“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” – Elie Wiesel
I had no idea who Elie Wiesel was until I googled “every person is an universe”, and found this quite good quote. I recommend looking him up. For some reason, I already knew this concept of being an universe as I had heard it in different ways many times before. To me it was just a thing hippie new age people thought, and maybe I’m becoming a hippie new age person, because I think I got it. What got me thinking about this is that I’ve recently finished reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I mentioned in a previous post. I don’t want to get stuck defining buddhas with their consorts, gods, asuras, hungry ghosts, and Samsara, but I want to share how I interpreted many of these symbols. Also, I’ve been meeting and interacting with a lot of people lately (working at a call center, and intentionally expanding my circle of friends), and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to spend time with someone.
We all live self-centered experiences: your central point of view of everything starts with “I”. I only feel the feelings that are mine. I only hear my own thoughts. I only experience my own experience. My thoughts and opinions and mind-processes are shaped by the way I was raised, my relationship with my parents, my friends, my language, my school, my personal religious experiences, the fights I’ve had before, my disappointments, my hopes, my dreams, my whole story, it’s all interconnected. It’s like a whole universe, all connected and orbiting together as this huge puzzle, this art piece that makes who I am.
Now think that each person (or even, each living being), has his own experience. Everyone is an “I”, and are the centers of their own universes as well. They probably feel entitled to as much respect as you do.
Each conscience is sacred.
When you talk to someone, you are bringing meaning from your own universe and sending it across to someone else’s universe, which is subject to that person’s whole interpretation. When there’s an event, the two of you may understand it differently, and all sorts of misunderstandings can happen. Or it may flow incredibly well and instead of noise, you have music. Two persons interacting are like the encounter of two galaxies, with all the fields and orbits having to synchronize in a perfect dance, or else, they crash. Intimacy is an increasing overlap: not only ideas are shared but feelings, stories, friendships, and secrets, so that “I” gets lost in “we“. Perfect unity is like two galaxies uniting without collapsing, and if you know even a little bit about gravity you know how insane what I’m saying sounds.
But then we are also collective. We are made of collectives (there’s about a trillion bacteria living in your body, from last time I read something about it). We’re part of people groups, which are part of a society, which is part of ecosystems, and are part of planet earth, which is part of a system, and our (actual) galaxy, and the universe, and maybe something even bigger. The other way around, too: you’re made of organs and systems, which are made of tissues, which are made of cells, made of organelles, made of chemical elements, made of atoms, and even smaller units scientists are still discovering.
We’re both incredibly important and significant, while totally insignificant. We are our selves, and we are the whole, and there’s so much we can take away from thinking about these things.
Perhaps the first thing to start with, today, is remember how sacred and intricate your human relationships are. How astounding life is. And remember that every person you encounter, whether you want it or not, you both mark each other’s life forever. You enter each other’s history, and we are all part of a bigger history. We are forever shaping each other, so put a lot of care into that.
Start by simply being conscious that what you do affects the whole, and that the whole affects you back. There is no isolated action, nothing is hidden.
Now go out there and live.