The execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011 offers us more than a collective opportunity to mourn the passing of this man and reflect on who and what we are as a nation. It provides yet more incentive to look deeply at the root cause of not only the death penalty, but also the root cause of war, racism, the environmental crisis, the ultimate collapse of any economic system based on perpetual growth, and much more. That root cause is, as I see it, the belief that we are separate from each other, from other species, and from the earth itself. It's separateness that kills, that sets the stage for, and then allows us to turn away from, injustices of all kinds.
The belief in separateness comes with getting our ticket punched and growing up in the industrialized world. In this society we grow up steeped in a worldview given various labels: mechanistic, materialistic, Newtonian, Cartesian. Whatever the label, separateness is perhaps its most insidious characteristic. In this worldview humans are separate from the earth, from other species, and each other; the mind is separate from the body; Godliness is separate from body; and spirit is separate from anything that matters. As with worldviews in general, the belief in separateness is deeply rooted, largely unconscious, and therefore not readily examined. We see through the lens it creates without even knowing it.
The fundamental problem with the belief in separateness is that it's a delusion it doesn't reflect reality. Mystics of all religious and spiritual traditions have discovered this. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: "We are all one." Gandhi understood it and so did the Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz. A word originating in the Bantu languages of southern Africa and expressing a whole philosophy demonstrates that they understood it too Ubuntu: I am because you are. The Buddhists call it nonduality: not two.
I'm not talking here about an intellectual understanding but a deeply felt and experienced truth, the lived realization of our interrelatedness with each other, other species, and the earth. When we look deeply enough we will find walls of separation that we put up between ourselves and others. Overcoming the belief in separateness is ongoing work we can all engage in it's not a finger pointing exercise.
When it comes to changing the systems that undermine peace, justice, and sustainability, that undermine life itself the educational system, the energy and transportation systems, the food system, the political and economic systems, the military/industrial complex, etc. it's the underlying thinking, the beliefs and assumptions that are key. It's our thinking that gives rise to those systems and their associated behaviors and technologies. It doesn't help at all at this level to look for someone to blame and punish.
The place to start is with ourselves, examining and working with our own minds, our own beliefs. We can consciously work to expand our own sense of self and soften our boundaries. Mindfulness, nature-based practices, developing our interpersonal relationship skills, and the commitment to giving back to the world in the form of service and peaceful forms of activism can be cornerstones in this. Each of these areas expands the sense of self, feedback into the others in a positive way, and support the different levels of relationship relationship to self, others, the earth, and society.
Attending to our own psychological and spiritual development, our own restoration and resilience, has become paramount. There is nothing self-indulgent about it if it's done within a context of service and activism. There is nothing self-indulgent about pacing yourself when you're running a marathon. "But the crises loom so large," the people cry. It's true and it doesn't matter there is no quick fix.
When we cultivate our clarity and innate intelligence we can begin to model the change we want to see in the world. We find a practical path that helps us "be the change we want to see in the world," as Gandhi so famously said. We can also let the understanding that the belief in separateness is fundamental to our collective crises inform our strategies for social change. This will help us understand people and communicate with them on a deeper level. The best part is that we'll have begun work on building a solid foundation for a truly peaceful, just, and sustainable world. This, I think, would be an honorable addition to Troy Davis's legacy and seems to reflect what he asked of us in his final moments.
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