I’m an introvert and a writer, so I spend a lot of time on my own. I value solitude – I even relish it – and yet at some point it starts to bother me. I’m happy to be alone in my room, but not alone in the house. I like to hear the sounds of people moving around me. Even if I’m not directly interacting with others, knowing they’re there is a comfort.
Yesterday I pushed myself into a situation that terrified me. I went to a place I’d never been before to spend a few hours with a large number of total strangers. For me a crowd is more than three people, so a room of thirty-odd bodies was incredibly intimidating. But it wasn’t just any crowd. It was a group of people who had come to meditate together – in other words, a group of people who were looking for a kind, loving space in which to connect with themselves and others. Because of that intention, the energy in the room was relaxed and welcoming. I stopped feeling anxious. I started feeling safe.
And I realised something, something I used to know but forgot. Other people are like me. They feel the same things. As I moved my arms I was aware of the fact that every person in the room was experiencing something similar. That stretch, that tension. The same sensations when they take a deep breath. The same pressure of their feet pressing into the floor. The same emotions, too, though maybe in different ways, at different intensities, and in different situations. At some point all of us have felt anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness. At some point all of us have felt joy.
It seems an obvious thing – of course all people feel – but we don’t act like it’s obvious. We act like we’re the only ones having the human experience. Other people are abstract things, two-dimensional characters in a bad film, cardboard cut-outs. Villains to be defeated, caricatures to be mocked, sinners to be judged. We forget. We spend most of our time walking past ourselves, oblivious of the fact that there are seven billion of us. Seven billion of me, seven billion of you. Seven billion people who are just trying to get through the day, to make it from one moment to the next in the best way they know how.
That blows my mind. It blows my mind just trying to figure out the ball of complexity that is me. When I remember that everyone else is just as complex, it’s almost overwhelming. In those moments I own my humanity completely. I understand that I am a single grain on a beach, but I am also the beach. I am the essence of sand. We all are. Everyone’s baggage is my baggage. Everyone’s drama is my drama. Every action I take has a ripple effect. I live for me, but for you as well.
Seven billion souls. Seven billion seekers, anxious about the future. Seven billion golden opportunities. Trying to even picture all those faces is a head trip. In the face of a number like that it’s easy to feel helpless. But, though it sounds like a public service advert, it all starts with you. Me. The one among the many. The one that is the many.
When you see humanity that way, everything changes. You no longer walk into a room of thirty-odd strangers. You walk into a room of thirty people just like you. It’s a lot more difficult to fear them then, and once your fear subsides, something else takes its place. Something lighter. Something just as powerful. Yep, I’m going to say it – love. Not the hearts and roses, nights of wild passion kind. The kind that is serene, that sees connections rather than divisions, that seeks to heal rather than wound. The kind that takes pleasure in making everyone smile.
Now take that, and multiply it by seven billion.