The Illusion of Separation

The illusion that we are separate and independent from each other and the world is a leading cause of social ills and unhappiness. This week’s post is about the origin of this dangerous notion and the importance of dispelling it.

Awareness is fueled by our ability to distinguish between sights, sounds, taste, touches, scents and thoughts. To be aware of something, we must separate it from the background noise around it. This separation of course, is not the problem. The problem begins with naming! That may sound crazy, but hear me out. When aware, a real time connection/relationship occurs. However, once named, an abstract label replaces the intimacy of experience. This creates distance.

Here’s an example. I was walking out on the dock at the cabin to secure the boat and I heard a splash near the shoreline. “That’s a bullfrog”, I said to myself.

But that’s not the whole story. The splash signaled that the water had warmed enough for frogs to “wake up”, the shoreline was coming back to life; bugs, plants, minnows, the entire spring orchestra, now in motion. “Bullfrog” substitutes awareness of all these relationships and a trillion celled creature for a two-syllable name.

There is nothing wrong with naming an amphibious creature. But, if the “we” in life, is reduced to a mere “it’, the stage is set for all kinds of distanced behaviors, like spraying weed killer even though the residue drains into the frog’s habitat. When the frog is an “it” vs a “we”, I am unconcerned. Think of the broader impact when “its” or names substitute for relationships in our life. This is the very origin of neglect, prejudice, and violence. Watching the shoreline come to life, I decided that I didn’t need to use Roundup to kill the weeds sprouting in my paver walk way.

I am not holding myself up as an example of green virtue. Rather, the point I am making is when relationships are reduced to labels, the situation is ripe for the separate “self” to take center stage. This is not a healthy strategy for a life well-lived. The less aware of relationships we become, the more self-centered we become, a sure strategy for “dis-ease”. You probably know people who suffer from this condition!

The illusion of separation is not something we can “think” our way out of. It takes intentionality and effort to broaden awareness beyond “self”; to “see” across the artificial boundaries of separation. Mindfulness practices covered in last week’s post help.

I am certain that broadening my awareness from “me” to “we” will be a life-long journey. Progress is slow at times; two steps forward and one step back, but in my view, it’s an essential component of a life well-lived.

Key Principle: Following the wisdom awareness reveals
Key Question: What can you experience today as a “we”?

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One Reply to “The Illusion of Separation”

  1. Another very good point and lesson in the World of Mindfulness. It could not be made any more relevant than by observing and witnessing the firestorm of protests and unbelievable actions here in Minneapolis and in major cities across America this past week. We all obviously have to spend more time at the “we” level and less at the “it” when it comes to the great American society and its norms.


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