Mostly we experience ourselves as separate from one another.
We experience the way our bodies are separated from one another in space, the way our personal life history is distinct from that of others, and the apparent hiddenness of our inner world. And we conclude that in some fundamental sense the distance between us and others is unbridgeable, that we are alone.
And it’s no wonder, because as well as what we see, the public discourse of the past 300 years or so has encouraged us to relate to life in this way. Rene Descartes‘ move to portray us as isolated individual minds, separated from everything else, plays a big part in this. And our increasingly individualistic political and economic narratives have split from one another still further.
But when we look this way we’re looking only at the results of something, not the something itself that underlies it all. We take our separate and individual bodies as proof of our separateness, but we are looking too far ‘downstream’ as it were.
If we were to look further upstream we’d see not just our separateness but an endless process of becoming that produces it all.
We’d see the whole of human life renewing itself through the biological processes of conception and birth, each new generation of human beings emerging from the bodies of those of us already here. And we’d see human life becoming itself through language, culture, conversations and ideas, through the grand stories and narratives that shape us even as we shape them.
Looking downstream we see our physical separateness. Looking upstream we see that we are expressions of a unified and ceaseless process of becoming that happens through us and because of us, and that produces all of human life.
Sometimes we gaze at others and realise this. We see them not as separate, but as an expression of the selfsame life that we are. We realise that ‘they’ are really another aspect of that which makes us ‘ourselves’.
And this, I think, is what we call love.