In the heaven of Hindu and Buddhist tradition, there lies a vast silken web whose strands span infinitely across space in every direction. At each intersection is a shining luminous jewel and each one completely reflects every other jewel. The jewels are said to represent the souls of all animate life.
Known as Indra's Net, this represents the interconnectedness of all souls. The idea is that since each jewel reflects all others, we both affect - and are affected by - others.
How do you feel when you're treated abruptly or disrespectfully by someone, be it at work or at home? When that happens, how likely are you to allow your negative emotions to spill over into your next interaction with another person, and the next, and the next? And if others react negatively to your negativity, how do you suppose they'll react in their next interaction?
But if the opposite is true – if you enjoy a positive experience with someone else and leave feeling respected, acknowledged and appreciated - does that positivity affect your next interaction, and the next? Get the picture?
This is the Butterfly Effect – popularised by the notion that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be affected. Initially attributed to meteorologist Edward Lorenz, it encapsulates the global nature of interconnectivity.
So, moving from the heavens to "down here" at ground level, the practical implication of Indra's Net is that we ought to be more aware of how we choose to relate to the various "jewels" we come across in our daily lives.
Caught up in a life in a giant ant colony where many seem to be moving at 90 miles an hour, how often do we consciously or unconsciously ignore those other jewels with whom we come into contact? We DO have some effect on everyone with whom we come into contact – whether we (or they) are aware of it or not, whether we choose to or not.
Living a life, rather than a lifestyle, or living "in" one's self, rather than living "next to" one's self, means being aware of who we are and how we are in every moment. It means understanding and appreciating the significance of this web of interconnectivity.
"Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him." (Virginia Satir)
How many people do you interact with (face-to-face or electronically) every day? And how many of these are actually visible to you as you interact? I don't mean just physically visible, but how many do you see as being real people rather than just representing a role or a means to an end – direct reports, assistants, secretaries, clerks, taxi/bus drivers, street sweepers, shopkeepers, and the like?
Indra's Net reminds us that we can make the invisible, visible. That the jewels that connect one strand to another and reflect one another are just that – jewels – to be seen, acknowledged, appreciated and valued.
"I wish Pooh were here. It's so much more friendly with two." Piglet (A.A. Milne)
Seeing the diamond through the dust
- Do you ever observe and reflect on your own observations of others? What do these observations reveal about yourself?
- When you choose to see someone as being different from you, what might it be about your own unconscious that you are discovering?
- Do you experience discomfort around others who are "not like me?" Do you tend to be more inclusive or exclusive in your orientation to others?
- Do you know the name of the person who cleans your office, the person who serves you every day in your coffee shop, your mail carrier, etc?
- Have you ever caught yourself being too busy to acknowledge or show appreciation to another?
- How do you feel when another person does not give you the attention you'd like (or think you deserve)?
- Can you think of times when a good/bad experience with someone influenced your behavior in subsequent interactions with others? What was that like?
- Can you envision a world where an Indra's Net orientation to people actually exists "down here?"
What we need more than ever are conscious, healthy interactions with other people, both those we know and those we don't. The easiest way to begin to remove the dust and see the jewels is simply by recognizing others as jewels in their own right, each at the crossroads of other thousands of others strands, reflecting other jewels.
As we've seen, how we choose to react or respond to others will affect how they, in turn, react or respond to others. A glance, a word or an action can have a positive or negative effect. So each one of us can make a difference - a good difference or a not-so-good difference. But, in all likelihood, we will make a difference that ripples out to others as a ripple moves across a pond.
The idea is not to create an ego-driven difference, but a difference that makes an otherwise invisible person, visible – seeing the diamond through the dust. A mindful glance, a kind word - just a quarter-carat energetic response is all it takes. It's mutually energizing.
Every diamond is unique
"It's surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you're not comfortable within yourself, you can't be comfortable with others." [Sydney J. Harris]
Every jewel in Indra's Net possesses a uniqueness. But with the pace and stress of our lives, it's easy to dismiss another diamond as a simple, worthless stone. And what about the flaws in our own diamonds, things we have denied or repressed? When we discover what these are and start to polish them out, our own brightness will be more readily apparent.
The practical application of Indra's Net is that the diamond within us chooses to see the diamond in others. The beauty of Indra's Net is just that - the beauty that arises naturally when connections are based on appreciating the uniqueness and value of others - just because they are.