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  • Dr. Mike Brooks

The Mystery of Existence: Unraveling Our Interconnectedness

We can see ourselves in others because we could have been in their place.


  • We have defied incalculable odds to merely exist.

  • Why our consciousness is in our respective bodies is a mystery, but it is not a choice we made.

  • Our lives are profoundly affected by countless variables that are totally beyond our control, such as when and where we were born.

  • We can use this idea to help us see ourselves in others so that we may connect with them better to our mutual benefit.

There's a fun song from the 1980s by The Cure entitled, "Why Can't I Be You?" that has the question as part of the chorus. As far as I can tell, the song is about being head over heels in love with someone, perhaps so much so that we lose ourselves in them. I don't know that lead singer and lyricist Robert Smith intended the song title to be an existential question rather than just a catchy, enjoyable pop song about obsessive love. However, when we consider the question more deeply, there's a lot to unpack. The answer to "Why can't I be you?" connects us with one another in profound ways.

We Won the Greatest Lottery Ever

By some great cosmic miracle that we can never really fathom, we come to exist. If we consider all the chance events that had to happen for us to be living and breathing on the big blue marble that we call Earth, it boggles the mind. The odds against our existence are incalculable. There had to be a Big Bang and from this, one particular galaxy, the Milky Way, had to form just right out of the two trillion galaxies in our Universe. Then, our solar system had to form in a certain way, with the Earth in just the right orbit for the conditions necessary for life to evolve, a meteor to hit the Earth to wipe out the dinosaurs, and so on.

Even if we just focus on us as human beings, we would have to trace an unbroken ancestral chain hundreds of thousands of years, or perhaps even millions, for each of us to be here right now. Everywhere along this chain, the right sperm had to meet the right egg, our ancestors had to avoid dying to pass on their genes, and innumerable obstacles had to be avoided or overcome (e.g., ice ages, famine, disease, war, saber-toothed tigers). Plus, a series of improbable chance events had to line up perfectly so that, for instance, your great-great grandmother bumped into your great-great grandfather at the country store, and so on. Take a moment and consider all of the people who could have existed but never got the chance. It's as if we have won the greatest lottery ever just to be alive. We should express gratitude for our fortune more often than we do.

How Are We Ourselves?

Our existence is based upon innumerable chance events and gratuitous luck. We are fortunate to exist, and each one of us is unique. No two people in the history of the world have been or could be exactly the same—even identical twins. Then again, since everyone is unique, this means that none of us is uniquely unique.

As we ponder these questions and improbabilities, we come back to Robert Smith's question: Why can't I be you? Why am I me and you, you? Probably the best answer one can offer is that a unique combination of genes resulted in your consciousness being in your body and not someone else's. We can also say that none of us did anything for our consciousness to be in our particular body. While we have some form of free will, none of us exercised our free will to place our consciousness into our respective biological vessels. This miracle happened totally beyond our control or volition.

The fact that we did not get to choose which body our consciousness inhabits has far-ranging implications. Think about the many variables that profoundly affect our lives over which we had no control or influence: We did not get to choose our genes or genetic heritage, race, biological sexethnicity, our parents, the socioeconomic status into which we were born, nor when and where we were born. We also do not get to choose whether we suffer from diseases, afflictions, accidents, and abuses. If you think the world is bad now, even a cursory investigation shows how absolutely brutal life was throughout the history of humanity. We should all celebrate the fact that we were not born as peasants in Medieval Europe during the Black Death.

A Case for Interconnectedness

We can see that, were it not for countless variables beyond our control lining up in a specific way, we might be someone else (i.e., our consciousness in a different body). Therefore, instead of looking at others as separate from ourselves, we can see ourselves in them. This way of viewing the self and others bridges the divide between us and them. It allows us to loosen the grip of the ego upon us. It enables us to be more compassionate toward others, especially those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Indeed, this way of thinking is the inspiration for the expression, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Not only are we connected deeply with one another, if we continue to follow this nondualist line of thinking, we are deeply, profoundly, and inextricably linked with one another and everything. We are made from the stuff of stars, and the universe is within us.

Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, called this "interbeing." From the perspective of interbeing, I am you and you are me. The more we can remember our inherent oneness, the more we will realize that obsessing over our different teams, parties, and tribes creates a separateness that is illusory and destructive. Because we are all connected, like parts of one body, we cannot attack one another without ultimately causing mutual suffering.

Imagine that we force our right and left arms to attack one another. There is no way that one arm can defeat the other without us suffering. We must remember that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

The Takeaway

Our growth and flourishing depend upon our interconnectedness. When we are better able to see ourselves in others, we will all benefit from greater levels of compassion and cooperation. Given our increasing levels of divisiveness and toxic polarization within America and around the globe, finding more unity and oneness is sorely needed.

Internalizing the truth of our interconnectedness and oneness can liberate us from the hatred and vitriol that divide us.

Disclaimer: I don't claim that what I say is totally "true" because the truth is elusive in this complicated world. Rather, I'm offering some ideas to help us perceive the world, others, and ourselves in a manner that opens pathways for change and growth.


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