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Kinfonet Editorial | Are we separate?

As human beings we are in so many ways obviously separate from one another, living in different parts of the world subject to the many varying degrees and subtleties of cultural conditioning. Most of us assume possession of a psychological identity that is uniquely our own, layered and structured as a vast network of intellectual and emotional influences and responses, so that it feels quite natural to view oneself as a self surrounded by other selves, connected to yet separated from each another by our histories, language, memories and experiences.

In this particular article and its ensuing dialogue I wonder if we could explore together the possibility that there may be no such thing as psychological separation at all. For although we can take for granted the physical and geographical distances that separate us from each other, when one applies the same criteria for assessing our psychological differences and distances, I am not so sure that anything about these aspects of our consciousness can ever truly be taken for granted. A voice that says, ‘I am a separate individual,’ may be coming from a remote and ancient misapprehension of what it means to be a living human being.

At the same time, it is important to stress that in putting this question of whether or not we exist as separate psychological entities, there is absolutely no interest in arriving at or asserting some form of non-dualistic philosophical position, which proposes that there is only one pure indivisible consciousness or awareness. Such attempts to explain the nature of human consciousness from this sort of holistic standpoint must always have their roots in a reaction to the observation of separation as it manifests in daily life with its endless squabbles and disharmony. Therefore the very existence of such philosophical positions as unity or harmony only seems to reinforce the initial sense of separation from which they emerge.

Instead, we are asking just one question, so that we can then go into it as far as possible: Are we separate? So it is a question with no assumed answer hiding behind it. Let’s first be very clear about this. Because it seems that right across the globe we act, speak and think as though from distinct and unique separate personal perspectives. Therefore our question about separation is also a question about the source of our own individual identity. To ask ourselves, ‘Are we separate?’ is therefore also to ask ourselves, ‘What are we?’ And what are we doing here?

Without fixed and final answers to these questions, we are surely going to find ourselves looking with a wholly new relationship to the world around us. While we are looking at and questioning this world together, we are then perhaps establishing something far more important than any product of either our separation or connection, which is the possibility of freedom from all psychological strictures.

So from the beginning of all this it is necessary to have a deep and sustained sense of human consciousness enquiring into itself, investigating its own nature, which is quite different from the usual approach of two or more humans with limited capability exploring a particular topic or attempting to rectify some pressing problem. At the moment, we have no specific problem or topic identified, other than the question as posed very plainly, to which we are all invited to listen.

One final element that we need to consider before we proceed any further is whether or not we are able to undertake this investigation together free from any shadow of authority, so that we are not led astray by what others may have already said about the matter. Very often, as I am sure you have noticed, many of these kinds of questions about our psychological existence have about them an energy of self-fulfilling prophecy, where conclusions and opinions prevent a question from ever really catching light; and, then, of course, it is these very conclusions and opinions which continue to keep us separate.

But are we separate? Can a mind that has been put together by society ever be separate from all those other minds which also have been formed and influenced by this vast stream of human relationships? In other words, is a fragment ever separate from the whole? And is our human consciousness capable of going far beyond its own self-imposed limitations?

So let’s begin. Let’s dig into it and reveal what we can. Hopefully, we are not so much bothered about presenting what we may believe to be the truth of the matter, but are instead interested to proceed in a manner where we are helping one another just to see the obstacles created by our own limited reactions. When one says, ‘I am separate, unique,’ that’s one kind of reaction; and when one says, ‘I am the world,’ that’s also a reaction. The truth itself must come from a different quarter; the truth is not something that can be captured and resurrected through thought. After all, thought may be the origin of all forms and shadows of psychological separation. And maybe a dialogue together is just such a place where these shadows can begin to disperse.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://kinfonet.org/articles/are-we-separate

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Theoretically, we are all the same: human. But what does that actually mean? I experience myself as unique, unlike anyone else for having experienced things exclusive to me? But this uniqueness doesn’t make me fundamentally different from any other human…it just identifies me as an individual human. Nevertheless, I can’t see past my individuality to my universality as human. I know what it is to be me, but I don’t know what it is to be human because there is much that I don’t understand or comprehend about being human. My consciousness is compartmentalized, fragmented, so what it means to be human is unknown to me because I am not whole.

Yes, I know what it is to be me. I have a million memories to draw on. I can’t share all of those memories with you for a variety of reasons; therefore I have to be selective about it. This process of selection is my personality. But when it comes to considering the nature of the universal, if there is such a thing, am I also being selective? In other words, am I bringing down the universal into the field of the personal? Or the universal only makes sense when the entire personal process of selection ceases. However, if we are just trying to bring about an end to the personal in order to reach a state of universality, our very efforts to achieve such a position keep us in a state of contradiction because it is still very much a personal process. The desire for the whole is then basically nothing more than a personal desire for a different kind of experience.

Desire must invariably have within it either an image, an ideal or a memory. The desire for wholeness or unity must involve some kind of idea about the meaning of both of these words. Similarly, the desire to connect to other people must be full of pictures and images about what it means to connect. So we are always operating theoretically whenever we think in terms of moving beyond the fact of our own limitations. Is it possible therefore first to meet the actuality of this limitation? Can the fragment of humanity which is me be totally aware of its own nature without any theoretical movement away from itself?

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There is the fact of being human. What this fact looks like or feels like, we cannot say without becoming theoretical about it. Any description of the fact takes us further and further away from the fact itself. Therefore the fact is most alive only when all the theoretical machinery of the mind has come to a complete stop. This fact is then alive in the same way, regardless of whether there is just one such quiet mind or two or more.

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Or is it the fact of human being. There is human-kind of being, opposed to being a noun, “a thing” (human, stone, ant, tree, house). There is a fact of mountain being, whale being, grass being etc… which are all in the same field of Being. However, being a mountain or being a blade of grass etc are just ideas, images.

The fact is being, not being something.

One wonders then why do we seem to have an urge to say and describe facts. Observing fact together does not need words or talking - one can see the language mostly produces exactly the opposite effect. Facts are shared, timeless among everyone who is concerned to look. Then what is the role of describing them. Are we concerned about talking about facts or seeing the facts. Finished.

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We said that the talking distorts the fact. But distortion may also occur when we perceive the fact. For whose fact is it? And, also, what is it that we are looking at?

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The wave and the ocean are different forms of the same source, water.

We can put it poetically in many different ways. We could say that we are two leaves on the same tree, which gets across the same idea that although we appear to be separate entities we are linked together as part of an unseen whole. However, these attempts to describe, explain or prove our hidden connection may be less successful than actually facing the fact that for most of our lives we act from a firmly embedded sense of separation. That’s why the question is posed from this perspective of asking first if we are separate. What lies behind our various daily activities which seem to reinforce our sense of separateness?

We may say, for instance, that we are separate because of X, Y and Z. But what happens when we look together at X, Y and Z?

Yes. The felt sense of separation is generally stronger than that of (comm-)union.

“Lies behind” rings true for me. The sense of being an individual, a wave/leaf, and the feeling of separateness that goes along with this seems to come from somewhere very deep and hidden.

If this feeling of separateness is reinforced by something hidden behind daily activities, then it is already implicitly assumed that this sense already exists before the daily activities begin. The daily activities then only serve as an amplifier, as a factor of the extension of this sense. The question that then follows is that of a force that counteracts this factor.

However, another question arises when this feeling is considered not under the form of reinforcement, expansion or restriction, but under the form of its creation. That is, the question of the functioning of thought through which this sense becomes the object of thought itself.

Is it perhaps not so deep and hidden after all? Could it be language itself that causes all this? Is it something hidden in plain sight?

You ask for something that can be identified as a cause and suggest language or something else hidden for that purpose. I would suggest to investigate the relation to reality as it is formed by thinking and to ask in which way and with which consequences the operating in this relation is reflected in thinking.

But is there any thinking without language? Take, for instance, the word ‘reality’ - just imagine all the arguments, philosophical battles and even the wars that have taken place over our separate interpretations and understandings of this one word.

Or does language, the need/desire for it arise from a deep felt sense of separateness, individuality?

Parts of the puzzle reveal themselves with ‘soul searching’ alone and with others.

Language is a necessity in a civilised world. But the language of the psyche may be something totally uncivilised. Can we explore this a little? Let’s take a simple word from the psychological field and look at it. Which word shall we use?


I feel I am (at) the center of the spinning world.

But the word ‘I’ doesn’t have any significance or meaning unless it is attached to something else, in this case the word ‘feel’. I look; I see; I feel; I think; I react; I speak. The ‘I’ appears to be a constant component in this process, but let’s look at it and see. First, I look at the world. By the time I speak to the world, has not the whole nature of this ‘I’ undergone quite a change?

Yes, great fun! :slight_smile:

I’m going to add something before and after the process:

<I look within to my deepest felt sense of ‘I.’>
I look; I see; I feel; I think; I react; I speak.
<I look within to my deepest felt sense of ‘I.’>

I find the felt sense of ‘I’ before and after the process is the same.

First of all, where are you looking? To look within is already an activity of thought and feeling because in order to look within you have to access memory. Before there is even a moment of looking within, have we looked at the world around us? And what do we see?

When I
“look within to my deepest felt sense of I”
before and after the
“I look; I see; I feel; I think; I react; I speak” process
it has little to do with memory, it’s a different kind of looking.

When I
“find the felt sense of I before and after the process is the same”
memory is involved, obviously, since I’m comparing two states in time.

The point is that the gut feeling is I am the same I as I ever was, no matter what’s changed in content.