Are We One?
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
I turned 44 a couple of months ago. I like 44. I like the person I’m becoming. This hasn’t always been the case. The taste of that 30 something self-loathing is still fresh on my tongue, and the black dog is never more than a few houses away. The neurosis that accompanied me through my 20’s, once fine-edged and constant, has dulled and lost it’s shape, and I’m less concerned with how I look, if I’m liked, and how I compare.
I still drive over the odd pot hole. There are days when I’m gripped with irrational fear. Fear that I can’t trace because it has no source. It bubbles up through the ground; noxious and invisible. This fear is malicious and seeks only to diminish me. When it gets hold of me I’m filled with self-doubt. Little star-busts of worry that cause my mind to spin like a Catherine wheel; the flame of one imagined disaster lighting the fuse of another. At it’s most benign, this self-doubt prevents me from being everything I can be. At it’s most malignant, it is a dark ethereal thing that causes me to feel small and fearful and ashamed.
On the other hand, there are days that are spectacular. Big budget blockbusters with me as the star. Days when every word that comes out of my mouth is the right word. When my imagined cleverness is surpassed by genuine profundity. When my timing is perfect and every joke scores a hit. When better men become my equal. Days when the pretence gives way and the parts of me that are genuine and unrehearsed flow out and into the slipstream of those around me. On days like this I’m a colossus; a giant Macy’s Thanks Giving parade balloon floating above the multitude; dwarfing them and casting them in my shadow.
By and large my emotional state and general outlook on the world falls within these two extremes. This leaves a lot of room for variation. Lots of room to experience slight gradations of feeling pathetic or euphoric. If I gauged my average week my median emotional state would fall somewhere between slightly pissed off and vaguely excited. The reasons for why I feel this way, in both cases, are as hidden and unavailable to me as the workings of the combustion engine. I’ve never been a car guy.
As I’ve gotten older and much to my great shame, my obsessive fascination with myself has not wained. Perhaps naively I had hoped it would. I’m still a bubbling cauldron of conceit and self doubt, tempered with dose of savant and a light dusting of virtuoso. A little alkaline to neutralise the acid. It’s an acquired taste I’m told.
Despite my best efforts I’m yet to master the ability to control what bubbles to the surface for any length of time. Oh, I’ll try a little meditation; a little mindfulness maybe, and for a time I can convince myself that I’m calling the shots. That I’m steering the raft. But the reality is that I’m not. I don’t think any of us are. We are just being carried along on the whitewater of life; bouncing off boulders and riding the waves of fortune. The fact that we each have an oar in our hands and manage to dip it into the water occasionally has some how convinced us that we are in control. This is an illusion.
One of the side-effects of being so self-obsessed is that I’ve learnt to recognise my own characteristics in others. I can spot false pride and bravura from a mile away. The smell of fear and self-doubt is as familiar to me as the smell of the sea as I get closer to the beach. Jealousy and envy make up a two-piece suit that does not hang idle in my wardrobe for very long. Somehow, seeing the same ‘quiet desperation’ behind the face of another seems to make the burden a little easier to bare. If ‘misery enjoys company’ then it is not spoilt for companionship.
My ability to spot bits of me in others is not restricted to the painful parts that are tucked away in the shadows. Everywhere I go I see the light that shines in me cast back by others. I see the same joy and sensitivity. The same sense of excitement. I perceive the wonder within me in the face of an old man. I can distinguish love from lust, discern dreams that remain unfulfilled, perceive journeys that have not yet been started. I recognise hope and hopelessness as readily as I do the ace of hearts when I turn the corner of the card. Everything I see in me I see in you.
We seem to be connected. We seem to be the same inside. Beneath the pretence and make believe of whatever character we have created for ourselves and would have the world suppose us to be, is perhaps, a single source. A stream from which we all unknowingly drink. Nourishing us universally; ignorant of our physical separateness. The way blood is oblivious to the colour of the vessel that contains it.
Is there something in each of us that connects us? Some common thread; invisible and beyond perception. A secret that was lost to us long ago or is yet to be discovered. A truth that is more profound and meaningful than anything we have discovered about ourselves in the time that has passed since we woke up in this place, all sandy mouthed and dishevelled. That truth; the secret about which I speak, and the view that with each new day I find more evidence to support, is that there is no you and me. We are one. A single eye peering out at the universe through billions of lenses.