It’s one thing to say We’re all in the together or We’re all interconnected or We are not separate from one another, and a whole other thing to truly understand, actively engage in, and PRACTICE enfolding the truth of our interbeing nature into our daily lives.
If we don’t learn, investigate, and actively use the tools given to us in the fluid art of cultivating mindfulness, we run the very high risk of getting caught in theory, intellect, and notions. It’s super easy to read about mindfulness. It’s super easy to call ourselves a practitioner or a Buddhist or whatever label that tickles our fancy (spiritual, seeker…). It’s even easy to say we understand what the heck mindfulness is, when in actuality we have no freakin idea and are doing little to nothing in the taking action department.
There are a lot of things that sound good in the context of our practice tradition (by which I’m referring to the Plum Village tradition based in the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh). Here are a few examples: mindfulness, interbeing, letting go, compassion, true love, ease, joy, liberation, transformation. These sound great right?! What lovey concepts! Ah. But they are NOT concepts in the realm of our tradition. As practitioners we must work to dislodge these and other teachings from being mere concepts/ideas that sound nice and turn them into workable, actionable turnings of body, speech, and mind.
What does it mean to look with the eyes of interbeing, as our practice encourages us to do? A big part has to do with our becoming observers of our physical, mental, and emotional landscape – and then eventually moving from observer to a dutiful and faithful guard of the Four Kinds of Nutriments that fuel and propel us: edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. In order to look through the lens of interbeing we must be able to look clearly and accurately inwards, at our own selves. We cannot do the work of connecting deeply with others and dissipating our divisions of separation if we’ve not learned how to properly get in touch and grow familiar with our own person.
The Buddha said that everything needs food in order to survive. Nothing can survive without nourishment/food. In order to develop our ability to engage with the world from a place of interbeing, we must be firmly in touch with what input we’re allowing to enter through our body and mind and the heart of our experience. As two of the nutriments in particular can often pose some confusion (volition & consciousness), I would like to offer my own spin:
A revamped list of the Four Kinds of Nutriments:
The input we take in through our eyes & ears (I’ve chosen to simply highlight the two main ones, which I think serves as a more tangible place to start)
The choices we make and our motivation that fuels them
The thoughts we think
When the Buddha said everything needs food in order to survive, he wasn’t speaking in hyperbole. When he said everything he meant EVERYTHING. Our states of being all need food in order to survive. If we’re in a continual state of dis-ease, worry, stress, anxiety, anger, loneliness, sorrow or confusion, we must look deeply into the ways that we’re feeding those states of ill-being. Similarly, if we have the desire to cultivate contentment (and/or happiness; personally I resonate moreso with developing a sense of contentment, as I find happiness to be a rather loaded/relative word that lacks proper meaning), balance, ease, joy, connection, and/or liberation, we must look deeply into the ways that we can nourish and support those states of well-being.
It’s important to ask and answer the following question: Why is the teaching of interbeing important and why should I invest time and energy into finding ways to enfold it on an experiential level in my daily life?
We will each have our own way of relating to these questions, and therefor have different ways of answering them. Here’s my response:
Thay has coined the word interbeing for a reason. He’s named our lay clerical tradition as the Order of Interbeing (OI) for a reason. Those of us who have chosen to commit our lives to sangha building in the Plum Village tradition by formally receiving the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings in an ordination ceremony, are called OI members for a reason. Interbeing is a deep reality and serves as the foundation of our mindfulness tradition. Much of our suffering – and maybe even all of it – can be linked to the illusion of thinking we are a separate and disconnected being. Interbeing is an incredibly deep well to explore, investigate, and unfold. Interbeing is not just a concept or theory to think about intellectually (though it’s very easy to do so). In order to experience this powerful teaching, we must learn and invent ways to actively practice to enfold it into our daily lives, so that it becomes a way of seeing clearly the world and moving through it with a greater sense of skill and ease.
Here’s my working list of concrete actions we can take in order to practice developing the insight of interbeing:
- Diligently observe our thoughts, speech, and actions; and then diligently guard what we’re consuming by way of the Four Nutriments
- Join and participate in a sangha
- Engage in mindful eating (mono-tasking; deep looking into the causes and conditions of our food)
- Invest time & energy in good friendships
- Volunteering/service work
- Slowly and routinely edge outside of our comfort zone
- Develop a daily gratitude practice
- Open up and share more with your people and hide less
The way I see it, there are a few different layers of interbeing. There is the reality of how we are all intertwined together as a human species – we share everything from resources to the air we breathe; we are connected through media and technology; and we are impacted and influenced by individual and collective physical, cultural, and energetic exchanges. There is also the reality that who we are as an individual person is comprised of every experience and encounter we’ve ever had, every choice we’ve made, and every person we’ve come into contact with – there is no separate self that exists apart from the people, places, things, and occurrences that have surrounded us and continue to surround us. We are also who we are based on who our ancestors were and the lives they led, who our grandparents were/are and the lives they led, and who our parents were/are and the lives they led. And there is the reality that we as individuals are also an ever-changing arrangement of self based on the four nutriments.
And still another unfolding of interbeing involves the interplay of our body, mind, and heart. We often think that our body and mind are separate, that our mind and heart are separate, that our heart and body are separate, when in fact they are all interdependent. What plagues the body, plagues the mind; what plagues the mind, plagues the heart; what plagues the heart, plagues the body – it is an inter-looping system.
As Thay teaches:
We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness
Enjoy your practice and practice well and often, dear friends. True to form, we do not and cannot exist by ourselves alone. When we practice for ourselves, we practice for the world.