Shifting the Very Nature of Relationship

The post that started with the Arjuna Ardagh quote

Cloud Gate, aka The Bean

could have gone off in another direction.  What Ardagh and Watts both propose is essentially a radical shift in the nature of relationship. They are proposing that there is no “other.” So, what you perceive to be other than you, or not-I, actually is still all you. Whoa. If I perceive it to be outside of me, literally over there, not here, then how can that be me? Indeed, a radical boundary redefinition is required. The boundaries that you think define and delimit where you are located, compared with where supposedly otherness (other things, other people, other places) is located, perhaps are an illusion.

I’m writing this in downtown Chicago near “The Bean” (more precisely, Cloud Gate), the kidney bean–shaped sculpture in Millennium Park. It’s made of highly polished stainless steel, so it reflects like a mirror, only it’s bean shaped, and the inside of it is funnel shaped. Hence, when you watch people move toward it and away from it, at certain spots their reflection splits into two images, or the two images of them combine into one. Given that Einstein showed that space itself can be curved, this experience serves as an interesting metaphor for our perceptions of this reality. How might our perceptions be distorted in ways we aren’t even aware of because be can’t see the bigger “space” within which we’re located?

Might Ardagh and Watts be pointing to one such distortion, namely, our perception of ourselves as separate? If there is no Other, i.e., no you or it, then that alters the whole nature of relationship, as there is only me (for each person reading this) and hence nothing “else” to be related to.

So if there’s no you, then it makes no sense to say “I love you” or “I hate you.” In those moments, the only reality is the loving or the hating that I am experiencing of myself. In this, we see that relationships are central to the way we’ve been communicating but not necessarily to the way communication might happen in a world where we understand the perception of separateness to be illusory. With no distinction between perceiver and perceived, there is only the event. With no separation between the subject and object there is only the verb.

Frank Waters explains how, in the Hopi language, if you want to say “the light flashed”—because there is no difference between the light and the flash, you need only say rehpi or “flashing.” The experience of the flashing is not separate from the experience of the light.

What happens, however, when I (the perceiver) see a seagull eat a peanut? Although there is just the act of eating, I might want to specify what was eating and what was being eaten. But if there is no separation between me, the seagull, and the peanut, then what am I perceiving?

As I sit here writing (distinguishing my boundaries from those of Others) I watch people taking pictures, relaxing at tables, texting (always texting!) even watching me watching them. I consciously try to shift from observer of all these activities to being a co-participant in them.  All of what I see (and don’t see) is me walking, talking, taking pictures, pushing a stroller, flying, watching. It’s like an anti-magic trick. Instead of physical sleight-of-hand, it requires mental shift-of-mind, a dropping of the mirror that shows me my reflection in what I perceive to be Other.

I seem to be able to do it piecemeal at the moment. I can put my imagination over there and become the Other, for example, by seeing through the eyes of the seagull or experiencing eating that peanut. However, I haven’t yet developed the capacity to simultaneously experience what the seagull and the man taking a video of his family and the girl in the pink shorts playing with her dolls and the businessman sitting on a bench texting and the 17 people all taking pictures of The Bean from different angles are all experiencing. If I could do that, perhaps Ardagh’s and Watts’s words would no longer make sense to me.

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