Are we separate?

Can a mind that has been put together by society ever be separate from all those other minds which also have been formed and influenced by this vast stream of human relationships?
By Paul Dimmock 17 April 2022
As human beings we are in so many ways obviously separate from one another, living in different parts of the world subject to the many varying degrees and subtleties of cultural conditioning. Most of us assume possession of a psychological identity that is uniquely our own, layered and structured as a vast network of intellectual and emotional influences and responses, so that it feels quite natural to view oneself as a self surrounded by other selves, connected to yet separated from each another by our histories, language, memories and experiences.

In this particular article and its ensuing dialogue I wonder if we could explore together the possibility that there may be no such thing as psychological separation at all. For although we can take for granted the physical and geographical distances that separate us from each other, when one applies the same criteria for assessing our psychological differences and distances, I am not so sure that anything about these aspects of our consciousness can ever truly be taken for granted. A voice that says, 'I am a separate individual,' may be coming from a remote and ancient misapprehension of what it means to be a living human being.

At the same time, it is important to stress that in putting this question of whether or not we exist as separate psychological entities, there is absolutely no interest in arriving at or asserting some form of non-dualistic philosophical position, which proposes that there is only one pure indivisible consciousness or awareness. Such attempts to explain the nature of human consciousness from this sort of holistic standpoint must always have their roots in a reaction to the observation of separation as it manifests in daily life with its endless squabbles and disharmony. Therefore the very existence of such philosophical positions as unity or harmony only seems to reinforce the initial sense of separation from which they emerge.

Instead, we are asking just one question, so that we can then go into it as far as possible: Are we separate? So it is a question with no assumed answer hiding behind it. Let's first be very clear about this. Because it seems that right across the globe we act, speak and think as though from distinct and unique separate personal perspectives. Therefore our question about separation is also a question about the source of our own individual identity. To ask ourselves, 'Are we separate?' is therefore also to ask ourselves, 'What are we?' And what are we doing here?

Without fixed and final answers to these questions, we are surely going to find ourselves looking with a wholly new relationship to the world around us. While we are looking at and questioning this world together, we are then perhaps establishing something far more important than any product of either our separation or connection, which is the possibility of freedom from all psychological strictures.

So from the beginning of all this it is necessary to have a deep and sustained sense of human consciousness enquiring into itself, investigating its own nature, which is quite different from the usual approach of two or more humans with limited capability exploring a particular topic or attempting to rectify some pressing problem. At the moment, we have no specific problem or topic identified, other than the question as posed very plainly, to which we are all invited to listen.

One final element that we need to consider before we proceed any further is whether or not we are able to undertake this investigation together free from any shadow of authority, so that we are not led astray by what others may have already said about the matter. Very often, as I am sure you have noticed, many of these kinds of questions about our psychological existence have about them an energy of self-fulfilling prophecy, where conclusions and opinions prevent a question from ever really catching light; and, then, of course, it is these very conclusions and opinions which continue to keep us separate.

But are we separate? Can a mind that has been put together by society ever be separate from all those other minds which also have been formed and influenced by this vast stream of human relationships? In other words, is a fragment ever separate from the whole? And is our human consciousness capable of going far beyond its own self-imposed limitations?

So let's begin. Let's dig into it and reveal what we can. Hopefully, we are not so much bothered about presenting what we may believe to be the truth of the matter, but are instead interested to proceed in a manner where we are helping one another just to see the obstacles created by our own limited reactions. When one says, 'I am separate, unique,' that's one kind of reaction; and when one says, 'I am the world,' that's also a reaction. The truth itself must come from a different quarter; the truth is not something that can be captured and resurrected through thought. After all, thought may be the origin of all forms and shadows of psychological separation. And maybe a dialogue together is just such a place where these shadows can begin to disperse.