It looked like any other bowl of soup; chock-full of vegetables, colorful and tasty for sure, but just soup. But as I looked into the bowl, tasted the first spoonful, the ordinary became extra-ordinary. I could see corn on the stalk waving in the breeze, and taste the soil in which the carrots had grown; I was taken to a whole never-before-seen world, an astonishing and surreal experience. The feeling however lasted no more than a few seconds, and the chatter at the table pulled my attention away, but as the conversation waned I gazed again at the corn and the carrots and could recreate that profound feeling of connection and awe and peace. That fleeting moment some months ago came back to me this week when I was interviewed by my friend Megumi for her dissertation; her subject, the meeting place of non-dual consciousness and the work for global justice. Now that sounds like quite a dry topic (what is non-dual consciousness anyway?) but it turns out to have lots to do with vegetable soup.
Firstly justice, a concept that needs no introduction. We are all wired to detect justice, or its absence, and sensitized daily by the images brought to us from around the world of injustice and suffering. It may be the global scale of injustice which moves us most: few of us can be unmoved by the plight of the parents of the 20 000 children around the world who die every day from preventable diseases, desperate to get their hands on the cures that exist and yet watching their children die unnecessary deaths. Maybe it’s a more local expression of injustice that penetrates our heart, seeing those unable to “make it on their own” left falling through the safety net of care in this, the most affluent country on the planet seems particularly painful to me.
There are many forms of work for global justice and millions at work, both those who directly bear the yoke of oppression in their own lives and those who are insulated from but nonetheless feel this pain. The work includes the very necessary efforts to lessen the hurt and impact of injustice on human lives; feeding the poor, providing shelter for those without, assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. Yet we also need to enquire into the causes of poverty and homelessness and all forms of inequity. Without answers here we will be unable to do the equally necessary work to overhaul the global governance and trade systems that generate and perpetuate this inequity and suffering.
Non-dual consciousness is a more difficult concept to understand. A simple definition might be the state of awareness in which we experience everything as interconnected. As Megumi said, “The experience (of non-dual consciousness) can be temporary or permanent, it may feel like a sense of communion with all natural and other beings, and for some people our identification with an egoic self, ideology or opinion also fall away.” To me, that sounds like my vegetable soup experience and like the transcendent feeling when we have witnessed a miracle. It sounds like the state I pull myself towards in mediation or prayer, where I try to remain as long as possible, at peace with myself and the world around me.
In those moments we see everything as connected, you and me are not separate, merely two aspects of a unified whole. In this awareness we get to see that there is no good or bad, no villain or victim, no grounds for judgment or separation; in this realm there is merely “how it is.” When we are able to suspend our desire to evaluate and label every occurrence as “right”, “wrong” or some other category that makes it knowable, we get to rest in the less comfortable territory of how it is. In this space there is no blame.
With Megumi’s gentle probing I begin to unfold my understanding of these two topics and how they relate to each other. I began to see what a powerful place lies where they intersect.
Her questions had me juxtapose these two domains, looking at global justice through the lens of interconnection. Try it for yourself – look out at an issue of injustice, of suffering, see the faces of those involved, those you might previously labeled the victim or the oppressor. Can we look into their eyes and not collapse into an interpretation of right and wrong? Can steer clear of blaming those who seem to have power or privilege on their side? And can we now see how each of them is the natural, predictable expression of the world of separation we live in? What a powerful way to build the muscles we need to do the work for global justice, compassion, non-judgment and empathy.
I began to see the place where they join is the stance I aim to embody with my life, a place of wisdom and power. And this isn’t a vantage point for spectators, this is the ground for action, discerned and direct, aimed at ending unnecessary suffering. This is the place from which our heroes have stood, and stood again for justice, Gandhi and Martin Luther King preeminent amongst them. And this is the place from which ordinary people are standing up for what will protect the quality of their lives, the health of our Mother Earth and the choices of their grandchildren’s generation. Join them, develop the muscles we need to be a force for justice in a world without separation, a just and interconnected future.
Thank you to Megumi and to the vegetable soup.