Me and You and Everyone: Exploring Oneness

Few concepts are as slippery as “oneness.” Sure, the idea that all things are interconnected might appeal in the abstract. But trying to wrap your brain around what oneness actually means is a lot like trying to understand infinity or a bazillion dollars or the distance between here and the sun — it’s hard to conceptualize something that “big.” Among the daily distractions of work, kids, or that craving for a soy mocha, it seems simpler to leave the pursuit of oneness to the “woo woo” world — the meditation masters, the Buddhist monks, psychics, yogis and their ilk.

At least that’s what neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor always thought. That is until, one December morning in 1996, a blood vessel exploded in the left half of her brain, leaving her unable to talk, walk, read or recall any part of her life. Miraculously, for a four-hour period as her hemorrhage grew, Taylor was able to consciously observe the phases of her brain’s deterioration from the inside out.

Upon losing the functioning of her brain’s left hemisphere, (or the “me”-thinking hemisphere, as she calls it), Taylor came face to face with unencumbered right-brain “we-thinking”… or, simply, oneness. As she described in a February 2008 lecture at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in Monterey, CA, “because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.”

For Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, founder of the Global Oneness Project (GOP), an organization dedicated to documenting the many expressions of interconnectedness across the globe, Taylor’s story is not only remarkable, it’s good for business.

Growing up with meditation as an everyday practice and his father, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a revered Sufi teacher and author, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee learned that “oneness” — a central tenant of Sufism that celebrates the connectedness of humanity — was a way of life. So it wasn’t surprising when he began to cultivate an interest in people who were actively and creatively living this idea — and wanted to share their stories.

The Business of Oneness

The GOP is no ordinary venture: its product is hope, assembled in a living library of short films and interviews from all over the world. The content, which is available as free, high-definition downloads on the organization’s website (globalonenessproject.org), are bite-sized introductions created to inspire. (They can also be translated into any language.) Each one shows an example of how unity, interconnection and social responsibility are helping to spur creative responses to some of the world’s greatest challenges.

DVDs are also “sold” from the website, but no money passes hands. Instead, they are served up “pay-it-forward” style: the site simply asks that each one be shared with at least five people before it is passed on to someone else.

Ultimately, the Project, funded by the Kalliopeia Foundation in San Rafael, California, aims to create a shift from me-based to we-based thinking by bringing oneness alive. “We’re not trying to create a perfect, utopian world,” insists Vaughan-Lee. “Just one where love, generosity, understanding, abundance — all the good stuff — can be applied to practical social, economic and political systems.”

The current state of the world and his dual role as both do-gooder and dad makes Vaughan-Lee’s desire to evoke change all the more urgent. “We are dealing with destruction on a massive scale and the solutions lie in shifting our mindset,” he says. Vaughan-Lee believes the inspiration these films invoke can help people think and live differently. “Change can’t be top down,” says Vaughan-Lee. “The revolution needs to come from the people.”

Content from the GOP is being used in schools, fairs, festivals and community centers from Florida to France. When John Macleod, the computer clubhouse director for the Marin Youth Center After-School Program shared a selection of short films with a group of kids, it inspired them to create their own film about local environmental groups in Northern California. “They’re engaging with social and environmental topics that have real meaning instead of making the usual skateboard or lightsaber videos,” Macleod says. He agrees that talking about “oneness” can be very abstract — especially for youth. “Using film is a good way to make it feel real and help them figure out how to get involved with the world around them.”

Susan Rooney-Harding, director of Inspirational Cinema included several of the GOP films in her free film series for secondary schools in South Australia. Forums following the screenings allow youth to develop and share new ideas about global sustainability and how they as individuals can begin to actualize their ideas. She says kids walk away with the feeling that “one person can make a difference.”

Vaughan-Lee and his team plan to continue collecting and recording people’s stories. “What began as a web-based only project is evolving,” he says. “We’re now creating longer pieces and coming up with a central theme for each trip.” His goal is to develop television programming and potentially a full-length feature film.

“What we have done so far is to give out seeds,” says Denise Zabalaga, the Project’s videographer and editor. “When people realize they’re not alone — that there are others who share their hopes, in their own hometown and all over the planet, this awakens a sense of responsibility, power and joy.”

Real People, Real Stories

How does the GOP find their subjects? “There’s definitely some planning involved, but there’s also a lot of spontaneity in following and trusting our instincts,” Vaughan-Lee explains.

He and his crew of three have filmed, produced and edited more than 60 interviews with writers, teachers, healers, artists, political leaders, scientists and community activists in the United States, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Trips to Japan and Vietnam are currently in the works.

Denise Zabalaga, co-director of the critically acclaimed documentary film The Giant Buddhas, is the Project’s videographer and editor. “I see our work as a documentation of the change that is taking place right now hellip; a change of awareness in people,” she says. “What has been separated, differentiated and segregated is a now something that exists in the past.”

The films span a cross-section of people, places, cultures and religions and include snippets of wisdom from community leaders across the globe. In one interview, youth worker Nelsa Libertad Curbelo Cora describes the inspiration behind Barrio de Paz (“Peace Town”), a non-violent youth movement in Guayaquil, Ecuador. “Everything in society tells us to distrust others. I think it’s the other way around,” says Cora. “We need to profoundly trust in those around us, in their potential and in who they are.”

In another, Stephan Fayon, director of an international seed bank in Auroville, India, discusses how preserving the diversity of seeds can help us “get back to that really basic thing which is knowing how to nurture ourselves,” he says.

“These films help us see how we all can have an impact. What one person does affects everyone around them,” says Vaughan-Lee.

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