The Purpose of Art is to Experience a Larger Interconnectedness

Posted on
Person looking at stars

The Purpose of Art is to Experience a Larger Interconnectedness

“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” 

― Bukkyo Dendo, The Teachings of Buddha

The Story of Interbeing is a worldview that says that all things are so deeply interconnected that they are one, while still retaining their individuality. The term “interbeing” was coined by Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn, who defined it this way: “In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am. That is the meaning of the word ‘interbeing.’ We interare.” 

The Story of Interbeing says that all things are so deeply interconnected that they are one, while still retaining their individuality;  the universe is more a being than a thing; that life has an inherent purposiveness; that the universe is a conscious, living, unified whole; and that meaning is best found in aligning yourself with the evolutionary unfolding of the universe, whose voice is your innermost truths and desires.

The Story of Interbeing has profound implications for the purpose and meaning of life and, as we shall see, of the arts. As you’ll recall, the Story of Separation says that the purpose of life is to expand the realm of human control ever outward by commandeering resources from a lifeless universe. In contrast, the Story of Interbeing says that, since all things are interconnected, then consciousness, intelligence, and aliveness must be inherent features of the universe at large. Therefore, the purpose of life, and what makes for a meaningful life, is to participate with that larger aliveness in an ongoing flow of giving and receiving.

The Story of Interbeing says we all have certain gifts to give, and so half of what makes for a meaningful life is to develop those gifts fully and to give them well to those who can best receive them. To give well is to honor the truths and desires core to your being, to bring forth what you were born to express, and includes everything else you could do to make the world more beautiful, vibrant and alive.

The other half of a meaningful life, then, is to be found in fully receiving the gifts around you, including the gift of life itself. It is to gaze with wonder at the glory of the universe, to take pleasure in the gifts of others, to play, have fun, and to fully  enjoy being alive in the world. You know you’re receiving well when you can look back over your life and say with satisfaction, as did the Creator in Genesis, “It was good.” 

Reflection – Interbeing & the Purpose of the Arts

Take a moment now to review the statements above about the purpose and meaning of life within the Story of Interbeing. Notice how your body feels as a result. Then consider what your heart and soul already know about the purpose of the arts. Can you feel how the Story of Interbeing naturally aligns with and supports the true purpose of the arts better than does the Story of Separation and its lesser gods? 

In the Story of Interbeing, the purpose of the arts is the same as life overall: to illuminate and embody the truth of who and what we are. What is this truth? It is that your self is not bounded by the limit of your skin nor defined by any label, concept, or story you might carry. Rather, you are the entire universe experiencing itself through your particular body, mind, and soul. However, even putting it in words this way cannot capture the fullness of the truth because, as it says in the Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the universal Tao.”   The truth is really the felt experience of Divine Presence itself, the source of conscious awareness, eternal, unbounded, and utterly interconnected with all that is. 

In other words, the Story of Interbeing is a story of a living universe, and the purpose of the arts within that story is to illuminate and celebrate that reality. Art can thus be defined as anything that heals, makes whole, enlivens, brings together, and otherwise draws both audience and artist into the apprehension of the numinous. As we shall see throughout this book, this is both the end goal of a work of art, as well as the defining feature of a creative process capable of accomplishing that goal. To make these ideas more tangible, here are some real-life examples.

In the Story of Interbeing, art can be defined as anything that heals, makes whole, enlivens, connects, and otherwise draws both audience and artist into the apprehension of the numinous.

Henry, a professor of violin at a university, came to me for help releasing the excess muscular tension in his arms that made playing violin for long periods feel awkward and tiring. What we discovered together was that he was aware only of his arms and hands while playing, an overly narrow focus based on the subconscious belief that his body comprised a collection of separate parts. I then explained that the muscles and bones of his body were, in fact, integrated aspects of a seamless web, and helped him expand his body awareness so he could experience how the unconsciously held tension in other, seemingly distant parts of his body, was affecting his arms. Supported by this new, more holistic body awareness, Henry was then able to better release tension throughout his whole body. After putting this awareness to use in his daily life, he later told me, “Playing violin is feeling significantly better now and when I’m teaching, I can demonstrate the kind of ease I want my students to have.” Whole body, whole music.

Francis, a young cellist who attended one of my workshops, told me she wanted help with a tricky passage in one of her pieces. After she demonstrated this passage, I asked her what she noticed about herself and she reported that her body got tight, and that she was mainly thinking about getting the notes right. I then asked her to play the passage again, this time thinking to herself, “I’m at ease with myself and I have plenty of time.” The result was immediate. With this one little change in thought, she reported that she felt much more relaxed and that her sound improved. I then asked the other participants what they noticed in themselves as she played, and they all said that they, too, felt more relaxed and enjoyed her music more. I then shared the deeper lesson with everyone present: “The truth is that, while getting the notes right is important, it’s not really what your audiences want most from you. They want to feel more relaxed and uplifted, and you can offer that to them by thinking in a way that lets your body be more relaxed and uplifted as you play.” The lesson we learned that day? When you create from a place of the unity of mind and body, as well as that of artist and audience, a more life-giving creative energy spontaneously pours forth.


Reese, a gifted illustrator, told me of the creative malaise she recently had been experiencing. In our conversation, we discovered the source of her malaise: in pursuing what had become a comfortable career doing corporate illustration, she had lost connection with a larger purpose. She said, “I’m tired of trying to sell myself; I want my art to be for something bigger than just paying the bills. I want to be of service.” I then invited her to make a sketch with her desire to be of service in mind. She reported that she came more alive when she drew, that her body relaxed, and that she had had more fun. I told her I could see and feel the results of this shift when I looked at her sketch. We then spoke of the implications of this experience for her artistic life overall. Drawing her own conclusions, Reese said, “I really need to remember to remain open to the magic. Art is a spiritual process. By honoring myself as a vessel for a creativity that is both of me and beyond me, I can now see a way that my art can serve something larger than myself and help make the world a better place.” The moral of the story? Connection with that which is alive inside you is necessary to create art that is alive. Moreover, doing so is vital to your role in societal and planetary healing.

Person looking at stars

Going Deeper

As we will explore throughout these blog posts and in my upcoming book, the Story of Interbeing contains the answers to many of our most pressing and perplexing challenges. As mentioned above, discovering these answers requires an understanding of interbeing that goes beyond the level of concepts and instead rests on a lived reality. Use the following practice to build familiarity with the Story of Interbeing by bringing its perspectives into your daily life.

Meditation — “Experiencing Interbeing”

This is an exploration designed to give you a felt sense of interbeing. If desired, do this exploration with a friend or as you interact with other people as you go about your day.

Look into someone’s eyes and say to yourself, either aloud or inwardly: “You are me, seeing the world through a different set of eyes.”  Repeat it several times until a new experience of yourself emerges. You may begin to feel the boundaries of yourself dissolving such that you really do see that this other person is yourself, just in a different body and with different life experiences. “You are me, seeing the world through a different set of eyes.”

Repeat this phrase many times over the next week as you interact with people and non-human beings. How does it change how you view yourself? It’s especially useful and instructive to say this during moments of difficulty or stress — how does it change how you view the “other” in a conflict?

Stay tuned for more blog posts and videos about discovering your creative purpose, creating more freely, and making art that matters!

For more support in this process, download your copy of the Soulforce Arts Starter Kit, a free mini-course designed to help you reconnect with your Soulforce, the transformative energy essential to great art that matters. You can access the Starter Kit by signing up for the Soulforce Arts Institute’s email newsletter.

The above post is adapted from Chapter 3 “The Foundations of Soulforce” of my book, “Soulforce: How to Discover Your Artistic Purpose, Create More Freely, & Make Art That Matters” coming out in mid-2024.

Joseph Arnold
Violinist, Alexander Technique teacher, and Director of the Soulforce Arts Institute

Image credit: Greg Rakozy

Scroll to Top