I–It, I–Thou, I–THIS
“We cannot avoid using power, cannot escape the compulsion to afflict the world, so let us, cautious in diction and mighty in contradiction, love powerfully.” — Martin Buber
I first came across Martin Buber when I was in college. I had had no exposure to spiritual thinkers at the time.
Buber, a Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature ten times and the Nobel Peace Prize seven times.
He was born in Austria in 1878 and died in Israel in 1965.
Buber suggests that we address existence either with an attitude of the “I” towards the “It” (a separate object that we use) or with an attitude of “I” towards “Thou” (a relationship not separated or bounded).
Buber’s primary thesis is that we only find meaning in relationships with each other and, ultimately, with God.
I-It refers to the world of sensation. I-Thou relationships are sustained in the spirit and mind of an “I” for as long as the feeling is the dominant mode of perception.
According to Buber, I-It relationships are concrete and limited. I-Thou relationships are abstract and limitless.
As an impressionable freshman in 1963, I was very taken by Buber’s ideas. I still am.
In this post, I would like to revisit Buber’s ideas and suggest (with all humility) a third category of relationships to consider: I-THIS relationships.
For me, I-It relationships are distinguished by separation, objectification, and limitation. I-Thou relationships, on the other hand, embody the values of honor, respect, equality, unity, harmony, and dignity. For me, I-Thou relationships are sacred connections like I have with my wife, my kids, my grand-kids, my dear friends, and Nature.
I-THIS relationships go beyond I-Thou relationships, because they represent the experience of cosmic embrace.
I-THIS relationships are the profoundly joyful moments of I-Thou relationships but are infused and powered by Energy. I know Buber referred to I-It relationships as either sensation or experience, but I think he meant physical experience more than emotional, intellectual, or spiritual experience. I think I-THIS relationships can be all four.
Simplistically, the three relationships can be summarized as:
I-It: Separate from
I-Thou: At One with
I-THIS: All in All
The questions are:
- How do these three types of relationships play out in today’s culture? And
- How do we create more I-THIS experiences?
We are living in an I-It culture. Pick your obsession:
cars, phones, clothes, houses, bank accounts, job-titles, boats, etc. We are endlessly bombarded from multiple sources to consume things. I’m as guilty as the next person. I love my iPhone, my condo, my car, and my toys. I fret about how much money I have saved for retirement. It’s hard to avoid when you live in a materialistic society and you are receiving messages all day to accumulate and achieve.
I-It relationships, however, can include our relationship with all sentient beings as well as our relationships with things.
Think about how an I-It attitude is at the heart of all the sexual harassment and predatory behavior we read about on a daily basis. In these types of I-It relationships, one person treats the other as a separate object to be used. They are typically aggressive abuses of power.
When we are at One with our fellow human beings, we are more likely to treat them with dignity, respect, and loving kindness. Buber had it right.
When we bring an I-Thou attitude to relationships, we treat people as worthy persons with whom we share unity of being.
In spite of the I-It culture, most of us aspire to forming I-Thou relationships. These sacred connections give us a sense of belongingness and self-actualization. In I-Thou relationships there are no barriers. There is a high-level of consciousness which is manifested in music, literature, and loving relationships — subject with subject. We are fully present, in the moment, to the miracles unfolding in front of us whether it’s a flower or a friend.
Quite simply, we are here now.
About 20 years ago, I was first introduced to an I-THIS experience by learning Qi Gong from Master Luke Chan.
In Qi Gong, the goal is to let energy move freely through you by releasing and absorbing, by opening and closing, and by lifting chi up and pulling chi down.
While you remain grounded on the earth, you feel your head touch the sky. The moment of stillness between each movement can be described as “THIS” — a deep connection to the Universe and an open reception of Universal Energy.
After practicing Qi Gong for 15 years, I became re-connected with my Vietnam Vet buddy Artie Egendorf, who had just founded Energy’s Way. Artie refers to “THIS” as what emerges when you are truly awake. In THIS state of bliss, you feel and sense endless details — sights, sounds, colors, vibes, etc. — with greater clarity pervaded by a sense of “this-ness.” As Energy’s Way unfolds, these endless specifics resonate beyond appearances. Experiencing THIS is no less than a conscious evolution of our cosmic being.
The crux of Energy’s Way is to move and explore patiently, gently, and sensitively enough to: effortlessly tap into joy, gracefully ease into Flow, and dramatically enhance your energy.
For a fuller explanation of THIS, read “How to Realize Cosmic Being.”
I asked my wisdom counsel to share their experiences with THIS. Master Luke Chan said:
I-It is body-mind. I-Thou is mind-spirit. I-THIS is body-mind-spirit as Oneness with the power of Infinite Intelligence or Tao. Tao powers and links all aspects of life: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
A fuller explanation can be found in his book, 8 Secrets of Tao Te Ching.
The notion of seeing I-It as body-mind triggered the idea that we often see our bodies and minds as separate and limited — not exactly conducive to spiritual development.
I also loved Luke’s insight that I-THIS can be experienced as Tao, the infinite source of power for all life. Thus, living life as “I am Tao” creates endless I-THIS experiences.
Due Quach, Vietnam boat refugee, Harvard and Wharton grad, and founder of Calm Clarity, said:
“THIS is experiencing the interdependence and interconnectedness of All life.”
Due shares more of this perspective in her book, Calm Clarity, which I highly recommend. More information on the book can be found here.
After processing and pondering the input of Artie, Luke, and Due, I concluded that the solution to today’s problem is to shift our consciousness from I-It objectification to I-Thou relationships and I-THIS experiences. As long as men abuse their power — for example, to exploit “It-Girls” or 14-year-olds — and try to control others through military and monetary means, we will continue to suffer through needless disasters. Only by first experiencing ourselves at One with all beings, and then freeing ourselves to fully appreciate the miraculous flow of All Energy, will we be able to create the consciousness, connectedness, and Cosmic awareness to heal ourselves and the world.
My goal is to bring more of myself to each moment and to be more open to All that Energy can bring to me so that I can experience more love, harmony and peace with myself, with others, with Nature, and with the world. I guess It all boils down to THIS!!
As I began this post with a quote from Martin Buber, so also will I end it:
“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable through the embracing of one of its beings.”
If we can’t avoid the abuse of power, may we at least love powerfully and embrace All.
Originally published at Perspectives & Possibilities.