For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
“Circle ‘round for freedom, circle ‘round for peace,
for all of us imprisoned, circle for release,
circle for the planet, circle for each soul,
for the children of our children, keep the circle whole.”
— Linda Hirschhorn
Kinship is an easy idea to grasp intellectually. After all, it’s simple to say that we’re all one human family, and as Unitarian Universalists we readily declare that we’re part of the interdependent web of all existence. It’s easy to quote Dr. King and speak of “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
However, an intellectual grasp of an idea is not the same as truly living it. Knowing something on an intellectual level is not the same as living it with our emotions, our bodies and our everyday decisions, as studies on implicit bias have demonstrated.
An important part of living a sense of kinship is empathy, and empathy — like any other faculty — needs to be developed through exercise. Like learning to ride a bicycle, it’s something that must be practiced until it becomes second nature. To switch similes, nobody reads books about music and then starts playing the piano proficiently. People can be self-taught, but it takes time and effort to learn how to apply knowledge well and to grow in skill.
While compassion literally means suffering with another person, in other words having a deep awareness of someone else’s pain, empathy is more broadly the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing. And nothing is more basic to personal experience than our awareness of existing, a recognition that the interdependent web of all existence is no mere intellectual proposition but something for which we can develop a deep sensibility.
A few years ago, then, I created a guided meditation to help us see ourselves in a wider context, to recognize our place within humanity and the larger world of life. I offer it here as one possible tool for developing and deepening your own sense of kinship.
First, find a comfortable position. If you are seated, it may help to have your back upright, your eyes level, your feet flat on the floor, your hands loosely over one another in your lap. If you will be reading this, put it in a place where you can do so without having to move. (Once you have practiced it enough, you’ll know what to do and can close your eyes. Alternatively, you can have someone read it to you.) Once you are comfortable, allow your breathing to become steady and regular.
Now visualize yourself as you are, in your current setting. Maybe you are indoors, maybe outdoors. Without straining or changing your position, notice what else is around you. Whatever you cannot see directly, allow your imagination to fill in for you. Bring an image of yourself and of the space immediately around you into your mind’s eye, and take the time to study it.
As you imagine the space around you, notice what is defining its boundaries. If you are in a room, visualize its walls, its floor and its ceiling. If you are outdoors, visualize the ground and whatever fences or hedges or trees that mark the edges. Now imagine the walls or other edges becoming transparent. They are still there, but allow your mind’s eye to see through them, to see past them, out to other parts of the building, to other places outdoors. Are there people nearby? What else is in the immediate area? Visualize a slightly larger space than where you are right now, and take a little while to consider it.
Now imagine the outer walls of the building, the outer boundaries of the larger outdoor space, becoming transparent, too, and expand your vision still further. Allow your mind’s eye to see beyond the vicinity, to see other buildings, to see the open spaces between them, to see further afield. Visualize the people who might be in those buildings or outside. If your mind’s eye can’t see specific faces, don’t worry: you can imagine the glow of their humanity, whether they are still or moving around. Take some time to appreciate their glow.
Now allow your imagination to take you to larger and larger perspectives, pausing between each move outward to appreciate the view. Take in your neighborhood, with people going about their lives, in their homes or at work, whether shopping or going from one place to another. Expand outward to see a bigger part of your town, people too numerous to see but marked as glowing, highlights amidst the verdant glimmer of the living landscape. Further out now, and you can see more of the local region, the glows of people, of animals, of plants, filling both land and water, interconnected in so many ways. Keep moving outward, and now your mind’s eye takes in ever wider vistas, more of this continent and the ocean, until finally you hold in place, visualizing the whole world. It is now life that is glowing, for the sources of the glow cannot be distinguished from one another. It is the life of our world that glows, swirling and shifting, always moving, always changing. Hold this place, your mind’s eye filled with the glow of life itself.
As you continue to visualize our world and the life that fills it, remember that you are still in your original position, perhaps sitting or lying down, whether indoors or outside. You are a part of the world that you are imagining, just as human life is but a part of the great system of all life that is making the world glow in your mind’s eye. The room or other space that holds you also holds a part of that glow, sheltering it for now and perhaps strengthening it as needed. At the same time, your part of that glow is a reflection of the whole world’s, another source of shelter and strength.
When you are ready, bring your imagination back, from the world, to the continent, to the region, to the town, to the place where your body has been resting. Take in once again the immediate space around you, knowing that you are both here and also intimately connected to the wider human family and the larger world of life itself.