In the beginning was the separation…

Rather than founding history on an original sin, a more satisfactory perspective has the perceived separation of the individual from the world as the onset of modern times.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A fall from grace?

I like to imagine that there was a time when all living things were part of an indivisible whole. All was connected and interdependent. In the christian allegory of creation that stage corresponds in some respects to the garden of Eden. That was before the Fall. At some unspecified time in the evolution of human beings each individual recognised he or she was separate from the rest of creation and with that awareness came the development of language and the growth of knowledge. It is at this point Christianity invokes the notion of sin and transgression. In the Christian creation allegory, the serpent, as a servant of a mythical, all-evil figure called Satan, aided and abetted by the supposedly wicked woman as man’s temptress, resulted in the early humans being cast out of the garden and condemned to suffer throughout their lives, labouring under this initial sin. 

Satan or separation?

While the existence of good and evil would be hard to deny, the notion of sin and even more so Satan are more dubious. What if, rather than dreaming up an evil being to mastermind an unspecified initial fault, vaguely allude to as sexual in nature, that condemned us all, it was our separation from the world that was at the origin of not only our great advances in language and knowledge but also our suffering. 

From the personal fortress to defeating the world

Suffering? My guess is that by being at the centre of our own personal fortress, acutely aware of the divide between us and the world and the others in it, condemns us to a loneliness and an isolation that no amount of compensation material or otherwise can rid us of. What’s more, when separation becomes detachment many feel entitled to trample the world with impunity. When separation becomes indifferent remoteness some feel authorised to deny their shared humanity allowing them to subject others to the most inhumane of tortures. 

The ‘l’ at the heart of knowledge as we know it

Without the ‘I’ that comes of being distinct from all else, there can be no ‘you’ or ‘her’ or ‘them’ let alone ‘it’. There can be no knowledge without an ‘I’ to know it. This fact has been masked by the objectivisation of knowledge as incarnated in books, on the Internet, in the discourse of experts, or the teaching dispensed by ‘learning’ institutions. Knowledge is necessarily anchored in the mind and body of an individual aware of his or herself as distinct from all else. That said, the very existence of the ‘I’ means our knowledge is necessarily incomplete because it would seem to preclude the knowing that comes from being intimately linked to everything. It is this lost awareness of connectedness that we secretly long for. In a brief glimpse of lucidity, I experienced what it means to be an integral part of everything, to be connected to the whole universe. It was a wonderful, uplifting moment that I have longed to repeat. Surprisingly, the loss of self that might have been a consequence and of which I was afraid, did not occur. I was resolutely both me, a separate being, and a connected part of everything.

Where now?

So where does that leave us? While the awareness of ourselves as distinct and separate has led to great advances in knowledge and invention, it has also resulted in choices that favour greater alienation from ourselves and the world, with the concomitant horrors that detachment and indifference permit. Three courses of action appear necessary to me, none of which will be easy but all of which must be conducted abreast. Firstly, become more aware of  separation and the joys and suffering it entails. Secondly, reconsider and refuse choices that lead to isolation, detachment and indifference. And finally, without loss of who and what we are, seek to reconnect with the One, the overall, connected universe of which we are all a part.

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