Awakening to the Wholeness of Life
Sumi ink on paper by F.L.
It is extraordinarily important to realize that the cost of every “one” of us having a unique and permanently evolving identity is the loneliness, dissatisfaction, conflict, and insecurity intrinsic to a high measure of interpersonal separation. The human organism is evidently an integral part of the evolutionary process of cosmic life, but personal identity with its characteristic tribal dependence, psychological isolation, and chronic alienation from the rest of existence is a cultural construct, one that may be anything but natural.
When anyone is asked to introduce herself, the universal “I am” always prefaces the response, but is almost instantly overshadowed by the enunciation of an idiosyncratic mix of cultural traits, attributes, and claims through which a particular organism claims to be a distinct “I” and a life all unto itself. Other similar entities provide proof of this person's existential conceit by making themselves comparatively distinct and separate through identification with their particular mix of cultural determinants. There can be no “I” without a corresponding “you,” nor an “us” without a “them”.
All cultures and all particular human psyches (each a peculiar set of distinctions assumed to mark the presence of a singular, and therefore separate form of being) exist in memory and the projection of this memory through thought. The unfolding movement of life, the ground of all manifestations of human existence is, contrary to the conditioned psyche, actual, not mental.
True, we are all relatively aware of being part of this unthinkable immensity we refer to in different manners: existence, the universe, or life. However, what is of most significance to us is that we know ourselves (and would like to be known by others) through our particular identification with memories describing and projecting psychological traits, claims, attributes, associations and disassociations that, while varying from individual to individual, are uniformly determined by culture. There is hardly anything in life that is not either ignored or forcefully mapped and controlled by the blanket cultural programming that provides every particular organism its own sense of being mentally unique and separate. Culture gives even inescapable biological determinants such as gender, race, age, and general physical appearance specific social and psychological meaning and value. All this means that strictly speaking, the idea of self-determination is just that, an idea, wishful thinking at the service of cultural norms, values, and traditions.
The cultural conditioning of the individual mind defines and controls just about every aspect of personal identity, personal behavior, and social experience. Unsurprisingly, the distinct character of every culture is determined, in turn, and at every point in time, by the identity, behavior, and relational experience of its members.
Again, for the pre-programmed individual what matters most is the particular combination of culturally defined psychological traits assumed to be the source of his or her singular, and therefore separate existence —the person, “myself.” The “I am” is just the preamble to the distinguished “me” and his or her all-important life. Life itself, the cosmic ground of all being is habitually relegated to be just the stage in which humanity plays its reiterative melodrama. We exist as individuals precisely because we have largely ceased to exist as life.
Especially in modern cultures, the self-introduction of a particular psycho/social entity takes more or less this form: My name is ________, I am a woman/man born on this date __/__/____, in this city, and country __________, ____________ I am of this religious faith ___________, and belong to these racial and ethnic groups __________, ____________, _________ My educational level is ____________, and presently I work as a ___________, in this institution ____________etc., etc. "My" existence is not the unthinkable, yet conscious unfolding of cosmic life, but the performance of a set of culturally defined personal roles following predetermined social norms.
“And so what”, may well be the only response these observations deserve. After all, is it not common knowledge that different cultures determine, differently, the character and behavior of their members whose mental conditioning sustains, in turn, the general character and modus operandi of the culture with which they identify? The necessary continuity of exclusive psychological and social reality obviously demands that the same cultural program keep shaping the thought and behavior of future generations, perhaps introducing some gradual improvements over time and here and there. What else could there be? The fact that the fixed interrelation between a particular culture and the psyche it conditions keeps constant the fragmentation of the species and its general alienation from life as a whole is just the way things are, human nature, right?
Well, not quite.
There are many problems with this common defense of the cultural and psychological status quo (both general and particular) of humanity. That it is mechanically determined by the same status quo is not the least of them. The conditioned mind does not take in consideration factors that are outside its limited (personal/or cultural) purview because, to do so put in severe jeopardy the identity and sense of security that we all derive from being, fundamentally, the exceptional creatures that we have been told to think we are. Highly subjective and dynamic mental deposits of previous cultural and biographical experience are not given to questioning their curiously common claim to existential uniqueness seriously.
Reality is what every cultural group and every member of a cultural group calls its additive (on-going) sense of cultural/psychological being (its own, mostly sub-conscious social contract). The general (species-wide) and particular (cultural and mental) manifestations of this reality are contradictory and conflictive, and therefore also an endless source of sorrow, yet we sustain this program with every thought, emotion, and action because to challenge group consensus and mental habit is, literally, beyond the pale. That is, what every particular cultural/psychological entity considers reasonable and good, does not include being fully alive if that implies seeing what is actually going on in oneself and the world and acting in strict accordance with this perception.
In other words, the endless injustice, inequality, conflict, and suffering that a collective state of self-projective separation generates is never entirely overcome because that implies a net loss of cultural sovereignty and personal identity that is universally considered as intolerable. Our sense of psychological being is so dependent on the general state of social fragmentation, that to gain awareness of the entire condition and its awful consequences is to put one’s psychological and social life on the line and so, few dare. The great paradox is that the well-being and, increasingly, the very survival of humanity depends on just this personal willingness to look and see the conceit of separate existence as the root of all our afflictions.
The suggestion that there is something profoundly wrong with “reality” —the habitual manner in which mental encapsulation and cultural exclusivity generate one another over time implies, of course, that some other reality is possible, a reality not based on separation. Minds deeply identified with their cultural and personal experience will immediately reject this suggestion as crazy, but not those who are somehow starting to see that staying the regular course of conflictive separation is what is truly insane. Unlikely as it seems, the further realization that is not within their "installed" capacity to do anything about this immense problem, is a big part of their nascent sanity.
The human species has developed over time enormous intelligence and a considerable capacity for affection, but this gradually achieved ability to reason and love has never entirely abandoned the view that life is a permanent struggle to attain private security and fulfillment. We are just not intelligent and caring enough to abolish the chronic distance and frequent conflict between groups and individuals all paradoxically thinking of themselves as special and therefore deserving whatever their memories can project onto the future.
It does not take much to become aware of the chronic division and sorrow of humanity and to see as well that if we remain in this intellectual and affective vise, we may not be around for much longer. The integration of the species is an absolute necessity, and it may only be brought about by minds that have somehow freed themselves from the limiting and dysfunctional aspects of their respective cultural and biographical experience. Because they care enough to unflinchingly look at themselves and the state of the world (and see the intimate relationship between the two), these alert minds are also aware that unity cannot possibly come through the thought and action of any existing fragment fighting for its security and power. No secular or religious dogma will ever bring about unity and sanity to humanity, no matter how old and successful their tradition may be, or how smart, charismatic, and holy their leaders. Nationalism is not the road to peace, and no particular religious belief, political conviction, or form of knowledge (including science and technology) will ever bring about universal virtue and goodness. Identification with highly specialized and therefore exclusive forms of knowledge and belief is the problem, not the solution. Something entirely different is necessary, something unrelated to any mental record of the past looking to sustain itself through fear and desire. The present state of planetary disorder is the result of millennia of sustained tribal and psychological separation, so it is only reasonable to assume that the only sane response to this situation implies the end of the process of thought and emotion that generates and sustains this separation.
To be continued.