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The illusions of separation

With a 9-month old baby boy, I've been thinking a lot about how, as humans, we literally cannot survive without each other.

Gray relies on me, Ash and his extended support network for everything. He can't get his own food, he can't keep himself warm, he can't protect himself from danger.... nothing. Without other humans around him who care, there is a 0% chance of his survival.

As adults, we also rely on each other 100% for our survival, but it's more subtle and transactional. We rely on farmers to produce food, and companies (just a fancy name for a group of people) to transport that food, and shops to retail that food. We need cars or bicycles made by other people to get to the shops, driving on roads made by other people, with streetlights built and maintained by other people. We can't reproduce without another human, we can't tell a joke without another human to share it with, and we can't create things like countries and national anthems if there aren't other humans to collectively agree to the shared fiction.

Even as individuals, it's really hard to draw a line between where the "I" starts and where the "other" begins. As individuals, we are more like an intelligently coordinated melting pot of bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, viruses and human cells. As humans we actually have more non-human cells than human cells in our bodies, so where exactly is the "I"?

As a species we rely entirely on the earth and our fellow inhabitants for our survival. We need clean air to breathe, bees to pollinate crops, soil to produce food, the sun to produce photosynthesis in plants.

We try so hard to be independent, but a simple thinking exercise reveals just what a joke that concept is.

As humans we tend to celebrate those who can "make it on their own". We take pride in our individual capacity to work through hard situations, without help or support from others. When we're going through a tough time emotionally, it becomes a matter of pride that we don't need to see a psychologist, and that we don't need to share our burdens with friends.

When people around us give us hard feedback, we tend to experience it as threatening - as though this perspective from another can threaten the "I" that is trying desperately to cling to its shaky sense of identity. As humans we tend to see the people around us as resources to get what we want, and we do exactly the same with the planet.

What if we let go of the limited and inaccurate definition of "I" that we've carried for so long? What if the self is fundamentally more mercurial, without an obvious beginning and end, which overlaps with everything and everyone that "you" come into contact with?

If we change this definition, then when you receive feedback from a friend or colleague, it's just another part of you giving yourself feedback from another perspective - what a gift. When you hurt or betray another, it's impossible not to see that you're simultaneously hurting and betraying yourself. When you pollute the planet, it's impossible not to see that you're polluting a part of yourself.

To recognise that we are all one is not some far out hippy insight, we can get there with simple deductive reasoning.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we should become paralysed by inaction or expected to be nice to everyone and everything all day, every day, because the “other” is part of you. If you have a gangrenous toe, it needs to be chopped off to save the rest of your body, and if you have a gangrenous relationship with another human, it needs to be severed for the benefit of the greater whole. The energy that drives this action is the thing to focus on - if it’s driven predominantly by fear and a sense of separation, that’s very different from an action which is based on love and a desire to do what’s best for the whole.

It's one thing to get the insight, and another to allow the insight to infuse the way we live our lives every day. If everything and everyone around you is part of you - how will you live your life today?


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