In the first halting breath of a new romantic connection, when the eyes meet, the heart flutters, and a cascade of stories spiral out like a new galactic frontier, it is safe to say that nothing feels more unique, more singularly special. Every one of us dwells in that moment and generally throughout each day, within the notion of being an individual having a particular blend of feelings, thoughts and images. What other way of living could there be? Contrary to the poster-child of subjectivism, an individual uniquely set-apart from the rest of creation by possessing a soul or self, there is an alternative. That alternative provides the space to step away from a life of separation and into one of belonging.
Living relationally is not simply about being mindful of the interconnections pervading every moment of our lives, from the mundane of molecular combinations giving us air to breath and water to drink, to the complex social patterns of whole societies and the familial webs of each person. Interconnection is our very breath and blood of life. More than this, however, is a required recognition that the location of our perspective determines what we are capable of seeing. The result of either perspective is either a focus on being unique and in no small part separated from the rest of nature or bound within a near-infinite inter-web of a singular substance.
Imagine four bounded circles, each one encapsulating the others like a set of mixing bowls. From inner to outer they can be labeled as 1) personal narrative, 2) behavioral patterns, 3) social and cultural triggers, and 4) universal potential. If looked at from the inside-out, one’s uniqueness is never in doubt, in fact it becomes the means of determining whether to give consideration for any idea, advice or information. Beginning here is where such notions as “my truth is my truth and doesn’t have to agree with anyone else” and “nobody understands what he/she and I have together.” Such thinking results in separation and interpersonal turmoil, though it certainly helps maintain a belief in the supremacy of the ego.
If instead one begins from the outer circle, that of universal potential, everything shifts. Rather than the self being penultimate, “I” exists as simply one among an infinite potential of variable outcomes. Even the “one” here is a small over-statement as there is no dot to pinpoint a singular location, but a scatter-gun of interconnected dots out of which emerges a felt sense of individuality. There is uniqueness, but no longer in the sense of an “I and them,” rather an immersion. As Buber, in his book “I And Thou” states: “Immersion wants to preserve only what is ‘pure,’ essential, and enduring, while stripping away everything else; the concentration of which I speak does not consider our instincts as too impure, the sensuous as too peripheral, or our emotions as too fleeting — everything must be included and integrated. What is wanted is not the abstracted self but the whole, undiminished man.”
From this perspective of immersion, we can see where being caught up in the uniqueness of our selves and our particular relationships is both understandable but also myopic and limiting. If we consider any situation only from within the inner-most circle, this both shutters our eyes to the possibilities that exist in universal potential and is a willful blindness to the reality that we are embedded in a relational reality. Behavioral patterns and social triggers do not cease simply because of a projection of individuality. Nor does the potential cease to exist of other people or ideas illuminating our experience. Immersion allows for healthy skepticism and provides the space for introspection and collective analysis.
When considering next how different personal struggles are from any others or how one’s relational dynamic is so distinct from any other, it is important to remember that one’s narrative is self-serving and therefore prone to blindness. Our difficulties and ways of behaving certainly feel like they are unique, but they are such only in so far as any other emergent quality in interconnected reality. In this way we are none of us alone, none of us separate and all of us together in living.
© David Teachout