The One and the Many

I’m writing from the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian islands. The Hawaiians have a fascinating word in their language, one we usually associate with greeting and leave taking. The word is “aloha.” It can mean so many things, I realized, when I saw a sign that said, “God is Aloha!”

AlohaFrom “The Deeper Meaning of Aloha” by Curby Rule:
Aloha is being a part of all, and all being a part of me. When there is pain – it is my pain. When there is joy – it is also mine. I respect all that is as part of the Creator and part of me. I will not willfully harm anyone or anything. When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!

There are many traditions that speak of this non-dualism, the interconnectedness of all things. And yet, in order to appreciate that oneness, we enter space and time separately. And this is the universal dance – moving back and forth between our connectedness and our separateness. We are, I believe, one and many simultaneously.

This is difficult for the thinking mind that sees things often as either/or. Both/and is a challenge for our brains.

In our closest relationships, as Gibran wrote in The Prophet, we need to have space in our togetherness. When we are glued to each other, we fear abandonment and there is little breathing room for individuality. When we are continuously distant from each other, our connectedness suffers as we fear being engulfed.

Here on Molokai, as Barb and I walked the beach this morning, it struck me that it’s taken a long time to figure out how to walk together. Barb walks as if she’s “on a mission from God” (source: Dan Akroyd in “The Blues Brothers”). I prefer sauntering. Yet we would like the time together.

Often we would get irritated with each other for not stepping in time to the other’s metronome. If I gave up my own pace and tried to fit into Barb’s, I felt as if I were giving up myself, trapped and engulfed. When Barb would walk ahead and I fell behind, it didn’t feel connected to her at all. There was too much space and not enough connection.

Now we begin together, and when Barb gets restless, she speeds ahead (by common agreement), but doubles back at times to reconnect. We both get to connect and honor our individual walking styles simultaneously. A small, but important, example of the need for both being one and being apart.

Which reminds me of the words of the German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke,in Letters to a Young Poet:
“But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by- side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”


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