We all yearn for connection, and no one has captured that feeling as well as Walt Whitman in this 1868 poem
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
We yearn for connections, first seeking warmth from our parents. As we grow up, we yearn for romance, for sex, for a significant other. We buy pets to find more warmth. We have children and yearn to keep them close. But for many of us, it’s never enough. We keep launching our filaments and not being sure what’s missing.
Whitman’s use of the word “soul” suggests that he also had something spiritual in mind. In cosmic terms, our surroundings are indeed vast and vacant. We look to religion hoping to learn that we are part of something bigger than our infinitesimally short time on this cosmic speck of dust called Earth.
While many Western religious teachers tell us we must earn our place with God, with the infinite, Buddhism teaches that we already have it. I gravitate toward the schools of Buddhism that stress mindfulness – that being fully present in every moment, avoiding transient distractions, and seeing deeply into ourselves and others will make it clear that everything is connected. We are made of the same stuff.
Siddhartha Gautama somehow intuited that everything and everyone we know is made of and connected by the same cosmic dust that has always been here and always will, and that the dust is constantly moving – from one thing to another, from one person to another. The image often used is ripples on a pond. One ripple may make the mistake of thinking that it’s an entity on its own, but it is really just part of a whole called water.
It doesn’t matter what we call it – soul, Inner Light, Buddha Nature. And it doesn’t matter how we reach it – meditation, koans, mantras, prayer. When we are in that space, we have arrived at our home, and we take our place in a very large unending family.
Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine