Updated: Jan 24
“As someone looks up at the night sky, they hold the stars in their eyes. Whatever is shared between shining pupils and stellar flames is a reflective dialogue, exemplifying the interrelatedness of the cosmos.”
~ author Rachel Capurso, Submission for The American Academy of Religion, March 2014
In the quote above Capurso describes an interconnection that emerges from the Mahayana Buddhists, who upheld the myth of Indra’s Jeweled Net. At its heart the story tells of a jeweled net covering the universe – each intersection of the net holds a jewel. Each jewel in turn reflects all the other jewels, as well as their reflections, infinitely showcasing the underlying interconnection between all things. This image is a powerful way to envision that even as we exist as individuals, we are dependent on the whole of humanity, nature, and the universe. There is only connection and no separation.
Here in the West, we worship the scientific method and its vernacular of distinctions that parse the world into tiny, understandable chunks. While this mindset has advanced humanity in amazing ways, it has also narrowed our perspective. It separates humanity from the rest of the cosmos, whether intentionally or not. Such thinking bestows an ego-centric superiority, rather than an interdependent love for all life and the planet that supports it.
Yet shouldn’t we humble ourselves a bit before the knowledge embedded in the other facets of life this planet supports? Trees have been on Earth for 370 million years while humans have only been here for about 300,000 years. Perhaps we should respect the lessons they’ve accumulated and try to learn from them? As Capurso says “thinking ecologically requires egocentrism to disappear and for ideas about relational distance to dissolve.”
It is unfortunate that it is taking a planet-wide environmental crisis to wake us from our self-focused stupor. “When there is this, that is. With the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, neither is that. With the cessation of this, that ceases.” muses Buddha. Indeed! If we take the interconnections of Indra’s Net to heart, we should be able to feel and understand the pain we are causing to the only life-bearing planet in the known universe. I, for one, am glad to see the gap between what we intuit to be beneficial and what the metrics tell us is beneficial beginning to narrow.
I see this very clearly in my experiences within nature and forests in particular. Humanity has always had an intuitive sense that being outside, surrounded by nature is good for us to some degree. There are myriad examples of healing modalities and experiences based on and in nature across the history of humanity. However, many of these experiences were never ‘scientifically proven’ to be of benefit, so the Western mind rejected them for lack of “proof”.
But now we are beginning to wake up to the deep power that supports and underlies Indra’s Net. We are only scratching the surface of the interdependencies that exist – because we are only now starting to open our eyes and our minds to what has existed for millennia and see it for the first time. We are beginning to believe the mystical and the rational together, and to know that is acceptable.
Werner Heisenberg wrote, “What we observe, is not nature, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” (Physics & Philosophy, 1958, Ch. 2) One of my favorite design processes is exploring stories from history and other curiosities that I find interesting that on the surface seem disparate; then slowly discovering how they relate to each other and synthesizing them into a new understanding.
I now take that approach out into the woods as a forest bathing guide. I am constantly inviting people to discover the interconnections of our world. Invitations are like Heisenberg’s questions – they instigate observations of nature that most have not seen or experienced. Our blanket lack of awareness of these connections, as a species, is embarrassing. As I say to those on my walks: “If you got 99% on a test, that’s good. But what if you are missing 99% of what’s happening around you at any given time?”
Social media, smart phones, the internet, 24-hour news cycles, and other symptoms of modern life have been training our attention spans to atrophy. One of the things I’m consistently aware of is that the people who experience a forest bathing walk are astounded at what they notice: how many things are moving when it feels absolutely still, the unique collages of sounds they couldn’t hear otherwise, or the discovery of interesting textures all around them. These elements become hyper-present when people intentionally slow down and seek a deeper connection with their surroundings.
What’s really exciting is that I see the limitless potential that the interdependence of Indra’s Net offers humanity. I see it every time one of my guests notices how tree branches look like blood vessels, or when moon shadows induce a playfulness that’s palpable. As Capurso indicates, “it is comforting to know that scientists, philosophers, mystics, and artists are all equally tasked in the endeavor to understand interdependence.”
I love sharing the philosophical, the mystical, the artistic, and scientific revelations of the forest with humanity. I am confident that with each walk those participating are moving closer to achieving that powerful interconnection with the rest of the universe. Interdependence requires trust. It can be scary to trust, humans or the Earth, but it could be even worse if we don’t. May we be opened to latent power of Indra’s Jeweled Net by trusting our connection to nature, to one another, and the cosmos beyond.