All life distinguishes “inside” from “outside,” or “self” from “nonself.” This is the fundamental duality of existence. This dichotomy, this distinction, this bias, this sapience is the software of living. Life (in order to begin, in order to continue) is self-preserving and, therefore, self-serving. Life is partial to itself: it views its own self as the Subject and everything else as “other,” “environment,” or “objects.” All life objectifies other life as “environment,” to use and to eat, to flee from so as to not be used or eaten by it, or both. All life is fundamentally unfair to other life—until it understands its inevitable interdependence and, on a higher level, its essential sameness.
Early in our development—both as individuals and as cultures—we adopt an adaptively intense dualism of self and nonself. We are highly self-centered (egocentric). It makes sense. Being helpless and scared, we have to think in a highly conservative manner. This developmentally early dualism is there to protect us. “You’re either with me or against me” is the mentality that underlies our socializing. We socialize not for fun but for protection. We group into cliques and circle the wagons. We are busy surviving.
As we learn more about life, we begin to tame our fears and distinguish between physical and symbolic threats. If we’re fortunate, we eventually conquer our innermost fear: the fear of dying. As we progress from fear to nonfear, we become increasingly less invested in all of these us-versus-them distinctions. The lens of our perception is recalibrated to notice similarity, perhaps even the oneness of our shared essence, rather than superficial differences in form. We become kinder and more compassionate. We even begin to feel for the life that we consume each time we sit down to eat—not just the animals that died so we might mindlessly eat another meal while zoned out in front of the TV, but even the plant-based life we consume. We begin to understand that anything that is alive wants to stay alive, regardless of its level of complexity.
A sense of tender intimacy emerges as we eat—not guilt that we have to consume something living in order to live, but a sense of interconnectedness, a realization that as we eat this Earth, we become this Earth, that as we eat this food, we become future food. This creates a kind of camaraderie of existence: a baseline sympathy, a gradual but never complete dissolution of subject-object duality, a universal willingness to relate, to feel for the other—kindness, if you will.
Eating is a reunion of self and nonself, of me and not-me, of you and not-you, of eater and food through the enmeshment of eating. Eating is twofold yoga: a yoga that unifies your body with your mind, and, at a higher level, a yoga that unifies you with your environment.
An eating moment is a bittersweet moment of connection—a namaste of metabolic interdependence.