My first realization of Separation was with the advent of the Sony Walkman. I was living in Europe at the time and started to notice how people tuned out to the world. I would ride the subways and everyone was plugged in with their headphones on. No one made eye contact anymore as they were off in their own world. Ironically, I felt so lonely as we were all riding a crowded subway, each an island upon themselves. More so, we were completely disconnected from each other, there was no feeling of unity or oneness.
The story of Separation began much sooner than the Walkman, but it certainly has been exacerbated exponentially with the smartphone and earbuds. Now, it seems, everybody is tuned out, either glued to their phones or blocking all noise perceptions with their Airpods. We feel increasingly disconnected from others, creating our own self-imposed silo. One can go the entire day without any real human interaction: I walked into my bank recently to make a transaction and they literally sent me outside to the ATM machine; my gym has a self-service check in and many retailers (Target, Walmart, supermarkets) now have several self-service aisles. I pay for my gas with a credit card machine near the gas pump; and, of course, we all buy from Amazon with a click of a button. Zero human interaction.
All of these societal forces create a sense of Separation. We insulate ourselves and feel disconnected from others and our communities. Separation is the felt experience of being cut off from all that we are meant to intimately connect to. Most people know more about celebrities on the cover of People Magazine than their own neighbors. When we don’t feel connected to others, we increase our sense of Self. We lose the capacity for compassion and empathy because it’s harder to relate to others. We are cut off from our authentic connection. This also puts us in competition with others, there no longer is a common goal. Just the opposite, we channel all our energy to buy, build, hoard and hold on to all our personal little empires, often at the expense of others. It becomes a zero-sum game; I win, you lose. It creates an undercurrent of fear, where we feel we never have enough because no one will take care of us if we lose it.
It wasn’t always like this. Ancient cultures and indigenous people cared for each other. There was no Separation. In fact, the wealthiest one in the village would typically give all his possessions away because he knew his tribe would take care of him. There was no fear, rather a common bond among all that we are all in this together and we are only as strong as our weakest link.
On a macro level, this sense of Separation plays out in horrific ways. Just look at our political climate, where each blames the “other”. This creates hatred and vitriol, racism and bigotry. The chasm of Separation was split wide open with Trump, spewing hate and dividing us all. He drove a decisive wedge but an entire party enabled him, putting party over country. In some ironic way, this created connection and shattered Separation amongst these factions. People could now line up vehemently behind one party or the other and lose their sense of Self, identifying with a bigger cause. This gave them connection and both sides got radicalized by this as we all want a feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. It was us versus them, the “other”. Ultimately, like all identification with form, it is destined to crumble. Any guise of Separation ultimately fails as it is not our authentic truth.
Deep down, in a beautiful world I believe we all want to live and thrive in, we all crave Interbeing. This is the close connection between Self and others, where we share happiness and suffering. In this world, we are interdependent and interconnected, no longer consumed by furthering our own ends and protecting ourselves. The illusion of Separation shatters and we realize our commonality. We are no longer disconnected from our authentic self, our true nature. Barriers, big and small, crumble and we realize we are all one with the universe, one with life. Equally important, we reconnect with Nature and recognize we have a highly interconnected state of dependency on Nature. We must embrace the fact that we are not outside or above nature, we are enmeshed in it! Interbeing is the noble truth that we are totally dependent on both Nature and each other in order to live.
It feels like it will get far worse before it will get better. Extremism, and ultimately collapse, often is the catalyst for change. But we can all do our small part to shatter this illusion of Separation. How is it that children have this right and we grow up to create Separation? As we watch the horrors unfold in Ukraine, how can we not feel an attack on them is an attack on us?
Shattering the illusion of Self starts with each of us, in big and small ways. Make more eye contact, slow down in life to have deeper conversations in your community, do a random act of kindness that goes unnoticed, engage with someone not in your social circle or culture. Genuinely wonder what it is like to be another person (whomever is annoying you or that you have a biased prejudice towards) and imagine life through their eyes. Put down your phone and fully sense your surroundings. This will connect you with your more true, authentic Self and have a karmic effect on others.
One world, One love, One with life.