There is an exercise in We All Have Souls and I Think We Can Prove It that shows it is impossible to live in the physical world without harming other living things. In brief it asks you to consider a vegetable.
One point of the exercise is that we need to eat other living things to survive. When you eat the vegetable, feeding you becomes its sole purpose for existing. A carrot or stalk of broccoli that you eat doesn’t go on to make more carrots or broccoli. It’s finished, at least in the “bloodline” (seedline?) sense.
We should not have any thought that we can live in the physical world without harming other beings. It can’t be done. The souls of those other beings can move on to somewhere else, though. Just like our soul, when our body dies, can move on to a new life.
The other point of the exercise was to ask what you would do to contribute your share back into the community of the physical world. A friend who read the exercise had a reaction to it that I want to discuss. Codependency is a big issue in his life and he sees giving back as being codependent. He said that he is working hard to avoid helping or judging others. I think he is missing the distinction between helping and codependency.
There is a concept in Inca medicine work called ayni. It is usually defined as the balanced state of reciprocity between all living things. It recognizes that we interact with everything and it recognizes that we need to balance the relationship so that all living things are treated with the proper respect. In the case of the vegetable, it means that we honor it for feeding us. And we honor all the other living things that were part of growing the vegetable.
So how is this different from codependency? Ayni is a statement of reality. We are all connected. Fostering helping connections makes us all stronger.
Codependency is different. My current view is that codependency supports an addiction. It’s as if the addiction is a living thing. But the living addiction is harmful to all of us. The addiction harms the person with the addiction and anyone who is codependently helping the person keep the addiction.
It doesn’t matter if the addiction is to a substance like drugs or alcohol, a process like gambling or sex, or an emotion like anger or outrage. All of these can be addictions.
When we see them in others, all of them can cause us to act codependently. We can drag the drunk who has passed out in the car into the house. We can mortgage our house to pay gambling debts. We can fan the flames of outrage by agreeing with lies the anger addict tells about “the other.” That’s codependent behavior, and it makes things worse.
On the other hand, we can act in ayni. We can withdraw our support from the drunk or gambler, but at the same time show them paths to healing. We do not support the ongoing addiction, but we do support the person in his or her healing. For outrage, we can state truths to counter the lies. But if this leads to more outrage, we can withdraw from the interaction. We still need to state our truths, but when we withdraw, it’s up to the anger addict to come find them.
If the anger continues, we remember ayni. If there is a person we care about inside the anger, we talk to the person, but not the anger. If the person is so lost to outrage that he or she can’t be reached, then ayni, the right relationship, is to cut the connections with the outrage. If the person escapes the outrage, then we can begin the relationship anew.
So that’s the answer for my friend. In ayni we share positive life force with one another. It’s a good thing. In codependency we interact with a harmful addiction. There’s nothing personal or positive about codependency. And I agree that it is a bad idea to be codependent.
We are at our best when we walk paths of mutual support. I write this in ayni.
If you are curious and don’t want to wait for the book to be published, here’s the exercise that started the discussion.
This is a two-part exercise. For each part use about 30 seconds to write down your answers. The first part is hard enough that I’m going to supply some possibilities. They include creatures that help with the process, but eventually die because that’s what happens to all creatures. Use the ones that are appropriate and supply other answers of your own.
Imagine your favorite vegetable. Use a fruit if you don’t have a favorite vegetable. If you can hold one in your hands while you do the exercise, it’s even better.
* Write down what gave life force in the form of work or even death as part of getting that vegetable into your hands. Some possibilities are dinosaurs to provide gasoline, weeds that were removed to let the plant grow, harmful insects killed by pesticides, insects that pollinated the flowers, the plants that produced the vegetable, earthworms that improved the soil, bacteria that were washed off the vegetable, and all the humans involved in growing, picking, shipping, and selling. The sun and the rain and the soil have a part in this, too.
* Write down how you will use the life force you get from the vegetable to give back to your community.
The first part of the exercise is to show how much impact even our simple need for food has on life force. The second part leads to thinking about how you can do your share. One possibility is to grow your own food to minimize the life force used to create it. Another is to support those who grow food in life-enhancing ways and use the time you save to give life force to the world in other ways. I’m not advocating for either choice, just hoping you will make an informed decision that keeps your interactions with life force balanced.