All life distinguishes “inside” from “outside,” i.e. “self” from “non-self.” This is the fundamental duality (fundamental distinction, fundamental sapience/wisdom, fundamental bias) that all life operates on. Life is self-serving, partial to self. It views its own self as a subject and all else as “other,” as “environment,” as “objects.” All life objectifies other life as “environment” (to use and to eat, and/or to flee from so as to not become used by it, so as to not be eaten by it).
All life is fundamentally unfair to other life, that is, until it enlightens to its inevitable interdependence and, on a higher level, to its essential sameness.
We begin with adaptively-intense dualism of self/non-self. We start out in a highly self-centered (ego-centric) manner. It makes sense: we are helpless and scared; so we have to think in a highly conservative manner. This developmentally early us/them dualism is there to protect us. We take no prisoners: the world is polarized into black and white. “You are either with us or against us” is the mentality that underlies our socializing. We socialize not for fun but for protection, we group into cliques, we circle the wagons. We are busy surviving.
As we learn more and more about life, we begin to tame our fears, we begin to distinguish between physical threats and symbolic threats. If fortunate, we eventually conquer our inner-most fear of dying. As we progress from fear to non-fear, we become less and less invested in all of these us/them distinctions.
Our perception lens is recalibrated to notice similarity, even oneness of our shared essence, rather than the superficial differences in form. We become kinder and more compassionate. We even begin to feel bad for the life that we consume as we sit down to eat. Not just the animals that had to die for us to mindlessly eat another dinner while we zone out in front of TV. But we begin to relate even to the plant-based life we consume. We begin to get it that anything that is alive, wants to stay alive, regardless of its level of complexity. Even grass.
A sense of tender intimacy emerges as we eat: not a guilt that we have to consume something living, organic in order to live, but a sense of interconnectedness, a realization that as we eat this Earth, we become this Earth, as we eat this food, we become future food. A kind of camaraderie of existence. A baseline sympathy. A gradual (but never complete) dissolution of subject-object duality. A universal willingness to relate, to feel for other. I guess I am talking about kindness.
So, how does eating come into this? Eating is a re-union of self and non-self, of me with not-me, of you and not-you, of eater with food through the enmeshment of eating. Eating is two-fold yoga (union): a yoga that unifies your own body with your own mind, and, at a higher level, a yoga that unifies you with your environment.
An eating moment is a bitter-sweet moment of connection. A Namaste of metabolic interdependence.
from Reinventing the Meal (in press, 2012)
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Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011