What the Sandpiper Knows

“We Indians think of the Earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle, man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers, the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find, they are all relatives.”

—Jenny Leading Cloud


He moved in perfect unison with the rhythm of the surf without looking up.

As the mighty ocean’s final layer of foam peaked, paused, and receded, the sandpiper pivoted and followed it back to its lowest point. Feeding all the while, the agile creature changed course again precisely before the next wave’s uphill surge. Over and over, this intimate dance repeated itself. No conscious thought or strategic planning was required. No weather forecasts or surf reports were needed. That little bird intuitively knew when to turn, advance, and retreat.

I’ve seen similar examples of complete synchronicity between seemingly disparate entities on numerous occasions, from animals large and small, during my frequent visits to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains. The horses, for example, know first and best when a severe storm is coming. They gather and huddle with their hindquarters facing the pending wind before any humans nearby detect that danger is in the air.

How does the sandpiper dance with the surf without looking up?

How do horses recognize what we can’t yet see, hear, or feel?

The answer is simple, in both cases: Their survival depends upon being attuned to the natural world that engulfs them.

Humans possess the same capabilities, but as we have systematically urbanized, mechanized, computerized, and televised across time, we’ve slowly given up this wisdom. Most of humanity has walked away from our connectivity to nature and, in so doing, we’ve abdicated the understandings that embracing our connectivity afford. Any indigenous community that lived and died with the wind and the tide for generations knew what the sandpipers and the horses know. Everything that exists in the universe is related and interconnected. Separateness, as we’ve come to experience it, is an illusion. Furthermore, seeing separateness where none exists has consequences. And we are paying them.

The Sioux call it Mitakuye Oyasin, which translates as “All things are one thing,” or “We are all brothers.” This understanding of oneness and connectivity was not limited to humans but rather included creatures and elements big and small. The wind, the rain, the buffalo, the eagle, the human—all of it is related.

Here’s the progression of awareness that Mitakuye Oyasin represents:

  • Everything that exists is interconnected and part of the whole. There is no separation.
  • This universal connectivity includes humans.
  • Damage to any part of that web of connectivity is damage to oneself and the whole. Conversely, kindness to any part of the web is kindness to oneself and the whole.

These principles redefine the fundamentals of winning and losing. In a universe where everything is connected, winning isn’t winning unless everyone is winning. Corporations don’t win if employees, customers, or the community lose. Democrats don’t win if Republicans lose in policymaking (and vice versa). If Christians win but Muslims lose (or vice versa), then both have lost.

This is the new self-awareness that comes with seeing oneness. Everything can be reduced to its tiniest particles of matter. In that infant form a cactus, a rock, and a human all consist of the same elementary stardust.

Why is this important? Because the majority of our societal ills are derived from seeing separation where none exists. Until we learn to see differently, we are destined to experience more of the same.

Science is only recently uncovering what ancient spiritual communities knew long ago: We are not perceiving what we experience; we are experiencing what we perceive. The world is divided only because we have learned to see it as such.


Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours.

Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.


Note: For a great, short book on seeing oneness, consider reading The Divine Matrix by Gregg Braden.