When facing big picture problems, be it school shootings or climate change, I find it helpful to reflect on the image of the net of Indra.
The net of Indra is a Buddhist teaching about our interdependence and the latent power we each hold to change the world. At each intersection of Indra’s net, there is a pearl. Each pearl, from its unique vantage point on the net, reflects back the images of all the other pearls.
This ancient image speaks to the truth of our interconnected wholeness while also honoring the unique gifts and perspectives we each bring by occupying distinct intersections in the web of life.
Now here’s where the power, and the responsibility, comes in: when one pearl changes, so, too, does the reflection in all the other pearls.
We each matter and influence the life of the collective far more than we comprehend. What matters is not if, but what we choose to reflect from our intersection of existence. Can we abide in the truth, even when it contains painful vulnerability and shared grief?
Let’s dive still deeper and reflect on the pearl. A pearl is precious, formed inside the shell of an oyster in the depths of the ocean. The origin of the pearl is a piece of grit that somehow slips past the defenses of the shell and lodges itself inside soft tissue.
The oyster responds to grit and the unwelcome feelings of discomfort and pain it brings by marshaling its generative powers, not to shield itself—it’s too late for that—but to transform the grit. In a purely selfish act on the part of the oyster, it creates a thing of beauty, something it wouldn’t otherwise expend its precious energy doing, so that it can take the “edge off” the piece of grit.
This is a metaphor for the work of the soul. The soul’s work is to take the grit of life and to transform that which causes our hearts to ache with discomfort and pain into a thing of beauty. It is a self-interested act, but also an act of sanity and wisdom.
My friends, I hate to break it to you, but as a society we are all (inter)net and no pearls. We are all talk and no reflection. We are all surface and no depth.
We hold nothing sacred because we have forgotten the proper orientation to the big picture problems of our times. The move is not “up” and “out” of ourselves to plead with Congress or the President or even the heavens.
Our real power to change the world is found by diving into the depths, past the screens and walls we have erected, to enter the soft and beating core of our beings. In these innermost depths we must stay with the pain, the vulnerability, and the grit, until we have transformed it into something precious and sacred—a thing of beauty.
This is how you create a pearl at your own unique intersection of life. This is how you change the outer world: by starting with the inside, not the outside; by attending to the depths, not the heights.
Stop giving your power away by looking outside yourself for the answers only you can provide. Create something with the grit that has found its way into your heart. Take the edge off by creating beauty in this troubled world of ours.
Follow the ways of nature and of Spirit: come inside, dive into the depths of your heart, feel, abide there, and learn until you are changed. Our collective reflection will deepen and grow as a consequence of your efforts.
Become something new, something better. Reflect on life. Shine using the available light. Become as a pearl. Do it as if your very life depended on it, because it does. Do it as if our children’s lives depend on it. Because they do.