I have been pondering a lot these days the so-called delusion or illusion of separation. If true, the implications are enormous. You and I keep hearing from various quarters today, including quantum physics, that everything, as well as everybody, are profoundly connected. Here are some quotes that have been rolling around in my mind and heart.
From Albert Einstein: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest . . . a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace ALL living creatures and the whole of nature into its beauty.”
Then there is the Trappist,Thomas Merton, who wrote an autobiography as a young monk about leaving the evils of the world. Years later a sudden epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville seemed to turn him toward the world. He was on a routine visit when he found himself in the middle of a shopping center staring at a group of strangers. He writes, “I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs . . . It was like waking from a dream of separateness.” With joy overflowing, he continues, “Thank God, I am like other men!”
According to Jim Marion and others, this “no separation” way of viewing the world is what Jesus was about. In his book, Putting on the Mind of Christ, he suggests that the central message of Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven, is a metaphor for a unitive or non-dual state of consciousness. This awareness sees no separation — not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans (and I would add, between humans and non-humans). No separation as in the image, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you.” No separation as in “Love you neighbor as yourself (not “as much as you love yourself”)
Are we that connected? Are we to be continuations of each other? Is the power, the juice in relationships found in the connection of “in between,” and not either-or? I have heard this in the voice of feminine thinkers. I hear it in the voice of leaders calling for collaboration, partnership and cooperation.
The lower consciousness we know well. We live by seeing differences, by separating this idea from that idea, this person from that person, this option from that option. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, we cannot get very far in our world without this capacity for binary thinking. But the starting and ending place for us in the West has been the single, separate person or part or group. That’s changing, it seems.
Truly I am trying to sort this out. Some suggest a multi-level approach. Perhaps on one level of consciousness we see separation and value differentiation. But we appear also to have a capacity for another way of seeing. If I understand those quoted above, on another level of consciousness, separateness is a prison, a delusion, a dream from which we must awaken if widening circles of compassion have a future.
No separation — really?