The Life-Shrinking Price of Feeling Separate

red and black

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend tells me that she awakens each day with a pain in her stomach because she is filled with anxiety about the Trump presidency. She is convinced that Trump is the cause of her emotional state.

We can’t understand the “Other”: the Never Trump people, like my friend, are astonished at the stance of the Trump supporters, who are equally astonished at the progressives.  We not only fail to understand the other side, we usually bring emotional heat to the debate about who is more right—who has the better explanation for reality. We feel contempt, anger, irritation, and fear in our opposition to the other side.  We acknowledge that we’re a divided nation, discouraged that we will ever be united again.  Our nation has always been conflicted, deeply divided, , but we imagine that things used to be better.

Most of us are feeling a painful separation from our fellow humans, not only politically but in every human domain. People have always felt separate.

Because our modern communication system has become so fantastically efficient and ubiquitous, we are ever aware of the battle lines, so there is never any respite from the wars.  Our modern communication system allows us to see the divisions discussed, argued, and clarified by litigants and by detached reporters and academics.  So our separation gets constant attention:

Our individual psychic headlines:

YOU ARE DIFFERENT AND YOU SHOULD BE

YOU ARE SEPARATE: MAINTAIN YOUR OPPOSITION!

THE OTHER IS THE ENEMY: BE VIGILANT

We don’t seem able to get away from the battle, and we feel poisoned by it—even as we continue to be ferocious soldiers on one side or the other.  We are convinced that what we perceive is reality, that our feelings are legitimate and correct. We learn to mistrust or even hate the enemy, whose beliefs and behavior seem dangerous.

Our feelings are intensified in what we believe is a holy war to decide what is real, true, and good.

We’re suffering in our divided state—Christians, Jews, Muslims, non-believers—so separate we can’t imagine a reconciliation in most parts of the world.

Republicans and Democrats wrestle to a bitter deadlock.

Black, white, brown, red, and yellow men and women struggle to find their empathy and love for the Other.  At this stage in human evolution, we are often angry, disgusted, contentious, ready to dominate—ready even, to destroy the Other.

We may forget that these battles rage in every country, that these divisions describe people everywhere, not just here.  We forget that humans have always been in battle with other humans, killing and maiming, raping, punishing—always intent on controlling the Other.

Our divisions are the source of endless misery and suffering. Maintaining our separations, we exhaust ourselves and truncate human potential.

why hate others

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divided from others, we do not have access to our love.

But some humans live joyfully above these painful divisions.  These people know that these divisions and the suffering that accompanies them are all created within our individual selves.

These masters of awareness prove that we can heal our divided self and become whole.

First, we need to understand how we separate ourselves from others.

Our egos demand separation
Why would we want to create endless misery for ourselves by separating ourselves from others?  Why would we want to spend a lifetime fighting destructive battles with family members, neighbors, political entities, or anyone else we consider the Other?

My neighbor tells me often about his seven-year war with another neighbor, (we’ll call him J here) whom he considers untrustworthy, crooked, and ungrateful for help he gave him years ago.  He has stories to back up his assessment.  He is suffering as he keeps this mini-battle fueled with resentment and self-righteousness.  And he does all this on his own from memory, because he no longer has any direct contact with his Other.

I say to my angry neighbor, a good man who generally gets along well with others, “Oh, why don’t you just let it go—forgive J and set yourself free?”

Only half-joking, he answers, “Not before I get revenge.”

“Well, why don’t we wish him well and end the war?”

“I don’t wish him well.”

I push one more time lightly, “Blessed are the peace makers.”

Silence.

My neighbor says that J cheated him in a financial deal.  His ego is the actor here.  His ego, the false self that we take into the world each day, needs constant reassurance and respect.  The idea that his neighbor has cheated him pricks his self-importance.  Then he needs a victim story to explain why he feels so insulted and wounded.

But it is his ego that betrays him: his enemy—J— hasn’t even spoken to him for years.  But the fragile ego never forgets its enemies.

This is a snapshot of the human condition.  We don’t want to give up the ego—who would we be if we gave up our ego?

Our ego is a form of self that by its very nature is separate from others.  The ego’s “I” maintains its shaky and vulnerable reality by being different from others.

The ego cannot exist without division.

hate-you

The division is the source of endless suffering. Divided from others, the ego can love only when everything is seemingly going its way.  The ego wants and needs love, but it doesn’t like to give it.

The rational for dividing ourselves from others is our ego’s conviction that our explanation for reality is better than the explanations of others.

But the case for dividing ourselves from others is based on a bad explanation for reality.

Severing the link between our personal fate and the fate of our fellow human beings
Paradoxically, even as humans separate themselves from others in order to maintain their egos, they also link their fate to the fate of their fellow humans.

We may not like the war with the Other, but we seem convinced that living a life of war is the only possible way to live.

But there is a way out: we can sever the link between our personal fate and the fate of the human species.

The fate of the human species in our current state of evolution is suffering.

It is possible to unlink from the suffering.  But to accomplish this wonderful possibility, we cannot be linked to the fate of people who feel separate from other people.  Those people will suffer no matter what we do.

Unlinking our fate from the fate of others may seem counter-intuitive. Doesn’t this require not caring about others anymore?  How can I be good to others if I separate myself from them in such a profound way?  Doesn’t my anger at what others are doing in the world mean that I’m good—that I care?

No, it just means that you’re angry—that your love is not at your disposal, that you insist on judging others, that you fail to adopt a better explanation for reality.

It means that you are a divided person—conflicted in your relationships with others, with this awesome universe, and with yourself.

The bad explanation that separates us—that somebody is doing something to us—is an explanation that arises angrily from self-pity and victim-hood, created within each person who holds it.  The separation is within each person, not caused externally.

We are the divided self.

So, what’s it like to sever your fate from the fate of your fellow humans?  What is life like when you detach your life from the fate of our suffering fellow humans?

  • The Other disappears in this stage of awareness, never again to be the culprit in our unhappiness.  We don’t blame the challenges we face on anyone else, but accept them as our personal fate.  We open to our challenges as the only possible path of learning. 
  • We take full responsibility for our feelings and our thoughts.  As the creator of our lives, we know that Donald Trump or anyone else cannot cause our anxiety:  my anxiety is my own original creation—a mistake I make with my bad explanations.
  • We don’t take the concerns of others as our own concerns. We have empathy for the suffering of others, but we don’t try to prove our empathy by agreeing with the bad explanations that created the suffering.
  • We don’t feel sorry for ourselves, so we don’t create victim stories to explain why we feel angry, irritated, resentful, or depressed. 
  • We refuse to call life names, remembering Thoreau’s warning that life is not as bad as you are.

No longer divided within ourselves, we still act.

  • We participate in the world, sweating and straining like everybody else.  But we’re not really sweating and straining like everybody else because we’re controlling our folly in a world lost in the folly of gaining advantage, gaining profit, creating and fighting enemies, and demanding attention on 7 billion egos.
  • We pursue our predilections, giving our best to whatever activity or relationship that draws us.
  • We’re on a path of love, taking all of life into our embrace.  We don’t go adrift even in the face of great human conflict, human mistakes, or human insanity.  If we drift, we learn what we must learn to get back on our path of love.
  • We are warrior travelers,  aware of our great good fortune to live in awe and gratitude.  Humble and alert, we are looking, looking, breathlessly.

The differences that separate us are an illusion.

We are all the same: we’re all going to die.

This overwhelming energetic fact means that we all have the same ultimate fate:  the awareness that we were given at birth will be taken away from us in the end.

All of the perceived differences between ourselves and others are an illusion created by our egos and our refusal to live within our true potential.

It can be difficult to avoid participating in the communal whine of discontent and anguish.  It can be difficult to avoid joining the conversation of complaint that dominates human dialogue.

At a certain point in our development, we can be free of the constant feelings of separation that limit and ruin the lives of most of our species.

living in awe holding earth

Not separate from anything or anybody, we are poised, pioneers on the frontiers of human emergence.

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About Gary

Gary Stokes is mapping the universe of poise. His book, Poise: A Warrior's Guide, charts the path toward a fully-realized life, a vibrant integration of presence, connectedness, gratitude, creativity, and light-heartedness. Gary Stokes has been a coach to leaders of transformational change and President of Mountain Consulting. He designed and conducted research to test innovative strategies for reducing poverty in partnership with national foundations, federal and state government, and local communities. As founder and CEO of Move the Mountain Leadership Center, he coached hundreds of leaders, among them Presidential appointees and other top executives in government, education and business. He has written and spoken extensively about the profound personal and organizational challenges facing individual leaders of large-scale change. Mr. Stokes lives with his wife and collaborator, Mary Morris, in Prescott, Arizona.
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