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Curious Connections

An obvious yet curious thought: my body is partly made from potatoes! I eat potatoes several times a week. (As I write, images arise: boiled new potatoes...or better still, chips. I notice my mouth watering a little.)

During a brief foray into veg growing, I remember the pleasing, earthy smell as I planted out seed-potatoes, while resident earthworms did their bit for the soil. Somewhere in my mind is an image of Irish women in long skirts and scarves, working the potato fields. I notice an emotional connection: my ancestors are among them. No doubt a farmer with a big tractor grew the ones I made into leek and potato soup this morning, with lorry drivers transporting them to the supermarket down the hill.

I pause to take in the fact that growers, deliverers and sellers of potatoes - along with the other foods that literally sustain my life - are actual, real people. How often do I appreciate the simple fact of my reliance on these unknown people? Truthfully? Almost never.

How about a spark of gratitude towards the flesh-and-blood people who played a part in making my comfy jeans? Or those who built the warm, dry house I live in? The honest answer is, "very rarely." Does it matter that I take for granted the web of connections that keeps me fed, warm and dry...indeed, that keeps me alive?

Theoretically, I know that we are all interconnected and that my basic survival (never mind the finer points of existence) relies on a mass of unseen natural resources and human endeavour. But knowing in theory isn't, at all, the same as feeling those connections. I am well aware of research that tells us that gratitude is a rapid route to good relationships and a happy heart and mind. In fact, I am so familiar with this theme that I am sometimes irritated by "yet another commentator banging on about gratitude." But actually feeling grateful is completely different from just reading or thinking about it. When I feel appreciation, there is a softening in my gut and an opening in my chest, like a soft glow. Life shifts into something nicer: less like a 'problem'. Appreciating my part in a vast web of connections is most likely to happen in moments of spaciousness that have not been zealously filled up with other tasks, thoughts and information.

No wonder the phrase 'only connect' - meaning the EM Forster quote, already famous before the quiz show - has entered our language, perhaps as a reminder that we can reach across our illusion of isolation. Deep down, we know that there is pain in being disconnected.

Now where was I? Oh yes: potatoes! A snippet surfaces: that the Incas were the first people to cultivate potatoes. Without the actions of those Inca people, I guess potatoes might never have made it to my plate - and more importantly my stomach - at all. Pausing to appreciate their ingenuity, I can see scope for gratitude here too, even across time and distance.

How would it feel to be truly awake to one's connection with potatoes, earthworms, Incas, farmers, lorry drivers - and the whole web of life and culture that we know we are part of? Beautiful? Challenging? Something to aspire to?

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