One game I like to play that illustrates in a small way our connection with others not only in space but also time is to count the touches between myself and a figure in the arts, history, or science and so on. For example, I think I may be 4 touches from Abraham Lincoln! My father (touch 1) was born in 1910. In 1920, when he was ten, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, he would visit the “Old Soldiers Home” there. He’d grab apples from the trees and talk to the Civil War veterans (touch 2) who lived there in their seventies and eighties. I like to imagine they may have seen if not shaken hands with President Lincoln (touch 3), or at least one of his generals (touch 4). So I like to think I’m no more than 4 touches from Lincoln.
I think with a little bit of imaginative networking, we can all do pretty much the same. My purpose in playing the game is to reinforce the fact of our human, karmic if you will, connection. And if touch is so easy to number going toward the past, think of how quickly our actions in the present resonate in the future. Whether we wish to take responsibility for ourselves and how we affect others, known and unknown, is an ethical decision we make in deed.
One day, according to the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha saw Sigala, immediately after his morning bath, bowing to the east, the south, the west, the north, above and below. Following tradition, Sigala had practiced this ritual daily since hearing of his father’s death. When the villagers observed this ritual, they honored the gods who lived in the six directions. As a result, good luck, happiness and prosperity was bestowed upon on the people.
The Buddha revealed to Sigala what the six directions represented. The east stands for the parent; the south, the school teacher; the west, one’s spouse; the north, one’s friends; above, the spiritual mentor; and below, one’s employer or employee. Each direction represented a fundamental human relationship. To honor the six directions was a recognition of the mutual responsibilities in each of these roles and a vow to fulfill them as we move through life. As we move through life whether as a parent, a child, a friend or employer, we are to be aware of and fulfil our responsibilities in each of these roles.
One characteristic of a religious attitude is the recognition of an inseparable relation between the very small- ourselves, our egos – to the immeasurably large- a god, nature, the universe. And just as the ocean cannot exist without its drops nor the desert minus grains of sand, so there can be no greater without the lesser, death without life, or a mind without a body. The sanskrit term “yoga ” has its root in “to join,” associated with the imagery of the yoke connecting a team of oxen. So we humans are joined to something greater, perhaps the vast field our master the farmer plows, as well as each other.
It may be that the word religion, meaning binding, comes from a similar source in the deep past. Long ago monks, or the religious, were bound by monastic rules. Our illness, binding or limiting ourselves in so many ways, provides constraints upon our self will. Some also suggest that the word may stem from an indo-european root meaning the discipline to read over and over with single minded purpose, linking eye, mind, and spirit, not allowing one’s attention to wander outside the boundary of our task, perhaps the same focus we wish for ourselves to bear the years of illness with dignity and grace.
Illness and disability alter our lives, by choice and by fate, inside and out. Fortunately they can serve as a medium through which we work to connect with ways of being that are ultimately good for ourselves, others, and the world. The wound heals.