Nature, when we’re open enough to listen to it, always provides us with the clues for living a harmonious life. A life of higher awareness where we are present and aware of everything around us. Sometimes things in nature appear seemingly unconnected, even disconnected, yet, when you look a little deeper, they are more connected than we could ever imagine. Trees are an exceptional example of this, as are birds.
The murmuration of starlings is something exceptional to witness. There’s a harmony and perfection that goes beyond the mind. As thousands of individual birds move as one being, it’s like watching a miracle. A mesmerising pattern of life that appears almost as an animated sacred geometric screensaver, but is, in fact, a massive group of little black starlings; each with their own life and consciousness. What is amazing is that these thousands of birds do not ever collide as they move as one in a connected consciousness, where their individuality is no more. They fly like one great bird.
The Synchronistic Nature of Life
This incredible oneness and intuitive connection can happen with humans too. And not just in the presence of great spiritual masters. Joanna Macy, well-known author, Buddhist scholar, systems thinker and deep ecologist, is a respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and ecology. She shares her wisdom on connected consciousness in her book, Active Hope, co-authored with Chris Johnstone.
Something very interesting occurs when a group of jazz musicians improvises together. A number of separate individuals, all making their own decisions, act together as a whole. As the music flows, any of the musicians can take the solo spot, that leading role gliding seamlessly between the players. Who decides when the piano or trumpet player should come forward? It isn’t just the person playing that instrument, for the others have already stepped back just a little to create an opening. There are two levels of thinking happening at the same time here; choices are made from moment to moment both by the group as a whole and by the individuals within it. When people coordinate their actions through a collective thinking process, we can think of this as ‘distributed intelligence.’ No one person is in charge; the players act freely while being guided by their intention to serve the purpose of the group. For musicians to improvise together, they need to listen very attentively, expressing their individuality in a way that contributes to the overall sound. When they tune into the group and become connected with it, it is as though the music itself plays through them.
Are We Ever Really Separate?
Something magical happens when we gather in groups, to meditate, sing, pray, create, dream, dance, tell stories, cook. The individuals drop away and there is a yoking. A synchronisation, almost of breath and heartbeats; much like what can happen between deeply intimate lovers. We are never truly separate. Our survival depends on our interconnectedness. We need each other, for food, shelter, water, and love. We depend on the generosity of others and the earth, for our very life.
In these moments, it’s like we let go of our individual identity in order to belong to and access something transcendent, and totally beyond ourselves. Our consciousness can shift into something universal.
A key feature of distributed intelligence is that no one part has to have the whole answer. Rather, the intelligence of the whole emerges through the actions and interactions of its parts. ~ Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone
Surrendering to the Whole
Joanna Macy speaks of this shift as a wider sense of self and one of the most exciting developments of our time. When we give up our individual wants and needs and surrender to the needs of the whole, we open ourselves up to experience and develop the most profound of spiritual qualities, like humility, truth, service, unconditional love, connection, and trust. It’s this shift into profound connection with something greater than each one of us, that will save the planet.
In a creative team, an idea may arise in conversation, then be added to and refined by other team members, its development shaped by everyone present. What allows a team to gel is a shift in identification, so that people identify with, and act for, the team rather than just themselves. Could the next leap in evolution arise out of a shift in identification, in which we shed the story of battling for supremacy and move instead to playing our role as part of the larger team of life on Earth? Could the creativity and survival instinct of humanity as a whole, or even of life as a whole, act through us? Connected consciousness stems from a widening of our self-interest, where we are guided by the intention to act for the well-being of all life. Within Buddhism, that intention is known as ‘bodhichitta.’ Bodhichitta moves our focus from personal well-being to collective well-being.
…We stand at an evolutionary crossroads, and we, collectively, could turn either way. Our own choices are part of that turning. We can choose, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek, the ‘prime directive’ of our lives. When our central organising priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world.
Connected consciousness, or being at one with all that is, is not something to only be experienced by mystics or dedicated spiritual practitioners. It is the natural state of each one of us. And all we need do to experience is, is to let go of everything that blocks it. To return to our child-like innocence, trust, and reverence for all of life.
We are Connected to All Things
We feel this connected consciousness when we commune with nature, with animals, or with another human. It doesn’t even have to be someone dear to us. Deep moments of profound connection can happen with perfect strangers if you’re open and present. It’s like when life slows down, much like a movie in slow mode, that we drop into this oneness, and connection with all that is. Too often we’re rushing around in a state of busy nervous energy and miss the communications happening all around us all the time. The dog greeting us, the bird singing its joyful song, the person across the street, or the smiling child.
Life in its simplest and most profound is inspired connection and oneness with all things. Indigenous people know the heart of this stillness and connection and we can all remember and return to this place that we long for with all our heart, and the world will be better for it.