The butterfly effect

Have you ever been struck suddenly in situations where some action of yours (that seemed to be insignificant to you) has resulted in something good for someone else..? Sometimes, the cosmos has a way of reminding us of how connected we all are. A small incident triggered this thought for me. Last friday, I was attending a seminar by a graduate student. I had a question from the talk, and before asking it, I hesitated for a moment. I did not want to appear to be a smart-alec..but then, I thought why not and went ahead. The question led to a good discussion.

And then, today, there was this woman from the medical school who is doing an article on our research on investigating alternate breast imaging techniques for breast cancer diagnosis. She had actually come to see a collegue-who shared my office, and who has a bigger role in the whole big scheme of the research. And while passing, she saw me and stopped. She asked me if she could ask me a couple of questions as well. It turns out, she was at that seminar last week, and she felt my question brought out the clinical aspects of our research. We got talking and I showed her some pictures (which were right on my screen, as I was preparing for a grant), and got her really interested. Her questions were so pertinent and meeting her was nice. She also noticed the fact that women were in the minority in the research group, and I spoke to her about the unique perspective I brought to the project being a woman. She also asked if, coming from India, my parents were engineers. I spoke about my Mom being in telecommunication and how supportive my parents had been.

It started a whole set of thought processes. So, by her small action, she in turn got me thinking. How every action of ours matters. It always comes around, no matter what. A small smile, a ready presence, goes a long way. In fact, it is the butterfly effect-every small action of ours not only has an action on our immediate surroundings, but it invariably goes across the universe. Take a simple example: have you ever noticed how your voice on the phone can make a difference on how the conversation goes? Even before you start the conversation, just by having a loving energy and being fully present has the capacity to change the tone of the conversation, versus being angry or annoyed. I’ve certainly noticed this visibly. So, even before we act, just our presence, our energy carries the capacity for change.

The day went by quickly with several things at work and then I came home. Daalu is out of town and I’m on my own this evening. So, I meditated longer than usual and then listened to a dharma talk by Thay. And guess what he spoke about: inter-being. We inter-are. We affect everyone around us, and every person around us affects us. So, we cannot exist by ourself. We can only inter-be, whether we realise it or not. He also spoke about notions versus realizations. Now thats another topic: getting caught in ideas. It made me think. We all know that genetically we are from our parents, and hence we are but a continuation of them. We know that they are part of our body, part of our cells. and yet, to know it and realize it, practice it is all together different, is it not? If we truly know that we inter-are, can we ever raise our voice against our parents? can we ever say a sharp word to them. Can we ever feel separate from them? For, don’t we also exist in them? that is the meaning of inter-being. So, who are we being sharp to? our own self-the self that does not exist on its own, and is part of our parent’s self too.

I had an interesting conversation with a collegue yesterday, who is from India (has a PhD and works at Dartmouth). He spoke about his Dad, how much his Dad had supported him. His grandfather had never been to school. His Dad had attended school till 10th grade. and yet when the choice of going to an engineering school paying a hefty sum, came, his Dad wanted him to take it. His Dad wanted him to have what he himself had not had the opportunity to do so, by taking a loan. That is a noble deed. Have not all the people in our lives done something noble? I know my parents have always raised me to be independent, even though I grew up in a traditional south-indian society. It used to irk me when my Dad asked me to go to the bank and deposit cheques when I was a kid. But at that point, he merely wanted me to know what it is like to do things on my own. My mom being a working woman has shaped who I am. Today, as I spoke to that woman from the medical school, I felt proud.

Inter-being is not just with parents, but with all those we love and who love us. We can practice inter-being in daily life: when we see ourselves, we can also see all the people who shaped our lives. and also all those whose lives we will shape by our actions. Both are equally important.

So, next time, when you think your actions are insignificant, think twice.

Peace, S.


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