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Empathy works. It always does.


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What does Triominos have to do with Interbeing?

I’m playing Triominos. By myself. Usually I play with my husband, but he isn’t home. I put nine tiles in front of my right hand, and nine tiles in front of my left hand.

My right hand has the triple five and starts.

My left hand needs to take a stone.

My right hand is excited as it puts down a perfect match for the triple five.

“Bummer” — my left hand needs to pass again.

“Awesome!” — my right hand puts down its third stone — “I’m winning!”

Then my left hand puts out a stone, relieved.

“You blocked my move!” — says my right hand, irritated.

My left hand can put down a second stone — “Nothing is lost yet. Pfew.”

My right hand gets agitated — “Again: you blocked me!”

After a few more rounds, my right hand can finally declare victory — “I won!!”

Playing by myself and hearing these habitual voices about winning and losing go through my mind, I think of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on interbeing:

“Non-violence can be born only from the insight of non-duality, of interbeing. This is the insight that everything is interconnected and nothing can exist by itself alone. Doing violence to others is doing violence to yourself. If you do not have the insight of non-duality, you will still be violent. You will still want to punish, to suppress, and to destroy. But once you have penetrated the reality of non-duality, you will smile at both the flower and garbage in you, you will embrace both.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger, p. 70)

I love this teaching.

I also struggle with it.

I get it when I look at my right and left hand playing against each other. They are part of the same body.

I forget it when I’m in conflict with people and think they are the cause of my hurt, fear, or anger. When I see ‘them’ as the enemy and ‘me’ as the angel. I want to withdraw, or lash out. I want someone to tell me how right I am and how wrong they are.

And yet, when I utter harsh words against my husband, I feel miserable. When I yell at someone in traffic, I feel anxious and upset. When I ignore the suffering of Syrian refugees, I feel ashamed.

As much as I struggle to put the teaching of interbeing into practice, I continue the effort, because in my heart I know it’s true. I feel more at peace if I see the interbeing of Nazis and Jews, white supremacists and blacks, the one percent and the 99%.

I want to remember that in the end we are held in the same Earth, who accepts us unconditionally, without discrimination. I want to remember that we all return to compost. Especially when I feel a frustrated urge to withdraw or an angry urge to lash out.

For my greater happiness. And for the greater happiness of others.

Let me know how this landed for you.