All my relations is a ritual phrase used in many Native American ceremonies. It refers to an age-old awareness that everything in creation is connected by a common Creator. No being is above or below another. All take their places equally in the circle of life. Predator and prey, plant and mineral, earth and air, water and wind.
This is not a primitive superstition or a New Age idea. It embodies the wisdom of thousands of years of indigenous experience and understanding. But it is not unique to Native Americans. Contemplative traditions and contemporary scientists speak of intriguingly similar insights.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber addressed the levels of such understanding in his classic work I and Thou. Buber suggested that relationships seem to have a sort of evolutionary quality, roughly based on the degree of consciousness and compassion present. The most basic he referred to as I-It interactions. At this level, I am aware of myself as utterly separate and distinct. Others are but objects, of no particular value or consideration, except as of benefit to me. Tragically, the Europeans who came to this continent in quest of land, gold, minerals, and timber tended to relate this way to the people who had already been here for countless generations.
Another level he described as a form of I-You. I am aware of myself as relational, but in a limited sense. Fellow beings may be regarded as equal, inferior, or superior. My real connection, however, is only to those of my own circle, whether that is a few family members, a religious/ethnic group, a political party, or perhaps an entire nation. Others who are outside the circle, for whatever reason, may have little more than I-It standing. Most of us tend to inhabit this realm.
The highest level Buber called I-Thou. This perspective intuitively recognizes that the quality of consciousness I know as myself, my Self, is in essence the presence that is vitalizing all other forms of life, even those thought to be inanimate. I am unique and distinct, of course, but connected in common with everyone and everything. Henri Nouwen refers to this as the Christ within me recognizing the Christ within you. All relationships then are sacred, because all are joined at the source.
This is not the exclusive province of saints, mystics, and indigenous traditions, however. In 1996, neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke that shut down the left hemisphere of her brain. As a scientist, she recognized what was happening, even though she was powerless to stop it. During the course of her experience and her lengthy recovery, she realized firsthand the dynamic differences in consciousness between the right and left hemispheres.
What she discovered was that in her right mind, she knew herself to be pure energy, connected in essence to everyone, everything, and the source of all being. This was not an endorphin-induced euphoria, she knew, but the quality of consciousness of the right hemisphere of her own brain. It was the first time in her life that the language-based left hemisphere was no longer dominating thought and perception with its constant chatter that rehashes the past, rehearses the future, and ensures the singular sense of disconnectedness we call being an individual.
After years of rehabilitation, she returned to teaching neuroanatomy, but with a profound appreciation for the urgency of our collective need to regain a long lost balance between the two hemispheres of the brain, and therefore the mind. If willing, we are inherently wired to restore the fundamental attunement to life itself that brings us in harmony with creation and the Creator, and most of all, with one another.
But then again, Native Americans have been saying this for as long as anyone can remember.