Recently I was at the airport, watching our fellow humans have their bodies padded aggressively and swabbed for explosives. No one batted an eyelash, of course. Should one ask why humans would be subjected to such behavior, the response would be a very loud “terrorism!”. This is the current state of human being; unwilling to reconcile with the reality of what is occurring. You see, terrorism is on the surface. For most, it is an anecdotal reminder that humans are violent creatures. Is that wholly true though? Are we truly satisfied with that answer? Consider all of the aspects of life that are affected by terrorism in the US — are you willing to accept that all of that is just because humans are violent? Maybe you are. But let’s work in the hypothetical for now… What if terrorism was the machination of something other than human nature — if, for example, there was an identifiable root cause of terrorism. Would you still accept the prodding and the poking? The swabbing and the accusations? I suspect that you might — but only because you felt you had to. Each time it happened in front of you, you would feel a pang of rage inside. You would know that this is not how it is meant to be.
Terrorism is the tip of an iceberg. We can dive deeper, and we can look for what has led us to this moment in history where terrorism occurs. Some might see foreign intervention by the US and other Northern Atlantic countries as a direct link. Indeed, many scholars have. Books like All the Shahs Men and Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History are just two examples of books that map out exquisitely the inextricable links between foreign intervention and the acts of “terrorism” that follow. But consider that iceberg again. Is intervention by foreign, colonial powers the issue to address or is it, again, a machination of something deeper? The military-industrial complex, you might say. Capitalism, some clever folks might add. Again, I continue to ponder: what’s deeper? Below those we find such ambiguous things as culture (never-mind that no single nation is ubiquitous in its experience of culture), society, genetics, imperial history, socioeconomic status. You can generate countless roots and none of them are quite so satisfying. I imagine that blaming capitalism, the military-industrial complex or imperial history is the easiest for most folks who dive down this deep. It offers the most tangible of these things — well, the easiest to name, maybe. The actions to reverse course remain just as murky. And if you’re truly honest with yourself, you probably find yourself a bit unsettled with any of these answers. As the world marches on towards its destruction and you can’t even be certain of its cause. It’s deeply troubling.
Now, of course, I am sure there are some of you that are certain I’m a liberal-hippie-ass and you disagree with everything I’ve said so far. I see you. I understand the power of cynicism. It’s grasp on society has never been stronger, and I do not see you as wrong for being cynical. I welcome it in fact. It challenges me to stand in your life and see your perspective, such that I might broaden my work and incorporate your thoughts. That’s a bit hippy-dippy, but we’ll get to that later. For now, stay with me okay? We have a habit as human beings to hear something we (think) we disagree with, and then we spend our time arguing with the presenter and their ideas instead of actually engaging with the work. There’s a power in surrendering completely to the argument I’m making. Hear me out, without arguing against me, and then formulate what’s occurring to you afterward. If you’ve failed to do that so far, take a moment and read the prior two paragraphs again. At the very least, hearing my work from that place of listening will give you a better set of tools to argue against your tree-hugging nibling at the next family gathering.
So, back to the spectacle then. Consider that all of the things-to-blame I’ve listed out above — capitalism, the military-industrial complex, imperial history, culture, the list goes on and on — have one singular root. If we dive to the deepest depths of our current predicament, we find one answer that creates and perpetuates the world that we live in today. I propose that to be the Story of Separation¹. The Story of Separation is the story that almost the entire modern world believes, it is a story wherein one thing is true: all things are separate. You are separate from I. The device in your hands separate from the hands that hold them. The your feet on the ground separate from the ground, separate from the soil underneath, and the endless life that lived within that soil. All separate, all discrete. The Story of Separation is our deepest held story, and it has created every way that you are now. It has influenced every person, whether or not they believe in the story, and it has shaped and molded our current world and all of its constraints. It has brought us environmental degradation (whether you see that as anthropogenic or not), horrendous wars, refugees, starvation, needless death from hunger, homelessness, famine, the HIV pandemic, crippling depression in imperial nations, and many more things.
You see, story sounds so innocent. It’s harmless — it’s just a story, something to be read to children around bedtime. Stories, however, when held at the level of civilization are powerful and dictate what fundamentally constitutes humanity and our way of being.
Humanity’s way of being is rooted in the Story of Separation. All actions available to us are a result of this story. In fact, the only actions that we see as available to us are those that are compatible with the story of separation. We take action with the underlying knowledge that we are separate. Take a moment and consider the way our entire society is constructed; The way we think about problems; The way we solve problems; The things we study; The linguistic basis for our communication; The way I’m writing this sentence. All discrete. Separate.
Consider we spent $13.25 billion to create the Large Hadron Collider and it costs $1 billion to operate on an annual basis.² All for what? To discover a new level of separation that exists within the particles that create our physical reality. Meanwhile, 36 million people die from hunger on an annual basis.³ In the Story of Separation, these might occur as two problems that are unrelated. You may even say things like “well, if they just worked harder” or “this is just how it is”. That is the power of the story. We disregard the lives of 36 million mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, lovers, sons, daughters and children because we cannot reconcile the pain that we feel when we begin to consider the magnitude of that loss. Consider that you’re doing it again: “hunger is one issue”. It is all issues. Meshed within an integral web of everything our world faces, all rooted in our way of being: separate.
What you may find, with a little research, is that hunger is declining around the world and less people are dying on average to hunger. Something to celebrate for sure, but it misses the point doesn’t it? We have yet to fundamentally alter the way of being that has led us to this moment. That underlying context of humanity remains, and with it all of the nastiness of our world today. We can lower the numbers and unleash some of our brothers and sisters, though in your heart you know that our current context does not allow for all of our brothers and sisters to be free and unleashed. The Story of Separation makes that okay. It lessens the pain; it boxes out the horrible statistics from our lived reality.
Consider every other “problem” our world faces and ask, honestly: what is the deepest cause here? You will find, every time, the Story of Separation. Our walling off of everything has led us to this exact moment in history. It’s confronting. It also offers us a distinct road map, one that could actually navigate us to future for humanity. All we need do is transform the story at the heart of it all, and we don’t even need to make up the story. You see, the truth is that everything is interconnected. And here, when I say truth, I mean capital T Truth. This is a fundamental fact of existence on this planet; Consider your elementary education about ecosystems. Everything is simultaneously supporting and depending on everything else. If we start to view the whole planet as one big ecosystem, we can begin to grasp the amount of damage and pain we’ve caused as a result of our separation. We are a 7.5+ billion species that has neglected its support for and dependency on the entirety of the planet. We have been nothing but parasitic, slowly draining life out of all life… including ourselves.
This new story, one that would give us access to completely new actions, need not be invented. It’s already there, a fundamental truth of perhaps the entire universe. The Story of Interbeing¹. Ubuntu: I am because you are. Consider again terrorism. Look, with open mind, at the tendrils of separation that have birthed it. It is, in some ways, the actions of an upset child acting out because it doesn’t know how to express its frustration with what is occurring. It is a response to what we have all partaken in. It is not separate from who we are being. There is a wound of separation that exists, as we have moved indigenous populations off of their land, extracted precious life from mother earth, disregarded the lives of all living creatures, and prioritized consumption over all else.
You see if we gave all we could in reparations, planted as many trees as possible, and even stopped killing each other, it would still fail to heal that wound. We will never heal it until we can look at each and every human being, all 7.5+ billion, and say, with no uncertainty, “I love you. I am because you are.” From that place, the Story of Interbeing, we can being to open up a new world of possibilities. We can feel our hearts flutter — what would that world look like? What could we create, if we accepted our inherent interconnectedness?
I suspect it’s hard to imagine, as we live in the context of separation and it is suffocating. Even now, as I write this and the words flow out of me like I imagine a composer has music flowing out of her, I feel the pull of separation. I feel the doubt creep in, and my fluttering heart weighs heavy as it drops in my stomach. I see a world that is possible and yet I feel as if it is impossible to attain. My soul aches and being yearns. A not-so-subtle push and pull, much like the moon and the tides. But see, I know that it matters not if the doubt lingers or the uncertainty of the possibility endures. We must because we must. We cannot continue on like this, stifling our being and opposing what our hearts know to be true. We are in this together. What would it look like if we started living in that story?
¹Charles Eisenstein uses this term in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, 2013.
²Knapp, Alex; “How Much Does It Cost To Find A Higgs Boson?”; July 5, 2012; https://goo.gl/TDREBr; Forbes