Today during dinner, we found ourselves discussing evolution and biology, as these are topics that my 7th grade daughter will be exploring over the next few weeks at school. Herb asked us to guess how much of our human DNA matches up with that of a mouse and a chimpanzee. While I knew that our DNA was very close to that of a chimp, I was surprised to hear that almost 85% of our DNA blueprint matches that of a mouse. Really, 85%! Chimps brings us to a close 96%.
With this degree of similarity, it almost feels silly how as humans we spend so much of our time and energy on the perceived differences between people, rather than on the overwhelming parallels. Through my own meditation practice, I have seen how the differences and the distance that I sometimes feel with others, are nothing more than stories or beliefs that I have taken to be true. Often, they are far from it.
This past New Year’s Eve, my family and I distributed food to the homeless on the streets of Austin. We each made an intention to make eye contact, to acknowledge, to offer words and to offer food. Though the vulnerability of outer appearances were difficult to take in, upon looking at an individual in the eyes, I could only see the essence of a spirit very much like my own. Yet our life circumstances were worlds apart. It evoked a depth of compassion and connection that broke my heart open in a humbling way.
Thomas Merton, a theologian and a mystic, eloquently describes much of what I experienced.
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one of us is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. Their would be no more war, no more hatred, nor more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
I hope that this new year I will remember to go slow, to connect and bow often to the humanity and mystery within and around me.