The pain of feeling separate

If you – like me – grew up in a western society that values independence and rational though above all you’ve probably been consciously or unconsciously programmed to believe that we as human beings are completely separate entities. Each of us move about in the world in our mechanical-like bodies - our mind and intellect seen as our super power to be cultivated and used in order to thrive in life. Believing ideas like 'you must fend for yourself'. Strive for success. Make it happen. It’s the survival of the fittest i.e. you’re competing with everyone else.

I think much of our existential pain comes from those beliefs.

Loneliness. Isolation. Lack of trust. Unworthiness. Fear. Scarcity. Never enough.

Whether you believe in a greater force in life: The Universe, Love, God or not, there’s something to be said about our interconnectedness. Realizing that nothing is separate in life feels like our path to salvation. At the moment our planet and people suffer because we operate as if everything is separate and the actions we take are carried out in a vacuum. Environmentally, psychologically and spiritually we’re paying the price.


Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“For instance, looking into a flower, you can see that the flower is made of many elements that we can call non-flower elements. When you touch the flower, you touch the cloud. You cannot remove the cloud from the flower, because if you could remove the cloud from the flower, the flower would collapse right away.

You don’t have to be a poet in order to see a cloud floating in the flower, but you know very well that without the clouds there would be no rain and no water for the flower to grow.

So cloud is part of flower, and if you send the element cloud back to the sky, there will be no flower. Cloud is a non-flower element. And the sunshine…you can touch the sunshine here. If you send back the element sunshine, the flower will vanish. And sunshine is another non-flower element.

And earth, and gardener… if you continue, you will see a multitude of non-flower elements in the flower. In fact, a flower is made only with non-flower elements. It does not have a separate self.”

We can apply that view to ourselves as well. Interbeing as he calls it. Notice all the elements that is part of you right now: the water in your body, the air you breathe, the food you’ve eaten, and you can look wider to the genes passed on by your ancestors, the people who’ve nurtured you, your teachers and so on.

Personally I start feeling much more connected to the whole when I start making what I call an interbeing inventory by listing all the elements and beings I’m connected to in this world. Try it for yourself if you like!

I recently listened to a talk by meditation teacher Tara Brach that put into words what I’ve been exploring. She said:

“We each have the evolutionary potential built into our brain of waking up the pre-frontal cortex and integrating our brain in a way that we can directly experience our interdependence, our connectedness, and the unitive quality of the universe - oneness. We have that capacity. And the teachings of the path are to wake us up so that we can sense who we are in that. That there’s not this separate self - that there’s a resting in something larger.

… There’s an evolutionary psychologist Louis Cozolino, and he says We are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured. I think that this points to a similar understanding that when we’re nurtured and when we nurture ourselves - the beautiful practices of self-compassion - we wake up into a field of tenderness that has room for this living and dying world. Survival of the nurtured - when we know our connectedness we can handle the fear.”

When we start realizing that we aren’t separate, and we practice finding and feeling connection it will lead to a deeper and richer experience of life.

There are many ways to access connection; in nature, with animals, in relation with other humans, in service, through prayer and devotion, through movement, dance, meditation, singing and chanting to name some. I think the step towards living a fulfilled life is to identify practices that foster connection and make time to engage with them regularly. To cultivate and prioritize it almost over everything else. Once we feel connected we can relate with the world from a place of abundance, love and compassion. I’m not talking about practicing positive psychology, no, I’m talking about realizing that our inner world and sense of interbeing is something we need to cultivate and nourish. If not, we’ll relate to the world as hungry beings – starving, lacking and needing. Have you noticed how when you’re really hungry you often become much more reactive, you have less tolerance, and you might get really irritable and angry? Well, I think something similar happens to us when we haven’t fed the part of us that craves and needs to feel connected. I’ve personally experienced that I can fill my inner tank through spiritual practices, and I now see that as a fundamental need just like eating, drinking water, sleeping and more.

How connected are you feeling in your life at the moment? How do you cultivate connection? I'd love to know - let me know in the comments below. Also, I guided a meditation on interconnection that I wanted to share with you. I invite you take a moment to tune in.

You are me and I am you.