"Gazing up at the vast night sky, taking in sweeping vistas from a desert plateau, or looking out at the endless expanse of ocean can sometimes leave us feeling very small and irrelevant. We may fear, consciously or unconsciously, that if we experience oneness with the great magnitude of nature, we will lose a sense of our own uniqueness. We might feel panic at the thought of our own insignificance in the grand scheme of the natural world. Yet the unified whole of life does not deny the importance of each particular life form, just as the complexity and individuality of things do not deny the essential unity or commonality that is a thread throughout everything in the universe.
The diversity of life just on this planet is staggering. In the abundance of a tropical jungle, every square foot is teeming with some variety of life, from dark teak trees to creeping dark green ivy, from colorful orchids to orange-winged Amazon parrots. Though each of these exquisite life forms is uniquely its own, the chains of connection reveal their commonality. One beautiful example of how species coevolve is the connection between the eyesight of butterflies and the visual patterns of flowers. Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow, but they also see color in the ultraviolet range, which reveals patterns on flowers. And just like runway lights at the airport, flower patterns guide the butterfly to the nectar source, after which the butterflies disperse the pollen around the forest.
The violet phalaenopsis orchid on my desk, with its deep crimson-spotted petals and long, rubbery green leaves, cannot be separated from the tropical forest where its predecessor bloomed, quietly unnoticed in the rain forest. If I look deeply enough, I see that within the orchid's petals lies the rainfall, sunlight, and cycles of the seasons – those petals could not exist without those elements, and they are the same elements that nourish the teeming life in the rainforest. If we contemplate thoroughly each living thing, we find it connects us to the whole.
The Buddhist teaching of Sunyata, loosely translated as "emptiness" or "transparency," is a way to articulate the play of infinite interconnectedness amid diversity. Sunyata points to the complex set of conditions out of which everything emerges, including exploding supernovas, cherry tomatoes, and fine grains of sand. It speaks to the ground of potentiality, which is pregnant with possibility. Out of emptiness, nothingness – out of the vast black darkness of space comes an infinite variety of forms, lives, and colors. Emptiness is a way to understand how we emerge from an unrepeatable set of causes and conditions that create out individual uniqueness. We don't lose who we are in unity, but instead we come to see how we are one thread in an unfathomable boundless tapestry, which is forever interweaving and creating and dissolving an infinite variety of forms.
Sensing our oneness with all of life can shake our ideas of our own independence, which can be alternately exhilarating or intimidating. When it fears dissolving into a vaster reality, the ego-self strives hard to retain its rigid individuality and will retreat to the comfortable and unthreatening territory of its familiar habits, roles, and identity. However, if we can tolerate the discomfort of our fear of the vast unknown, we can perhaps taste our true home – not the false home that our ego has created as a protection and defense against its own fears, but rather a place where we feel both our singularity and our commonality with all of life."
- Mark Coleman
"Nothing happens in living nature that does not bear some relation to the whole. Nature – however manifold it may appear – is nevertheless always a single entity, a unity."