I am walking slowly behind my dad on a narrow sidewalk when I notice a mimosa tree. It is early January in Tirana and the mimosas are in full bloom much earlier than I remember. I stop and reach out to a low branch to smell the soft, plushy flowers that bring back sweet memories of spring, sunny days, laughter, and love. My dad stops and comments that they smell like pee. The beautiful mimosa tree is in a ditch full of garbage and all kinds of waste. We laughed and kept walking. We talked about how the mimosa tree takes its nutrients from the waste and turns it into such beautiful flowers.
The image of the mimosa tree living in the ditch, surrounded by waste reminded me of the concept of interbeing, coined by one of my favorite Zen teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.” Similarly, the waste and the mimosas inter-are.
Interbeing is more than simple co-existence. There is a close relationship between the mimosa tree and the waste surrounding it. The mimosa tree is transforming the waste into beautiful flowers and providing nutrients for insects and birds, releasing oxygen in the air. It’s providing shade for stray dogs and cats. It is giving me happiness as it is bringing back memories and also allowing me to connect with my dad. It is giving us both a precious moment of love, shared experience, and connectedness. Interbeing is more than just simple coexistence. It is about interdependence and interconnectedness.
My dad gathered some mimosas for me a couple of days later. He is not a man of many words and this is his gesture of love and care. I am filled with gratitude and joy. The story that connects us all: the garbage and waste, the mimosa tree, my dad, and me is just one small example of interbeing. When we remember to pause and look around us and become curious, we can see examples of interbeing everywhere. Understanding and experiencing interbeing can help lighten the weight of our suffering and feel less alone and isolated. It can help us appreciate this messy world we live in and see the beauty in the garbage.
I invite you to try it. Think about the device you are using to read this article: can you think of ways you and the device inter-are? Can you think of how you and I inter-are?