“This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one. Our body and mind are not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one. We usually think that if something is not one, it is more than one; if it is not singular, it is plural. But in actual experience, our life is not only plural, but also singular. Each one of us is both dependent and independent.” – Shunryu Suzuki, ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’
Interconnected relationships can quickly become a very complex matter. There’s a certain level of obviousness to them, while at the same time, it often feels quite illogical to think of them in this manner. “Not 2, Not1.” How can we better apply this perspective?
Western culture in particular highly values the concept of individuality. “Be yourself! Do your thing!” This is good and bad advice. While it’s impossible to be anything other than yourself, it’s also quite impossible to figure our who the “yourself” is that you’re supposed to be.
A lot of yoga teachers, zen teachers, etc. will actually work on speeding up the process of identifying this conundrum. “Just sit there and stop all thoughts,” the instructor may suggest. This proves more than difficult, and if given enough time, soon enough you are thinking about not thinking, which is a new type of thinking but thinking nonetheless. Interestingly, all of these thoughts come from a place of interpretation of prior events, and if you really explore this, you will often find that it’s impossible to think of anything of “yourself” that does not tie to a relationship with something else. If you remember playing basketball, you recall the ball, the other players, your own thoughts, but where is the “yourself?” All of these interactions and memories are how we define “us.”
So, it’s the things that happen “to you?” No, that’s not right either. Let’s assume that we once helped out a friend, and then when we a hand moving a couch, they come over to lend us a hand. Did they do this? Did we? Perhaps it was the relationship itself that did it. “Not 2, Not 1.”
I had a close friend who was lost at sea for 6 days in a very small boat. He discussed on a few occasions how hopeless he felt, and utterly isolated. Upon his return, though, he often claimed that “The only thing I can determine for sure is that life’s most important happenings are every connection we make to one another.” I admire that perspective, but not enough to try to understand it by going out to sea and getting lost.
It may not be possible to remove our emotions from our interactions with others, but we can learn to appreciate them as a part of our own growth. We should understand that it’s all a part of our practice, our growth, our zen. We can benefit greatly from understanding how washing dishes IS the practice. It can be how we ride the elevator, how you go to buy food (or grow it), and it should likely be in every interaction we have with other people. We may still run across troublesome people, but this is where our practice really gets better. A weightlifter who never increased his weights would get no stronger, so let us remind ourselves that difficult interactions are actually for our own growth.
…at the same time, be very cautious to not evaluate our “improvements.” That’s certainly a way to be shown how far we still have to go. Our progress is not important, only our path.