Let’s start with an experiment. You can select any body part of your choosing; I’ll use the right foot as an example.
So, pay attention to your right foot. Really tune into it and wiggle it if you can. Slowly move it around to feel into the bones and muscles. Is there tightness, fluidity, achiness, a combination of these, or something else? Close your eyes now and continue to do this for 5 breaths. Really. Try it please and then move forward to the next sentence.
Now one question: When you were doing this, were you aware of your knee? Likely not, if your knee is pain free. This exercise is not about your body. It’s a simple way to note that when we become hyper-focused on one thing, we naturally lose awarenss of other things. It’s practically impossible to pay high quality attention to everything all at once. Working-caregivers know this struggle well. We can toggle attention from one thing to the next, but it’s hard to pay attention to everything all at once.
Yet, complex problem solving requires us to be aware of inter-related parts. It needs an ecosystem awareness. Some everyday examples of ecosystem awareness from my world:
- My husband was replacing the faucet in our clawfoot tub. Mid-way he realized that his movements yanked the pipe connecting the faucet with the shower head, which yanked the curtain rod encircling the tub, which yanked the wall anchor that the curtain rod was tied to. His movement at the faucet split the wall anchor.
- Years ago, I was cutting my nails while sitting on the balcony at my home in India. Upon seeing me, my Mom requested I do this in the bathroom sink because she didn’t want the sparrows to eat and choke on my sharp nail clippings.
- When we moved into our new home in Seattle, I did the “Graha Pravesh Puja”. This prayer ceremony is done to bless a new home. I had never personally done this before and was blown away by the sense of connectedness embedded in this prayer. It wasn’t only to request blessings for us, it was also to thank every entity that made space for us in their ecosystem — the insects, animals and plants. I was also reminded to thank the humans that built this home in 1906 and those that took care of it over the decades.
Ecosystems consist of organisms (or parts), their interactions and relationships, and the environments in which they interact. They are relational by definition and interconnected in complex ways. We all live in ecosystems that both impact us and are impacted by us. But it can be overwhelming to understand a system if we keep widening our lens endlessly. So we zoom out and define boundaries to know which pieces of the system we need to focus on for now. This allows us to see the key parts and grasp how they relate to each other.
Without some boundary, our attention doesn’t know where the container ends. Boundaries are a way to invite-in focus and remove overwhelm. But they are often arbitrary and defined by our limited perspectives. At some point in the process, we may be well-served by redefining or even erasing boundaries. Because our ecosystems and their interconnections never end.
“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those that have not viewed the world.” — Alexander von Humboldt: German geographer, naturalist and explorer