We like to think of ourselves as sovereign, self-controlled people. We are (so we say) distinct from each other and distinct from our environment. And yet, each so-called “human being” is, by physical fact, actually an organized collection of millions of individual life forms – including cells, bacteria, viruses, and microbes – each with their own motivation and lifespan. There are actually more organisms inside my body that do not share my DNA than there are organisms that do share my DNA. It’s hard to believe, but this makes “me” a physical minority within my own body. When I think of “myself,” I do not consider the living bacteria crawling between pores in my skin. But without this inner ecosystem there would be no such thing as “me.”
My life is also dependent on several external elements, such as water, sun, air, and food. When I think of “myself,” I do not consider the air. Yet I am as interconnected with oxygen as I am with my own heartbeat, and the macro atmosphere sustains me just as my body sustains the micro bacteria inside me. Without this outer ecosystem, there would be no such thing as “me.”
So at what point do “I” end and the world inside me begin? And at what point do “I” end and the world outside me begin? What is the criteria by which I label that which is “me” and that which is “not me”? Is it possible that my concept of myself is a mental construction of the ego, and my physical and energetic bodies are intricately synchronized on a subatomic level, in perfect balance, with a chain of life stretching endlessly outward and endlessly inward? Is it possible that the borders between life are similar to the borders between nations – fabricated for convenience but meaningless to the laws of nature?
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Depending on our perspective, life is either an ecosystem or an ego-system. An ecosystem is a mutually supportive relationship. There is no pressure to do things “the right way,” because our nature intuitively knows our role within the interconnected whole. By contrast, an ego-system is a one-man show, an isolated attempt to master our environment because the ego is desperate to validate its existence and therefore demands results and achievement.
In an ego-system, everything is measured by gains and losses, and yet even gains are greeted with a nagging futility. In an ecosystem, there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose, and yet everybody celebrates together anyway.