What Happens When We Are Separate

By Paul Smit

Non-duality, also referred to as advaita, literally means ‘no two’. This implies that everything is ‘one’; everything in the universe is made up of one and the same ‘stuff’, namely energy. This energy takes on millions of forms, such as planets, water, air, plants, trees, rabbits, elephants and human beings. We humans are also simply just a mass of energy. Only in humans something extraordinary happens when we are about one and a half years old. At that time, we start getting a sense of ‘self’ or an ego. All of a sudden, a toddler thinks: Hey, this is ME! It is also around that time that toddlers begin to recognize themselves in the mirror.

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The ME idea and ME feelings that occur in children is very useful: for being able to survive as well as to socially interact with others. The fact that we see ourselves as a separate individual is both useful and necessary. However, the ME/ego concept in humans is somewhat inflated.

During childhood, the ME idea becomes increasingly powerful. Then the time comes when another new idea is created: “If this is ‘me’, then I should also be good enough”! And we can see children, especially teenagers, wanting to wear the right designer label clothes, identify with pop idols, football clubs or certain music, ride the proper scooter and move around on the dance floor with an air of “please, confirm that I am good enough”. Maintaining a self-image now becomes a daily activity.

This kind of behavior continuously increases with age and in both personal and working relationships we come across people who are busy trying to be ‘good enough’. Some may do this by being domineering, while thinking: “If I dominate and act aggressively and forcefully, I will be able to prove that I am good enough”. In this case we are actually dealing with an ego suffering from an inferiority complex, exhibiting compensatory behavior, even though they often see it differently themselves.

Others might display placating behavior, thinking “I’m doing okay as long as they think I am good enough”. They try to please everyone, in order to gain approval. In doing so they display subservient and conflict-avoidance behavior. Both domineering and placating behavior leads to a lot of issues.

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As we grow up, the thought “I need to be good enough” is not the only thought we have. Another one that emerges is “If this is ME, then I also need to be able to stay in control of everything”. The choices we make certainly greatly influence the future course of our life, so a lot depends on them. From a early age we already have to make a number of choices: the right education,  job,  work experience,  partner, holiday destination and car insurance. It is not all that easy.

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We came to live with the idea that our lives happen through our little egos. Therefore we want to make sure that everything is heading the right way for us. But no matter how hard we try to avoid hurt and find joy, we all encounter prosperity as well as downfalls. And so life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.
Would you have predicted 10 years ago what your life would look like today?

Even more so, at the end of the day, when we look back at what we had planned versus what has actually happened, we often notice a big difference. But when life turns out to be different from what we want, frustrations arise. In addition, we live in fear of what might happen in the future. Moreover, many of us carry ‘baggage’ from the past around, including regret, guilt, sadness and anger.

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So you can see little (thought) clouds of churning worries developing. This causes stress and tension and so we all suffer mentally. And because everything feels so dreadful, we think: “I’m going shopping”! And that works. I can recommend shopping to everyone! Because once you have bought the new car or new shoes, a type of endorphin is released and just for a moment you will feel fantastic. Every stress and strain has disappeared, great! You drive around feeling liberated and as happy as a lark. But then, after a day or three, the excitement fades away and you think: “I should go and buy something else”.
This is how our consumerist society has developed in which we completely try to suppress our stress and fill gaps in our lives by supplying ourselves with new possessions. We do not just attempt to do this with new large screen televisions or new shoes, but also with food. Because chocolate, cigarettes and beer also work well. And, for the more advanced among us, there is always illegal drugs and anti-depressants.

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Some of us realize that all of these things only work temporarily, and so we seek out new ways such as pursuing a career, thinking: “Once I get that job, everything will be fine”. And so we finally become manager or director and then… the distress continues! We say to ourselves: “You know what, I should become spiritual”. Incense arrives in our house; we busy ourselves with positive affirmations. We book a trip to India to undergo re-birthing and cleanse all our chakras. And damn it… this too only works temporarily. “This is not going too well”, we think, “I need counseling”! Together with the therapist we put our past under the microscope and we try to see things in perspective. After one or two sessions we probably feel OK for a while, but gradually those little worry clouds start to reappear again.

So the question is: “What are we doing wrong”? The answer is: “Absolutely nothing”! Everything is just part of the game we call life. Things can never be different from how they are. So there is nothing wrong with our consumerism either, or with the rushed and stressful lifestyle we all share. Things are as they are.

We often try to get rid of all of the little thought balloons by adding another one. But this only works temporarily. Non-duality revolves around puncturing the first little balloon: the ME concept. This is the direct road to being liberated. Non-duality implies that ME/I is just a feeling and a thought that originates within us. So the idea that you are someone is just an idea. Sure, a nice and useful idea, but no more than that. There is no one! Everything is just ever-changing energy, the wind blows, the tree grows, and the planet is revolving, and people talk and act. Everything happens by itself, automatically.

During our deepest sleep, ME/I feelings and ME/I thoughts are turned off. At this time there is no longer an awareness of being an individual. And yet, everything continues effortlessly: our heart beats, our blood flows, we breathe, wounds heal, our hair grows, and digestion occurs. And for this, ‘we’ are not needed at all. During our deepest sleep, tensions also disappear. And we wake up in the morning in a lovely haze… but then the hard drive in our head reboots and BANG! The stress is back.

Relief from tension develops from insight, not from input. As soon as we can see through the first little cloud (the ME/I thoughts), we can begin to feel a deep sense of relief.
The tensions we lived with, because we wanted to be good enough and to be in control of everything, fade away. And then… life feels lighter, more relaxed and involves greater inner peace.

We do not have any control, because we do not have free will. There is not one individual who is able to have free will! But if we are not an individual, then who or what are we? We are a ‘oneness’ and what that is, does not have a name. A human being actually exists within such a ‘oneness’ and can therefore never completely grasp this concept; just like an eye can see everything, except itself. Concepts that relate to ‘oneness’ include: everything is consciousness, everything is energy, everything is TAO, everything is the Self. Everything is a state of consciousness in which everything appears and disappears. Universes appear and disappear, as do planets, animals, people, situations and thoughts and feelings as well; totally by themselves, automatically. The realization that we, as we appear, also just happen, automatically/naturally provides a deep sense of tranquility. We have always been good enough just as we are - and life is an organized all-inclusive holiday complete with all of it’s ups and downs.

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