We have been living with an illusion: that we are separate.
Whenever we experience pain or sadness, it is because we have become separated from what, or whom, we love. And whenever we are inspired or joyful, it is because we are one with what, or whom, we love. All human challenges and successes can be explained through this awareness.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa
When we are in love with someone, it is as if we are one: two souls, one flame. That is because we are.
When we love doing something, or something makes our hearts soar, we feel as if we are one with it, because we are.
When we ache over the imperiled state of nature or the rising level of violence in the world, we ache because we feel the same pain. We share it because we are one.
Imagine a bright, sunny day. You are relaxing at your favorite sidewalk bistro. The enticing shrimp cocktail you ordered arrives, and you marvel at its beauty and presentation. As you relish the gift of brilliance from your chef, your mind wanders. You ask yourself the question that often crosses your mind when you encounter creativity, excellence, or mastery: “How do they do that?” In this case, you wonder, “Where did this food come from? What did it take to prepare it so beautifully? Who was involved in making this special treat?” In your reverie, you are transported far away, to seafaring nations and peoples. More than a billion people reside within 100 miles of the ocean, from which many of them derive their livelihoods, while all depend on a measure of stability between sea and land.
World shrimp production has ballooned from 2.9 million metric tons to 4.5 million in the past 15 years alone, with Asian production leading the world. Thailand, now the largest producer, earns $2 billion annually from its shrimping industry. America imports 88 percent of the $4 billion it spends on shrimp, and prices have dropped by 50 percent in the past ten years. Half of the shrimp production is farmed. Fishing nations have mastered shrimp farming so well that it now accounts for 50 percent of world production. The shrimp offered in restaurants and food stores today costs only a dollar a pound to produce.
But to create shrimp farms, it is necessary to remove mangroves. Mangroves once covered more than three-quarters of the world’s tropical coastline. Today, they cover less than 37 percent. Just 50 years ago, the shores along the rim of the Indian Ocean were ringed with endless acres of mangroves—swampy rainforests hugging the edges of both land and sea. Mangroves are storehouses of biodiversity, home to the world’s richest variety of salt-tolerant trees, ferns, and shrubs. Hundreds of different birds live in the mangroves, which also shelter migratory species. Mangroves are rich in sea life, including plankton, mollusks, and shell- and finfish. They are well-populated with crocodiles, monkeys, wild cats, lizards, and sea turtles.
As the region’s developing countries have expanded and diversified their economies, protective reefs, sand dunes, and mangroves along coastlines have been steadily removed. In the past few decades, more than 30 percent of the world’s mangrove forests, covering tens of thousands of miles of coastline, have been destroyed to make room for shrimp farms. Shrimp farming has resulted in beaches being cleared of mangroves and in an enormous rise of tourism, hotels, big cities, and other coastal developments.
On their way to their fishing boats early on the morning of December 26, 2004, fishermen noticed an odd absence of the usual wildlife found along their paths, but paid little attention to it. As they began trawling, there seemed to be an extraordinary abundance of fish: mackerel, squid, red snapper, sardines, and white snapper. They had never seen such profusion or diversity. In fact, yellow catfish, tiger fish, and other species not usually seen in these waters were, for the first time, remarkably abundant.
On that morning, fishermen long used to variable fishing conditions were giddy with excitement, hauling in their catch as fast as they could, convinced that their singular luck could not last for long.
During the previous three weeks, there had been a strange and total absence of fish, and the ocean had become unusually deep. And at this moment, very strangely, the tide seemed to be receding further and faster than they had ever seen before. Coral reefs appeared in only four meters of water where the sea was normally 20 meters deep. Something odd was happening. The tide was supposed to be coming in, but it was going out. Nobody on the beach was paying attention, but a kilometer of sand had replaced the space where normally there was sea. Fishing boats were sitting on wet sand.
In the distance, perhaps a kilometer away, a large wave could be seen—angular, black, and moving very, very fast. After the tsunami hit, 300,000 people died. In the ensuing chaos and destruction, one million jobs were lost in Indonesia and Sri Lanka alone.
Fewer casualties were experienced where mangrove forests remained, for example in Pichavaram and Muthupet, in South India. Close to the epicenter of the tsunami, on Nias Island, Indonesia, people were protected by mangroves. Burma and the Maldives suffered less damage because their shrimp and tourism industries had not yet removed the mangroves and coral reefs.
Sitting in the bistro, you might think that a shrimp cocktail, world shrimp prices, friends on vacation, unemployment, the silence of animals, mangroves, tsunamis, and death and destruction in 12 different countries were all separate events. But we are part of one universal web. All these parts are intimately, exquisitely, and invisibly connected—they are one.
What I have described above is far from being a complete review of all the possible impacts and outcomes of nations hungry for shrimp, and we may never even know or make the connections necessary to identify them all. But we can become more aware of the notion of oneness and live our lives in a way that recognizes the sacred connections between everything and considers the implications of all our actions on the whole.
When we lead from this place in our hearts, it shows.