to think ourselves unworthy of Being.
The universe is unfolding as it will. The Sun that heats and lights our Earth has been burning for a long time, and probably will continue to burn long after we are gone. But if it erupts tomorrow and life on this planet is extinguished, there is nothing any of us can do about it.
We are human beings, living on Earth in the twenty-first century on the Gregorian calendar. We are extraordinarily lucky to be alive at all, let alone to live a life that allows us access to vast amounts of information over the internet. None of that would be possible without the Earth and everything in it, within our solar system, within our Milky Way galaxy, within the universe, within space-time. You can say it sounds corny or New-Agey but it’s all true.
To live like this is to recognize our connection within all the things that made us possible, with gratefulness to nothing in particular, yet to everything. It is a way of looking at things, not a statement about how things are. This is the essence of spirituality. We are all in this together.
Technical and Analytical Readings
Thich Nhat Hanh, Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism (Parallax Press, 1987).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Seymour: An Introduction: a film on the life and work of pianist Seymour Bernstein, for whom music was the gateway to everything
- Alan Lightman, Searching for Stars On an Island in Maine (Pantheon Books, 2018): “Does a scientific understanding of the world erase its emotional impact or spiritual power? Of course not. Science and spirituality are complementary, not conflicting.”
- Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk (Grove Press, 2015): “ . . . Helen Macdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptor’s fierce essence — and her own — with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we don’t notice their astonishing engineering.”
- Harry Dodge, My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing (Penguin, 2020): “He fits every facet of his life into a larger pattern, each incident becoming an occasion for thinking about interconnectedness.”
Kahlo's "Love Embrace . . ." captures spiritual connectedness brilliantly in its incorporation of "everything" into the painting. If the only the people in the painting looked as though they were "in the spirit," the painting would be perfect for this subject.
- Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics (1866)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Heart of the Andes (1859)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Scene on the Magdalena (1854)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Tamaca Palms (1854)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Mount Ktaadn (1853)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Ira Mountain, Vermont (1850)
- Frederic Edwin Church, New England Landscape (1849)
Film and Stage
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Johann Sebastian Bach composed two series of preludes and fugues (The Well-Tempered Clavier (complete, performances by Levin, Nikolayeva and Richter), Books I [performances by Gilbert, Walcha and Feinberg] and II [performances by Walcha, Gilbert and Tureck], bwv 846-893), each set consisting of a prelude and fugue in each key of the twelve-tone scale, major and minor. This musical is among the purest examples of musicality in the history of composition. In it, Bach seems to have touched on every aspect of the human condition. Though the works are performed on a solo keyboard instrument, they can easily be heard to convey a sense of connectedness. Here are some books about this music:
- David Ledbetter, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues (Yale University Press, 2002).
- Marjorie Wornell Engels, (McFarland & Company, 2006).
- Siglind Bruhn, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: An In-Depth Analysis and Interpretation, Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Mainer International, Ltd., 1993).
I am biased toward Joanne Shenandoah's Orenda album, having first heard it on the most memorable and magical vacation of my life. Katie and Matthew were ten and nine years old that summer, when we spent two weeks together in Yellowstone National Park. By chance, we picked up this album at one of the in-park stores, and although we had other excellent selections from the same store, this one served as our backdrop of choice throughout the trip. If you close your eyes and imagine being in the heart of nature with the people you love most, perhaps you will understand what I mean.
Novels and stories:
- Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin: A Novel (Random House, 2009): a novel that elevates Philippe Petit’s grandiose stunt in 1974, when he walked on a tightrope between the then-twin towers of the world trade center, to a metaphor that connects the larger stories of several people associated with the incident directly or tangentially.
- Colum McCann, TransAtlantic: A Novel (Random House, 2013): the author uses air travel across the Atlantic Ocean just after World War I as a metaphor to bind several lives together.
- Richard Powers, The Overstory: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018): “The Heroes of This Novel Are Centuries Old and 300 Feet Tall”
- Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Bangkok Wakes To Rain: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2019): “. . . multiple generations all connected, it turns out, to a single house built by the great-great-grandfather of Sammy, a photographer with a penchant for leaving when things get uncomfortable. In rough chronological order, the Bangkok home is linked to an American missionary doctor, a divorced socialite, a construction worker hopped up on brightly colored pills, a student who survived an earlier political massacre, a troubled plastic surgeon and the young owner of one of the faces he carves.”
- Katy Simpson Smith, The Everlasting: A Novel (Harper, 2020): “How much do we owe to those we love? To ourselves? What does it mean to lead a good life?”
- Jim Lewis, Ghosts of New York: A Novel (West Virginia University Press, 2021): “We are all connected in our disconnection, our solitude, our heartache, our longing.”
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
[John Donne, “No Man Is an Island”]
- Robert Frost, “The Tuft of Flowers” (analysis)
- Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, “A Walk By Moonlight”
- Nikki Giovanni, “Winter Poem”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Trip the Light (video: Where the hell is Matt?) When we truly see each other as members of one human family, we will see with new eyes.