Buddhist psychology has long taught that nothing exists independently. Everything affects everything else. We exist in a complex web of life that is interconnected and continually changing. We now have a lowly virus awakening us to deep truths about our interdependence. Now, with the coronavirus, we can’t pretend we exist as an independent ego that is separate from the world around us. We intimately affect each other. We don’t live as a separate self, disconnected and impervious to what is happening around us. If we imagine or insist that we’re an independent entity, we imperil all of us.
Embracing Our Interconnectedness
Popular research by Dr. John Gottman reminds us that healthy relationships require that we become aware of how we affect each other. If we’re not able to hear each other’s feelings and needs, our relationships suffer; we thrive as we embrace our interdependence.
Similarly, our society can only thrive when we live with an awareness of our fragile interdependence. The decision of students on spring break to party on a beach in Florida exposed them to infection, which, in turn, has put others at risk. Hoarding toilet paper and other necessities creates a chain reaction of panic throughout society. It might cause others to hoard products that you need later.
On a larger ecological level, habitat encroachment that destroys ecosystems for creatures such as bats propels them to search for food where humans reside, which may be the source for the spread of novel viruses such as Ebola (which caused over 11,000 deaths in West Africa) and coronavirus, for which we have no immunity. The mindless ravaging of nature and aggressive pursuit of our individual desires — the failure to recognize our interconnectedness and interdependence — can return to haunt us in unexpected, devastating ways.
We have an opportunity to comprehend more deeply that we’re part of a larger web of life.
If someone doesn’t have health insurance and cannot consult with a physician about their medical condition — or doesn’t have paid sick-leave and can’t afford to take time off work — they might infect their colleagues at the office or warehouse. One person’s poverty affects the whole. It’s difficult to blame people for going to work sick when they’re living paycheck to paycheck.
The virus vividly demonstrates the implications of the Buddhist notion of dependent origination — nothing exists independently. A collective decision to offer health care and a secure safety net for citizens provides protection for all of us. The Buddhist psychological understanding of the interconnected nature of life suggests that taking care of ourselves is intimately linked to taking care of each other and our fragile planet.
As it becomes less viable to soothe and entertain ourselves through our usual social activities, it’s a good time to nurture ourselves inwardly. Videos that teach us meditation, yoga, and other paths to self-care abound and are readily available. We might find it enriching to read a book we’ve put aside, do some journaling, call an old friend, or connect more frequently with cherished friends via telephone or video chat.
It’s a good time to reconsider what’s really important in our lives. What nurtures us? Who do we love? Remembering that we’re all in this together, we can emerge with a renewed sense of community — becoming increasingly awake to our inter-connectedness and interdependence.