In 2012, results of a study conducted by researchers at Facebook and the University of Milan were released that found that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world is 4.74. Until then it was held there were six degrees of separation. That number came from a 1967 study that utilized 296 volunteers sending messages using postcards sent through the postal service. The new study used a group that was a bit larger: 721 million. That’s how many Facebook users there were then in the world.
Instead of scrutinizing return addresses and stamp cancellations, the scientists utilized algorithms to calculate the distance between any two people on earth. Hypothetically, that would include someone living in a village in Siberia and someone living in Greenwich Village in New York. Six Degrees of Separation is part of our collective imagination and is also the title of a popular play by John Guare.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is still a popular parlor game employed to link seemingly unrelated film and television stars to one another. It’s fascinating to think that the world is so interrelated that we are separated from a stranger on another continent by such few people, all due to the many different communication platforms available throughout the industrialized world and more and more often in countries with emerging economies.
But are we really separated by even four or five people? I believe we are not separated at all; that the sense that people are foreign, far away, or unknown to us is an illusion. In reality there is no separation. Christianity refers to all people as being the Body of Christ and one of the Vedic [Hindu] understandings of life is that we are all part of the same pulsing cosmic consciousness dependent upon one another and all things to exist.
Therefore, the perception of people being different and external to us is a mistaken one. We are, in the Greater Reality, intrinsically bound to one another because we are actually one and the same Being, although we express ourselves as individuals with distinct personalities. The fact that we are merely different facets of the same Divine Consciousness is obscured in order for us to live out our destinies and work through those things we have brought with us into this life from previous ones.
It is with heightened awareness and consciousness brought about through spiritual practices and grace that we, like the great mystics and teachers of all religions, can realize and experience in the totality of our Being that we are not separate individuals, but rather, manifestations of a greater Cosmic Force—of God. We are One through our love of God, in whatever form God takes.
Imagine, if every time we interacted with someone we said to ourselves, “This person and I are one. This person is also a manifestation of God.” Imagine if we took a moment and saw ourselves within them and allowed ourselves to sense them within us. We could then never deprive them of food or shelter. We could never strike them in anger. If we did, we would also be doing those things to ourselves.
Six Degrees of Separation—Four Degrees of Separation—No Degrees of Separation.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION OR DISCUSSION
- If you’re on Facebook, have you ever scrolled through the friends list of one of your own friends and discovered that you know the same person?
- In what ways do you ever feel a kinship or connection to a stranger or someone about whom you read or see in the media?
- How differently would you behave or live if you really felt that we are not just connected to one another, but are spiritual kin?
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1 Corinthians 12:1-14, 27 (NRSV)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit…Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.
Swami Rama in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita writes this about Maya: “..the illusory force through which Reality enacts the drama of illusory appearance and disappearance of the external world as well as bondage and liberation. Maya has two functions: the power to veil Reality and the power to project the unreal in place of the real.” In Hinduism there is a mantra that is often recited before beginning meditation:
Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace!