Inner Reflections
June 1, 2021

Understanding Our Shared Humanity

The human experience is a paradoxical experience. On one level, we are all separate from each other, but on a deeper dimension, we are all connected. We are all one with each other. In this podcast, we will explore the profound wisdom of living from a deep recognition of our shared humanity and how that propels us towards joy, well-being, and happiness.

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “Dare to Awaken Podcast.”]

The human experience is a paradoxical experience. On one level, we are all separate from each other, but on a deeper dimension, we are all connected. We are all one with each other.

In this podcast, we will explore the profound wisdom of living from a deep recognition of our shared humanity and how that propels us towards joy, well-being, and happiness.

Welcome to episode number 11 of the Dare to Awaken podcast, understanding our shared humanity. Being a human is often a strange and even conflicting experience. As I said in the intro, it’s a paradoxical experience. We are all born out of this timeless and formless dimension that we might call source or what some people call God. And then after we are born, we start receiving all of these labels. We’re given a name, a Social Security number, a birth certificate. And then, eventually, as we continue to get older, we acquire and accumulate even more labels: our age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, occupation, and so forth.

Now, although these labels are important in order to function in society, too often, we become limited by them. And sadly, we forget who we are on a deeper level. As Ram Das says, you need to remember your Buddha nature and your Social Security number. It’s that recognition that, again, we live in this body that is separate from other bodies, we live in this form, we live with these labels that are separate from the other forms and the other labels. But that’s really only in the surface level. And what the Yogis and the Dallas and many of the great wisdom traditions and sages have taught us is that that’s only half the story. So when we live just on that surface level and when we live confined and imprisoned within these labels, this begins to imprison us, to enslaven us. We get trapped in this cage that I like to call a small self. Instead of living in the big self, the small self is limited. Sometimes we call that the body of fear because fear keeps us trapped. And the big self is unlimited. It’s where our unlimited and limitless potential resides.

There was a story of a bear at a local zoo. And she lived in this enclosure for over 15 years when the zoo finally decided to expand her habitat. They expanded it greatly. They even included a pond, some trees. But this poor bear continued to pace the same 18 feet as it had done those previous 15 years. So despite all these resources and all this energy and really the spirit of generosity to help this bear have more room to live and to enjoy itself, it didn’t know anything other than living in that small self. And this is what it’s like very often as a human being. We don’t even know it. We don’t even know that there’s a pond over there and that there’s trees and there’s more space. We too, very often, continue to just do the same mundane things over and over, confined in that small cage, confined within our limiting beliefs and our limiting thoughts.

Abraham Maslow put it this way: if you plan on being anything less than who you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life. So it’s really as simple as that. If you want more happiness, if you want more joy, then you have to awaken to your fullest, biggest potential. And, of course, that comes from needing to have a sense of courage to explore the mystery, to explore the unknown, to move beyond what you believe to be certain within your life. And as we do that, as we challenge ourselves, as we grow ourselves, whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, we begin to move into these new paradigms, beyond the small self and into the big self. And, of course, very often, we oscillate at some point within our spiritual path, or we go back and forth. And it’s better to go back and forth between the small self and the big self than to just stay ensnared in that small self.

The idea is that as we continue to evolve down the spiritual path, we spend more and more time in the big self. When we are unhappy, when we’re separated from our true power, naturally, we feel disconnected from others. And the more we feel separated from others, the more likely that we are to cause harm to others, to dehumanize other people. It’s like we become trapped in our own bubble of selfishness instead of selflessness, which is further perpetuated by stress. And then we become more and more blind to others. This podcast is the exploration of understanding the importance of our shared humanity.

Tibetan teacher Alan Walker puts it like this: he says, “Imagine you’re walking on the sidewalk with your arms full of groceries. You just went to the grocery store, and then all of a sudden, bam, someone roughly bumps into you. You fall over. Your groceries are strewn all over the ground. You’re surrounded in a pile of broken eggs and bread and just all your groceries everywhere. And as you rise up, you’re fuming, and you’re ready to shout out, ‘You idiot. What’s wrong with you? Are you blind?’ But in that last moment, in that last second, you see the person who bumped into you is actually blind. He too has fallen. And then in an instant, your anger has evaporated, and it’s changed from anger to compassion, to kindness. And so you reply, ‘Are you okay? Can I help you? Can I help you up?'” He says that our situation is like that. When we clearly realize the source of our disharmony and misery in the world, that it’s really ignorance and delusion, then we can begin to open the door of wisdom and compassion.

Desmond Tutu said, “God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” Can you imagine if every nation and every community and every human being lived by this creed that we are all family, that the human race is only one race? There was a little girl in Japan who was watching TV one day when she saw a politician speaking on the screen, and this politician started crying. And she walked over, and she found a tissue. She went up to the TV screen, and she tried to wipe away that politician’s tears. You see, goodness and compassion are woven into the very fabric of who we are. And the more aware you become, the more that you begin to notice how good that it feels to enact a gesture of compassion or kindness or love.

There was a study that the BMC Public Health did. And they found that when you volunteer, that this can result in lower feelings of depression and increase feelings of overall well-being. And, of course, this makes sense. Right? When we take the focus off of our own selfish needs and desires, when we begin to think about other people, when we begin to connect with other people, when we begin to embrace that creed that we are all family, that we are all connected, that we are all one, naturally, we start thinking and speaking and acting in a different kind of a way. Now, we made that transition from the small self into the big self. Of course, many of the great conflicts of the world– many of the conflicts of the world– of course, many of the conflicts of the world are due to extreme ignorance. We have wars between nations, religions, races, and this is all a great dysfunction of the ego. The ego loves to divide, to conquer, to separate, and to other.

In episode number 10, I did a whole podcast on the ego. Your ego is not your amigo. If you haven’t listened to that, check that podcast out because we go solely into this exploration of what the ego is. And then to make matters worse, our senses, which are incredibly limited, they report more separateness. Our senses are telling us that we are separate from other people, that we are separate from life, that we are separate from nature. But this is an illusion. This is part of the ignorance and the delusion. This illusion of separateness in yoga is called Maya. And the whole science of yoga is about piercing through that veil of illusion of Maya. This is what it means to be traveling down the spiritual path, to not only pierce through the veil of illusion but to also transcend the senses so that we can experience the true nature of reality.

One Zen master said that enlightenment is when the wave realizes it’s the ocean. And I can’t think of a better way to describe this notion of enlightenment and awakening. The wave feels that it’s separate from all the other waves just as we humans feel that we’re separate from one another. But, of course, on a fundamental level, we’re all made of the same stuff. We’re all on a deeper level, all connected. William James put it this way: we are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. So when we can understand that we are both a wave and also part of the ocean and then begin to see and recognize our shared humanity, then we are really on to something magnificent, something great.

There was once a person that asked the wise man, they said, “Tell me, sir, which field could I make a great career?” The wise man said with a smile, “Be a good human being. There’s a huge opportunity in this area and very little competition.” [laughter] And on some level, I would disagree with that. I do believe that there are more and more people that are embodying this notion of being a good human being. You’re listening to this because you probably want to awaken to your potential, that you too want to be your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual best self. In fact, we need to start measuring success by how many people we bless. Is there any other greater accomplishment that we could do in this incarnation of life than to focus on blessing other people? Well, we can start by blessing ourselves, by allowing us to move beyond the small self to the big self. And as we begin to treat each other as family, as we begin to treat each other as next kin, then we begin to really embody this idea of bringing blessings to all that we come into contact with. Yes. The world can always use more good human beings, people thinking about “we” instead of “me,” the collective instead of the individual.

Father Thomas Burton writes, “Of what use is it to travel to the moon if we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves and from one another?” The word Yoga means to yoke, to connect, to find union. Our problems are that we’re fragmented within ourselves. Our body is saying one thing. Our mind is saying another. Our heart’s saying another. And we’re being pulled in all these different directions. And when we’re fragmented, when we can’t even connect and cross that abyss that separates these pieces of who we are, then naturally, we see that reflected within our external and our outer world. So the science of yoga is about finding harmony. It’s about finding coherence and then finding harmony, not just within ourselves but within our families, our friends, our communities, and the greater world around us. They’ve studied people that have passed away, people in the process of dying and making that transition from this life into the next life, and they compiled a short list of the common regrets of the dying. Number one, “I wish I did express my love to the people I care about.” Number two, “I wish I hadn’t worked so much.” Number three, “I wish I’d taken more pleasure in life.” And lastly, number four, “I wish I’d done more for other people.”

People on their deathbed, that last one, really in alignment with this theme of shared humanity. I wish that I had done more for other people. This is one of the common regrets of the dying. And this is why in the wisdom cultures, death is considered to be an incredible, enlightening teacher. When we think about death, when we contemplate death, it begins to awaken us to the power of this present moment and to stop putting things off, to stop putting off happiness, to stop putting off connection, and to start living fully, deeply, right here in this moment, right here, right now.

Clearly recognizing our shared humanity is being espoused not only in the wisdom cultures but also in those dying and also in scientific research. In fact, odds that your next breath will contain at least one molecule of Julius Caesar’s last dying breath are 99%. To think that we are separate from each other and to even think that we are separate from past historical figures like Julius Caesar is an illusion. We are swimming in each other’s breath. We are swimming in each other’s energy. When one person suffers, we all suffer. When one person thrives, we all thrive.

One morning, a Zen master was teaching his students, and he instructed them to do some specific spiritual practices. And so the next day, they woke up, and they were about to do their practices, and they realized that they were a little bit confused. Their master told them to do their practice at the first sign of light. So to clear things up, they went back to the master, and they said, “We’re a little confused. Can you help clarify a couple things? How do we know when we’ve seen the light? Is it when we look out over the valley and we can tell the difference between an oak tree and an olive tree? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” The wise master shook his head no. Then they said, “Well, is it when we look out over the valley and we can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” Again, the master shook his head no.

And then they said, “Well, is it when we look out over the valley and we see the horizon and that very first glimpse of that sunshine beginning to emanate out? Is this how we known that we’ve seen the light?” The master chuckled and shook his head no once again, and he went on to explain. “You’ll known that you’ve seen the light when a stranger walks up to you, you look into their eyes, and you realize that the same spirit that exists inside of them is the same exact spirit that exists inside of you. This is how you known that you’ve seen the light. And until then, you’re living in darkness.”

Thank you guys so much for tuning in to this week’s episode of the Dare to Awaken podcast. I hope that you enjoyed it. If you’d like to share this with your friends, your community, please do so. That’s it for this one. Much health, much wealth, and much love to you. Namaste.