Individuality, diversity and uniqueness are celebrated and lauded as the highest achievements in our Western society. We admire individualism, initiative, free thinkers and those who chart new courses. But, what if all this rugged individualism and diversity is leading us further apart; is fracturing the very basis of our connection and humanity? And is, in fact, a major cause of the disconnection and severe problems facing humanity today?
We often promote, cherish and celebrate diversity, whether cultural or biological, and we highly appreciate uniqueness and individuality for bringing in added value to groups, projects or societies in general. This is a marvelous thing and should be something that grows and spreads through all corners and pockets of the world. So much conflict and violence still arise out of intolerance for diversity and uniqueness, and so much destruction has been done to our biosphere for lack of appreciation of the real beauty and value of our biodiversity.
Yet, the idea of Oneness or put in simple terms, that we are one–we share the same spiritual and biological origin, we are made of the same stuff, share the same life support ecosystem, and are interconnected together through a shared quantum field that spans the known Universe and beyond–has an enormous potential to unify and connect people at the deepest levels. In a splintered world where men and women have lost the ability to relate, where men and men are disconnected, women are often pitted against each other, and families are breaking down, isn’t it time to return to what unites us all?
Whichever angle you look at it, there is this root notion that we are deeply linked at some level, beyond our apparent differences. By understanding what oneness is, we can start to experience it.
What is Oneness?
The idea of Oneness has never reached celebrity status as much as diversity and uniqueness did, even though it has been around since time immemorial, as a lot of our ancient cosmogonies, myths, and spiritual texts attest. The reason is not that hard to fathom. Diversity is embedded in form and can be perceived through both our senses and imagination. Oneness is not. It can only be accessed through an abstract conceptualization and not through direct experience. Hence it does not belong to the world of sense perception and experience. It is not empirical but a sophisticated idea that requires contemplation and some inner exploration–or consciousness exploration. Oneness, in fact, cannot be experienced through what can be referred to as waking consciousness but it can be directly experienced beyond the immediate senses, and this is one of the most common and most profound experiences reported by people who have had mystical or quasi-mystical experiences through consciousness-expanding psychedelics such as Psilocybin, Ayahuasca, LSD, Mescaline, etc. Roland Griffiths, a researcher at John Hopkins, who has carried out several studies on Psilocybin and other psychoactive substances, describes the mystical experience to have three common characteristics: unity, a strong sense of the interconnectedness of all people and things, and a sense of the sacred.
The One and the Many in Ancient Cosmogonies
In many ancient philosophies such as Taoism, Kabbalah, Hinduism, etc, we find a more or less shared reference to a dynamic between the One and the many. The idea always runs somewhere along the lines that there is a point of origin–a cosmic vibration, a sound, a word, a creator, a mythical figure, a source, a God or plain nothingness–that gave rise to the multitude of form; the many. The One and the many are pretty much the same thing, even though this may sound like a paradox to the human mind. The One is in the many, as much as the many make up the One and originate from it at the same time. Also in many spiritual traditions, mostly shared in Eastern thought and Philosophy, there is the concept that the world of forms is an illusion, whereas the One is the ultimate truth and reality, even though–and here lies the paradox–there is no separation between the two.
We can also see this from the more modern concepts of a matrix reality (with reference to the blockbuster movie), the simulation model of reality, and the holographic model of Mind and the Universe. The idea is that reality, as known by our senses, irrespective of how solid, rich and real it may feel, is nothing but a simulation, an illusion or a dream (in Tibetan Buddhism–a Bardo state). One of the biggest illusions, according to people who subscribe to this perspective, is the illusion of separation–the perception that we have a sense of Self that is separate from the World and others; the idea that we are special, different and at the center of our Universe. These beliefs are often thought to be at the heart of the narcissistic, dysfunctional and self-destructive traits of our ego. So the world of the many forms is, to put it bluntly, a movie projection that we are looking at from behind a screen, that we believe is real. Spiritual truth and expansion of awareness implies piercing through this screen and coming closer to the source of this projection; closer to the One.
Science, the Quantum Field and the Holographic Universe
Quantum theory has brought a lot of strangeness to the flat Universe of Newtonian mechanics. Many people have found that there is an obvious intersection between science and spirituality, through the new paradigm shift of quantum reality. With relevance to us here is the subtle but concrete parallel between the idea of Oneness and the underlying Quantum field that interconnects everything. The Quantum field, or Quantum Vacuum or zero-point field is, in over-simplistic terms, a ‘space’ (by no means empty) through which electromagnetic waves and particles pop in and out of existence, and is the underlying field that connects all particles and energies together. This concept has caused many to ponder on the profound veracity of the spiritual concept that we are fundamentally all one, as has been told by the ancients.
Another very interesting and important theory that comes out of theoretical physics is David Bohm’s model of the Holographic Universe. Bohm cleverly used the analogy of the Holograph (which was an already available technology at the time) to explain, among other things, anomalies such as quantum entanglement–the observed phenomena that two particles mirror each other’s behavior in real time, no matter how far apart they are separated in the Universe. For instance, through the analogy of the hologram, he was able to give the perspective that the anomaly of quantum entanglement arises only if we see them as two separate particles and not as two holographic projections of the same field.
A hologram (the actual hologram, that is) is created when a certain coherent light (laser) is shone through a special photographic plate or film and, depending on the intensity and angle of the laser, an image stored on the film is projected in its 3D form. Now the peculiarity of the hologram is this: If you take the photographic plate or film, cut it in half and pass the laser through it again, the whole image is still projected, albeit in lower resolution. And this keeps on going on and on, no matter how small you cut the film. In non-scientific terms, this means that the information of the whole image is found repeatedly in every part of the film, no matter how small.
Now, Bohm’s idea in layman’s terms was this: There is a field he called the implicate order, which is like that film containing all the information of the images that come out of it. In a spiritual perspective, this can be conceived as the One, God or the Dao. The reality we perceive, such as this physical Universe–the many forms–is nothing but a projection, or a set of projections, out of this implicate order. I have, of course, over-simplified and over-compressed the concept, but it will serve its purpose here to show that the idea of Oneness has very deep ramifications and occurrence in the realm of human knowledge, spanning from ancient Spiritual axioms to modern theoretical Physics.
The Sacred Web of Life
Other ancient traditions–for instance, pre-Columbian and pre-Christian Shamanic cultures–have had the wisdom to see the idea of Oneness in a more natural way. The idea was that we are all part of an intricate and sacred web of life and that we are one with each other and with our earth, Gaia, ‘pacha mama’, the living spaceship we call home. Everything is sacred and has deep value when seen from the ecological web of life. Everything is connected and life supporting. We are not separate from the natural world–the rainforest, the oceans, the millions of plant and animal species, the mineral world, etc–but deeply embedded in it, in a dynamical equilibrium and exchange (which we are quickly shattering). As we are unconsciously depleting our resources, destroying entire eco-systems and making whole species extinct, we are quite literally doing that to ourselves. And this is not rhetoric or wishy-washy talk. It’s a sensible, observable, logical and intuitive statement, all at the same time.
Many ecologists and evolutionary biologists have stood up to resonate this ancient wisdom and sensitivity towards the Oneness of life, in different echoes and tones. A lot of literature and conservation projects have been put up, in an effort to raise awareness about how precarious and alarming the situation is, but most of all to give people the insight that we are all One on this earth ship, and we need to hold the responsibility together.
The Path to the Future Leads back to Oneness
But what does the idea of Oneness mean in the 21st century? What value does it carry? What message can it pass on to future generations? I think that the message that we are all One has more relevance in these times than it ever did before because of our very sensitive position in our evolution. We are at a point in time where because of bad decision-making, failed systems, technological advancement that has outpaced our wisdom, and a collective consciousness that has still to make radical shifts, we are facing a deep existential crisis. This means that our survival, let alone our thriving, is highly questionable.
The radical shift in collective consciousness just mentioned above has to include, at its most basic level, the recognition and awareness that we are fundamentally interconnected and one system. We are a collective whole in a very fragile dynamic equilibrium. To start maturing as a species and take responsibility for our shared destiny, we need to start translating the mystical dictum that ’the One is in the All and the All is in the One’ into our basic thinking and understanding. It needs to become our modus operandi; a template out of which most, if not all of our decisions–political, economic, technological and social–are made. We need to open our minds and hearts to the wisdom of the ancients with a shared vision of the future. The tragedy of the commons, so apparent in our failed world systems today, is, to a large extent, resulting from failing to recognize and appreciate not only our sameness as humans but our Oneness with everything that is.