On Oneness

Perhaps we might consider the difference between oneness and one, and see the way the observing organism has a tendency to translate the former into the latter, and then to forget its translation, and – inevitably – defend against any effort to instigate remembering.

the world through an apple

(The fragment longs to be whole. The human desires union – sexual, dialogic, communal, spiritual. Poetically, the jagged shard dreams of the clay pot of which it was once a part. Yet, any return to that state necessarily ends the fragment’s discrete existence. And any “whole” that subsequently emerges will have seams and cracks that recall its fragmentation).

How can we think about this? And how can our thinking inform our living?

First, we can say that “oneness” reflects a state of equilibrium. Picture a town hall full of citizens carefully listening to a speaker make the case for passage of a certain article, or a church in which the faithful attend the deacon’s homily. All are present, all are giving attention, all are committed to the shared nature of the experience, observing the rules which facilitate mutuality.

We might say that this state or condition of mutual attendance is one of harmony, in which the part neither regrets its “a-partness,” in the sense of needing to solve or amend or undo it, nor longs to aggrandize any apparent whole. That is, the citizen or church-goer is neither wishing they were elsewhere or otherwise (regretting their apparent separation) nor trying to colonize the shared experience in order to possess it as her “own.”

Yet obviously that regret and that colonization happen. Why? How? How does the simple harmony of “oneness” become the rude invader named “one?”

Here we might consider that “one” is a set. It is a bounded unit that includes itself and, by definition, excludes others. If we look again at the image of the town hall or the church, the “oneness” is composed of parts that are balanced. Yet any one part can take “oneness” and declare it “mine.” Our sensorimotor subjectivity allows for just this way of being. Separation is easy to perceive and, once seen, easy to identify with and, once identified with, easy to defend (including through aggression).

Can you see this in your own experience? The way you can be a singular you? Pitted against the world? Can you feel the sense of fear and guilt that naturally correspond to this separation? Can you see what you have done account of this fear and guilt? Can you imagine what you would do? Or could do, if pushed just so?

And can you see how if you shift your attention, even a little, this experience of “one” merges into something less threatening? It is happening right now – in this shared experience of language. You reading what another wrote, and understanding it, and responding to it, in whatever way – slight, dramatic, affirmative, doubtful – you respond.

It is always the other who reminds us of wholeness, and who makes our return possible.

Each person has a responsibility to love one another – to look upon his fellow man only as God created him – because he has discovered there is no difference between himself and his brother.

This responsibility is yours.
To accept that responsibility
will transform your life

(Tara Singh The Future of Mankind 156)

In essence, I suggest a delicate dance. Any human observer can experience herself as singular and discrete. Her subjective experience allows her to claim oneness as “hers.” “We” peacefully coexisting is translated into one with boundaries that need defending.

Yet at any time, one can instead give attention to oneness. Most of our spiritual discipline – those of us in the tradition of A Course in Miracles and other contemporary expressions of oneness – can be understood as perceiving oneness rather than one. If you look for harmony, it will show itself. But this looking – this giving of attention – needs to be liberated from ideas of what oneness looks like, feels like, acts like, et cetera. All of that are weapons in the war of the one. Beat them into plowshares, if you will.

We overlook oneness because we see instead our presumptions about oneness. That is, rather than experience a state of equilibrium (which requires the other), we look for a personal experience that is our own – that we have, possess, commodify, et cetera. Either is possible but given a choice, why insist on pain?

shelves, books
shelves, books, safe places

When I say – as I sometimes do – “this this,” I am simply observing that we cannot simultaneously stand with both feet in the river and both feet on the bank. We cannot simultaneously be on the trail to the summit and on the summit. Our capitalist culture will sell any insight, which can appear to cheapen it, but “be here now” is truly good advice, and giving attention to it as a practice is really all one needs to do.

Thus, through the gift of attention, “one” remembers “oneness,” which includes the other, who is “not-one.” Here it is helpful to remember that “the other” does not experience herself as “other” but as “one.” And that “one” experiences us as “other.” What we call “love” is really just the realization that everything we say and do in our living is being done to, with and through others each of whom could be our own self. This realization restores awareness of equilibrium and ends the observing organism’s “detour into fear” (T-2.I.2:1).

Or so one says on a cloudy morning, writing in a reconfigured hayloft, for others one has never met, and yet meets in the sweet fields of language, which are always Love spilling and sealing the seams of us.

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