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 that is 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 private 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 mental 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. On the other hand, 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 out 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 dominant 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 see and project ourselves 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 mostly the performance of a set of culturally defined personal roles carried out largely unaware of the undivided stream of cosmic life.
For some, the only response these observations deserve may well be a desultory, “And so what!” 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 continuity of exclusive psychological and social reality obviously demands that the same cultural program keep shaping the thought, emotion, and action 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 is just the way things are, right? —Well, not quite. What we habitually call “human nature” to denote that it cannot change, may be the farthest thing from the truth, and therefore a lethal mental trap.
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 traditional mental system 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 made 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. Reality is what every cultural group and every one of their individual members calls its additive (on-going) sense of cultural/psychological being. The particular (cultural and mental) manifestations of this general reality are contradictory and conflictive, and therefore also an endless source of sorrow. And yet we, collectively, sustain this program with every thought, emotion, and action because to challenge group consensus and mental habit is, literally, to go beyond the pale. That is, to transgress the established boundaries of what is socially considered normal, decent, and sane. What the majority of particular cultural/psychological entities considers reasonable and good, certainly does not include seeing what is actually going on in oneself, one’s particular society, and the world at large, much less acting in strict accordance with that free, accurate, and ample perception.
What this means in practical terms is that the endless injustice, inequality, conflict, and suffering that a collective state of self-projective separation generates can never be 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 psychological 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 silly or unhinged. However, it will perk the interest of those who are somewhat and somehow aware 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 stopped making of life a permanent struggle necessary to attain private security and fulfillment. The fact is that mental separation denies the intelligence and affection necessary to abolish the chronic distance and frequent conflict characteristic of groups and individuals that think themselves as special and therefore highly deserving of whatever imaginary future their memories may project.
It does not take much to see the chronic division and sorrow of humanity and, in that single action realize that if we remain in ancient and insensitive mental vise, we may not be around for very long. 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. To unflinchingly look at oneself and the state of the world, and see that no difference can be made between the two, also makes evident that unity cannot possibly come through the thought and action of any existing psychological fragment fighting for its own private being, security, pleasure, and power. No particular instance of a collective phenomenon of secular and religious dogmatism will ever bring about sanity, and therefore unity to humanity, no matter how old and successful its tradition may be, or how charismatic and holy their leaders.
Nationalism is the denial of unity and peace, and persistent personal identification with any particular religious belief, political conviction, or form of knowledge (including science and technology) will never bring about truly widespread virtue and goodness to the world. Psychological separation rooted in 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 involves ending the process of thought and emotion that generates and sustains this separation.