“What is obvious is that you are the universe in motion. What is extraordinary, however, is the notion that you are an individual quite separate from it all.”-Alan Watts
It takes the form of the deep, unending abyss in our hearts. The uncomfortable sensation that manifest as a contraction in the solar plexus, or a strong tension in between the eyes, or even a tightness in the throat. It rears its ugly head in our psyche as a whisper, and its mantra is “never enough“. All adults have met this voice at some point in their lives, and while they seem to grow past its influence on the outside, its roots remain deeply curled around the heart, secretly holding it hostage.
This voice often takes the form of our own, and we follow its whispers towards the happiness that we seek, a promise of fulfilment once we acquire that something that will finally complete us. We acquire that which the outside world praises, and we are satisfied. For now. But the band aid was just, after all, a band aid. The hurt still runs amok in our hearts, and despite our best efforts, we seem to have failed? Wasn’t that something supposed to complete us? Never enough, the voice says. And we agree with it because it hurts too much to acknowledge that after all our efforts, we have failed to create lasting fulfillment in our lives.
Through this process everyday becomes a battle, a vicious fight in an attempt to secure the fulfillment that we seek. All in attempt to escape the hurt, that emptiness that we feel deep inside.
Like many around me, I did not know any better way to live, because the pain was far too much to cope without having it numbed out. With my engineering job, my drive and my intelligence, I thought I had life all figured out. That I would never again be separated from the fulfillment that I sought, but first it took a lot of questioning. And here are my experiences laid out for you, the reader, to contemplate:
“All it takes is a single split; heaven and earth are separated.”-Excerpted from the Tao Te Ching
We suffer because we perceive ourselves to be separated from the happiness that we seek. Given that the only thing that all humans seek is happiness through the machinations of desire, it is only logical then any impediment to that search only causes more suffering for us.
I experienced intense despair when I broke up with my girlfriend because I was separated from somebody whom I loved. The same goes for anyone who has ever failed to get a self-raise at work, or the loss of any object or societal status. A child would burst into tears because he/she is separated from the toy/treat. Having any application be rejected hurts because the applicant is separated from what he/she seeks to become a part of. A parent experiences depression when their adult child leaves the home for the outside world because they are physically separated from both their child and their role as a caregiver.
“The illusion of separation lies at the root of suffering.”-Excerpted from Advaita Vedantic teachings
Here is the evidence of the illusion pervading our contemporary culture:
- Happiness is separate from our true nature, and must therefore be discovered and reinforced through external means (the acquisition of objects, states of mind, and relationships).
- Every person is a separate individual in the eyes of the world, illustrated by the assumption: “I am the body”. All societal, governmental, corporate, and societal structures are designed based on the former assumption.
- The current understanding of the body as a machine with discrete systems and functions that overlap at certain points. This Newtonian approach renders treatment of the illness as mechanistic process akin to fixing a car rather than helping the person as a whole get better (ie mentally, dietary and physiologically). Why treat holistically when a ‘magic pill’ will do?
- The assumption “I am the body” gives rise to the ego. The ego is the self that is separated from the world, and its only goal is the search for happiness. The appearances may vary, but the goal is the same for all egos.
- The way that children are raised emphasizes the nurturing of a strong, capable ego in order to fit in with society. The education system in many countries focuses almost exclusively on the production of grade A-students whose ultimate focus is only on themselves rather than co-operation with their peers.
- Egoic relationships are always transactional because they seek only happiness. This leads to individuals in relationships holding each other accountable for making them happy. When this unspoken covenant is inevitably violated, the individual will lash out at the other for failing to provide the ‘happiness’ that he/she entered the relationship for.
- Countries are merely lines drawn on a map that separate two ‘pieces’ of land, and nationalities are based on that fiction. This has lead to countless confrontations between ‘nations’ (also a large collective of people who associate with the fictional line on the map), as each country also seeks to protect the interests of its people. A nation can be likened to an egoic entity, albeit on a much larger scale, seeking to maximize its own happiness through protecting its own interests.
- Religious sects, or groups of people who subscribe to any kind of shared fiction(ethnicity, race, color, beliefs, occupation, locality, etc.), can band together and commit insane acts under a single banner, the motivating force being the need to overcome the “other” in a desperate bid to protect their own interests.
- Modern day capitalism is a direct by-product of the ego. Because the egoic search for happiness is always directed outwards, capitalism caters for the demand by providing countless things to acquire (be it objects, status, experiences, or knowledge). The more things acquired, the happier people seem to become. Without this drive the economy will collapse.
It does not take a genius to see that the current state of affairs is responsible for the madness on the planet. It is in my experience that the problem can be summed up in the following two beliefs:
- The belief that happiness is separate from us and must be acquired externally.
- The belief that we are ‘a body’ that is separate from each other and the world.
Like all illusions, beliefs can be dispelled if one chooses to do so. Here are the counter-questions for the two beliefs, and each of them can be dispelled through direct experiencing:
- Because desires and thoughts are not inherent in our true nature, does that not mean that it is inherently fulfilled? You have experienced this before, when you zoned out and fell below thought. Did that state of zoning out not feel relaxing and refreshing? The same also applies when you find yourself happier among your closest mates. Could it be possible that you feel at ease among them because there you have no need to preserve the fictional persona that you reserve for the outside world and just be yourself? And yet all you did was drop all your thoughts and concepts. Do this consciously by closing your eyes and dropping all concepts/thoughts, then take a mindful breath. Does the subtle aliveness felt just through mindful breathing alone not indicate how effortless it is to feel good? As Meister Eckhart says, you are most alive when you are free of ego and concepts. Try and see for yourself.
- To be separate from the universe, one would have to perform the equivalent of taking a fish out of the ocean to confirm the statement. Because it is not possible to take yourself out of the universe, or to take the universe out of you, how is it logical that you were ever separated from it in the first place? If you were to close your eyes and (drop all concepts) be still, are you able to find a border that separates you from the outside world in your own experience? Was there ever an edge to your perception in the first place? Could it be that this border that separated your body and thoughts from the rest of the world was a fiction that only the mind believed in?
Through my own experience, I know that I was never separated from the happiness that I seek, because I could never be separated from the universe. I was the happiness that I sought, and knowing that I am perpetually filled with a light sense of contentment no matter where I go, and that it will only deepen as I continue to dispel more illusions about who I am.
The illusion of separation is a simple one, yet with it the ego is born, and with it all suffering. Do not take my words here as gospel, but rather question them and see if it makes sense to you. Through your active questioning of your beliefs, trust your experience, not the mind, to be your guide. I wish you all the love I can muster, and know that you too will eventually find the truth for yourself.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”-John 8:32