In The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot quotes Bernie Siegel who said that “people are addicted to their beliefs. When you try to change someone’s belief they will act like an addict” (p. 6). If we are addicted to our beliefs, we won’t give them up until we see how they are wrecking our lives. Did we choose to believe that we’re all separate beings from everybody and everything else? No, that was so firmly established both by our experience of ourselves as young children and by how others treated us, then reinforced by language that separates I from You, that we just take it for granted that we’re all separate.
Well, what if we’re not?
Language served (and continues to serve) as an external technology for bridging that perceived gap between individuated consciousnesses. Perhaps it even allowed our process of individuation to flourish by paradoxically embodying the assumption of separateness that characterizes the process of individuation (even though in-divid-uation itself implies not-divided-ness). (I love the irony!) How does language embody the assumption of separateness? [Caveat: not all languages do, so please forgive my generalization if you speak a language that does not assume separateness. And please step up to show the rest of us how to toss aside our crutches.]
The languages that do assume separateness generally have a structure that both separates the subject from him/her self as the agent of action—which takes the form of subject-verb—and which separates the subject from what are called objects—which is practically everything that isn’t the subject. (Except for naming, even when we refer to other people, other presumed subjectivities, they get treated linguistically as objects. For example, “I gave the book to him” treats book and him similarly. Compare “I gave water to the plant.”)
The subject is further assumed to be a point of consciousness (located generally in the head, around the pineal gland) inside a bag of skin. Hence, the subject even separates itself from the different aspects of the bag of skin in which it locates itself. Hence, as a language-using subject, when I say “my toe itches” there is a sense that the subjective part that is experiencing the itch is separate from and located somewhere other than the toe! How weird is that? (If you’ve ever tried to “move” the consciousness of the itching from the head area into the area that itches, it’s amazing to experience the itch go away.)
In his blog #11, Languages, David Spangler describes this same idea with the following example and explanation:
Many years ago I heard a lecturer say that the relationship of the soul to the personality and body was like that of a driver to a car. This is certainly a compelling image and a common one. It draws its power from its simplicity; it is metaphorically appealing. On the other hand, it also has the effect of dividing us into at least two parts, soul and personality or spirit and body and making one subordinate to the other. After all, a car is an unthinking thing that we use, not a partner or part of our wholeness. If this is the basis of our thinking about ourselves, then it creates a foundation for the kind of inner conflict I mentioned above.
Let’s call this the language of separation. It’s pervasive throughout human culture. It is the language of “us” vs. “them,” at the root of so much violence and suffering in our world today, and not just between people. It colors much of our thinking about our relationship to the environment was well. Not that all separative language and thinking is bad. There are times when the ability to draw clear distinctions and boundaries is important. To say that all separative thinking is wrong is itself an example of separative thinking. But there is no doubt that when such language and thinking are carried to an extreme and are not balanced by equally compelling images of our unity and connectedness, we end up with horrors like the Holocaust.
In a sense, language has served as a crutch, to help us get through the process of individuation. However, we have been living with the language crutch for so long that we consider it the defining characteristic that makes us human, the capability we have that the “other” animals do not have. How difficult will it be to relinquish this crutch with which we have so strongly identified as we step into the next phase of development—reintegration to a new level of wholeness without losing the perspective and uniqueness of individuated identity?
When I sat down to write this, I had no idea it would end up here. Now I look at the job ahead and cringe, knowing the resistance we humans have to de-identifying with that which we have identified. Who among us is ready to say, “I’m willing to let go of those beliefs that seemingly keep me separate. I’m willing to see how language has served to separate me and now do something about it to reintegrate myself with Self”? (Of course, I’m aware of the irony of using language to say it’s time to wake up from our use of language.)
Individually and collectively we have to find, return to, and be that whole being that We are, in addition to the separate being that we think we are. (After all, we are One that is Both.) Then, how do we speak from that wholeness–the wholeness that each of us is as an individual and the wholeness of the All?