As I write this piece about the wound of separation, I sit quietly alone in a cafe among the indistinct chatter of strangers I have never met or crossed paths with before, except for this singular moment in which we happen to be drinking coffee at the same place and time. I can’t help thinking about some of my own life stories that started from a complete unknowing–from absolute strangers–to bonding and sharing exceptional moments together and then finally ending up parting ways again. I have had my fair share of goodbyes in life–with people I worked with, came across in my travels, friends, family and even ones that were, and still are, closest to my heart. Some were candid, some were difficult, others were utterly heartbreaking, such as being separated from my own young daughter a continent away. Few thoughts or words can give solace to such a sense of separation, although there are ways to deal with it, such as forgiving, letting go, moving forward, building new bonds, and ultimately, the two biggest healers of all–time and love.
Underlying our individual stories of separation, those that are personal and have an address in place and time, there is yet an underlying deeper and collective wound of separation that we all share. It is, in fact, one of the core wounds of humanity alongside shame, guilt and rejection. This is the pain of separation from ourselves, others and the world around us. It is a silent yet resilient form of separation that lurks in the deepest recesses of our being. It has no name because it is not identified with any face, story or time. It is, in fact, the trickiest and the most impactful among the core human wounds for the very fact that it is so silent and pervasive. It’s like being a fish in water; you just can’t see the water for being water can you? It’s the same thing with our sense of separation or separateness–it creates so much pain, yet we can’t point our finger at it.
The Ecology of Self
There is a reason, of course, why we cannot see clearly how we are all affected by this innate sense of separation–it’s because we are so subject to it. It is hardwired in us biologically, cognitively and socially. We are subject to it, because at its deepest level, it gives rise to a sense of self in the first place–or at least, a sense of a separate self that is defined and distinct from everything else. In its most basic and simplest form, what in fact we mean by separation, is this deeply rooted notion of everything being and functioning separately as objects, events, beings, etc.
From an evolutionary, biological and cognitive point of view, it does make sense that we see life this way of course. We are cognitive agents embedded in a marvellous physical shell we call a body. We make millions of unconscious decisions everyday, some of which might directly or indirectly influence our survival as individuals or as a species. The mind cannot function without making distinctions, categorising, assimilating and building concepts based on these processes. We wouldn’t be considered intelligent to start with. So we have to accept the fact that we are hardwired this way.
The problem is that this hardwired sense of separation is also part of our perception and hence how we construct our reality. In turn, we construct our reality inter-subjectively, that is, by interacting with others through language and other forms of communication.
Ironically, in fact, our sense of self arises out of our interactions with the world and others. The idea of a separate self comes about by virtue of it being embedded in a larger ecology–let’s call it the ecology of self and the world. We see ourselves in others and in our interactions with the world. The more we interact with it, the more we build and reinforce our sense of self as being a separate identity. Also, the more we grow up, the more ‘self identities’ we build through social conditioning and programming.
Yet, we are also reflexive and self-aware beings, meaning that we can ponder on all this, even though we are subject to it. We can transcend our biological and cognitive limitations, even if for a while to make sense of the larger picture. We have the awareness to identify and understand that this strong and palpable feeling that everything is separate, is only one way to perceive our reality and that it has an evolutionary and biological function. We can be sensitive enough to perceive beyond the immediacy of our senses and understand how we are parts of a wider ecology of Self with a big S (Source intelligence, the Multiverse, the biosphere and everything) and not just of self (constructed and illusory idea of a separate entity). This takes me to the next point.
The Network Analogy
I always mention how the computer sciences have surprisingly brought us the best analogies to the more metaphysical and spiritual subjects. The idea of computer networks make perfect sense to almost all levels of nature and existence in general; not least us humans. We are both nodes inside a network (or multiple networks) and are made up of multiple networks ourselves. Our bodies and brains are made up of many intricate networks, interdependent of each other, and this keeps on extending way beyond our body, into our immediate environment and to the biosphere–it being one large system made up of billions of systems that are all linked up and networked together in a delicate process of dynamic equilibrium. The line of where one system ends and another one begins can be drawn anywhere because, in truth, there is no line. We can keep on going beyond the Earth’s biosphere as a system or organism to the outer reaches of the universe and beyond.
We are also nodes in, and in between, networks and this is an important thought. For example, in a simple peer group, each one of us makes a node to the network or to multiple networks and groups at the same time. Society is made up of a multitude of networks that come in and out of existence every time people and groups of people interact, thus acting as nodes. The idea of nodes and networking is important because life is about networking to start with. Life seeks to create and reinforce connections all the time because it perpetuates and grows through those nodes and connections by spreading and exchanging energy and information. We are nodes in the network of life through which it can grow and expand.
Hence using this network analogy, it becomes easier to understand metaphors such as ‘being connected–or disconnected–from life or to the creative universal force.’ What it means is that when we live life through the lens of separation–that feeling that we are separate, special and that others are competing for the same resources–we are basically sending out the message that we are not nodes in a large network of life but disconnected entities working for our own sake. We want to save our own skin.
Breaking Down the Illusion
The hard question then is: “How can I help and think about others when I am trying to keep my own boat afloat?” or “How can I transcend beyond my egocentric view of the world that seems so very real to me?” or “How can I think in a ‘network’ kind of way when life and others are showing me that I am separate, or worse, alone?”
Breaking the deeply entrenched illusion of separateness is painful. This is the truth. It entails the Herculean task of breaking parts–if not all–of your worldview, and letting go of one of the most heavily guarded aspects of the ego: self-importance. It entails unlearning and relearning a lot of things about yourself and changing how you see yourself and your relation to the world. This, I believe, is nothing short of what in spiritual circles is referred to as awakening from the matrix–from the illusory reality. It’s not your typical yoga class but it’s achievable.
The funny thing is that even if you had to see it from a purely self-interest kind of way, ’networking’ still makes a lot of sense. Because we are a node by default, if we limit our connection to the network, we partly disconnect ourselves from the source of energy, life, creativity, abundance, support, sustenance, ideas, etc. The other way of seeing it is that whenever you give out energy (and everything is ultimately energy), energy necessarily has to come in from somewhere… it has to be sourced. So basically the more you give out, the more you will get in because life chooses to use those nodes and pathways that are active and well connected. If you choose to always keep for yourself and you are encumbered by fear and self-interest, you become a very poor node in the network. You become the weakest link.
The more open and trusting you are, the more flow of energy and information there is and we see this exhibiting as sustenance, synchronicity or things aligning up miraculously out of nowhere. Whichever language or metaphor we use, this is how it ultimately works.
Shifting Awareness and the Freedom of Not Being Special
So coming back to the questions above, I think they point to the same answer as many other deep questions: awareness. It’s always about awareness. In the beginning of this article, I mentioned how we need to, first of all, be aware of the fact that thinking in terms of separation is not obvious. To be aware that we do have a very deep and ultimately painful sense of separation lurking in our collective psyche is a very important and big first step. It is the beginning of coming out of the mass hypnosis and denial we are entrenched in.
Secondly, is to be aware of certain dangerous or unhelpful ‘mechanisms’ around us. We constantly have our subconscious ‘attacked,’ hacked and bombarded from all sides and by all means, reinforcing the belief of separation or separateness–advertising, social media, mass media, technology, authorities, institutions, schooling, peers, around every corner of our life. It is a war on attention, in case you haven’t noticed. Imagine you are in a sort of weird video game and wherever your character, or first-person point of view, moves, everything and everyone is trying to ‘install’ some piece of code in you in a bid to have your character hacked and less able to move and be controlled by your will. The comparison might seem a bit absurd at first but practically true. The more conscious of our interaction with the environment we become, the more we are able to maintain autonomy and sovereignty; the more we are able to lead ourselves and our lives in a more authentic way, the more we are able to break away from the illusion of separation and see ourselves as both individual expressions of universal consciousness and an inseparable part in the great wheel of life.
As we become more consistent in our attempt to be conscious of the illusion of separation, the more our awareness expands and clarifies. This makes us pierce deeper through the veil of reality to help us see ourselves for who we truly are; without false preconceptions, identities and storylines. It makes us even more sensitive to the wonderful miracle of life as one big, highly intricate web, constantly weaving patterns through connecting and disconnecting nodes like ourselves. It makes us understand better that we constantly have a choice–to be either hooked up as nodes and vehicles for this expanding, creative network of life or to stay encumbered in our egocentric point of view and fear-based reality, disconnected and turned off.
It is easier to live a fabricated illusion, especially when it comes to your own sense of self and importance. It’s not easy to see yourself for what you truly are at first but that’s just because of our hardwired sense of a separate self and entitlement. Once we ease out of the strict and narrow self-centred awareness, we truly start to appreciate how liberating and mind-expanding it is to be out of that cage. It is also immensely comforting to know that you are not separate after all and that you can be what you were meant to be–an inseparable part of life and the cosmos. You are special because you are and not because you have or do. It’s immensely beautiful and satisfying once we manage to glimpse past the initial discomfort and cold shatter of reality.
The irony is that the fear of peeping into the unknown and to travel in unchartered waters holds us into that space of familiar pain. Don’t forget that our subconscious chooses what is familiar and not what is less painful. So once we summon up the will and courage to go beyond the illusion and pain of separation, a whole new world opens up to us and it’s one where we truly appreciate the beauty of not being special in the sense we were always accustomed to.