The Connected Heart: Releasing the Myth of Separation

from The Nap Ministry's REST DECK - Tricia Hersey

This is the sixth post in the year-long series of Walking the Path of Heartfulness in 2023, a meditation gathering the 1st Wednesday of the month. This post focuses on the third C (CONNECTION) of the 4Cs that guide this work: courage, compassion, connection, and curiosity 

This post explores the paradox of interconnection and how we have come to believe in this myth of separation. We will do this through poetry, quotes from wise teachers, and accessing our conceptual and embodied understanding of common humanity and the intention of our practice.

I personally believe our inner work, via formal meditation practice and commitment to heartful living, is in service of collective healing and survival, in service of the human and natural world.

Let’s begin with words from the late Zen Buddhist master, activist, humanitarian, Thich Nhat Hanh. He describes poignantly the concept of interconnection through the metaphor of a leaf.

Suppose I hold a leaf in my hand. What do you see?

A leaf is a leaf; it is not a flower. But in fact, when we look

deeply into the leaf, we can see many things. We can see

the plant, we can see the sunshine, we can see the clouds,

we can see the earth. When we utter the word “leaf”, we

have to be aware that a leaf is made of non-leaf elements.

If we remove the non-leaf elements, such as the sunshine,

the clouds, and the soil, there will be no leaf left. So it is

with our bodies and ourselves. We’re not the same as, nor

are we separate from, other beings. We’re connected to

everything, and everything is alive. 

This second to last sentence – We’re not the same as, nor are we separate from, other beings – illuminates the paradox of interconnection, the paradox of our shared humanity.

The paradox is the absolute truth that everything is connected – just like the non-elements make up the leaf, so too are we made up of our ancestors’ DNA, breathe in the same air as our neighbors, have a body with minerals made from the Earth, etc. 

On a community level, we need each other to live in society, to survive. When we speak of common or shared humanity – we see one another through the lens of the human condition – that regardless of our differences, we all want to be happy and free from suffering.

The relative truth of interconnection is that everything is experienced as separate. In other words, we move through a world in our unique bodies, experiencing our circumstances, our histories, our positionalities. And yet, on an absolute or universal level we do not exist without each other, without nature.

This paradox has been used by our marketplace society to cultivate the delusion of separation as described by Sebene Selassie, meditation teacher and writer, in her book Belonging: A Call for Connection calls. Promoting and capitalizing on “the belief that you are separate from other people, from other beings, and from nature itself.”

Why does this matter?

Sharon Salzberg writes in her most recent book Real Life: The Journey from Isolation to Openness and Freedom that delusion coming from the Latin word deludere – “to mock, to deceive.” She describes delusion as having “the characteristic of not knowing what’s going on. Its function is to conceal the true nature of things…One limiting constraint of being lost in delusion is that we end up relying on someone else’s vision of what is true, rather than on our own direct perspective.”

We are socialized into accepting this myth that life is simply an I vs. you, an us vs. them paradigm, rather than a we, interconnected paradigm. This shows up in many forms –  judgment, dissatisfaction, fear, doubt, shame, comparison, evaluating, etc. We see it in how we speak to and perceive ourselves all the way to our institutions and politics.

This myth that we are separate perpetuates the falsehood that we do not belong, that we do not matter, or the incessant ache of “what is wrong with me?” This has created toxic levels of loneliness and isolation, increased anxiety, depression, despair, burnout, addiction, etc. If we look closely at the roots of our personal and collective suffering, we can find this deception that we are separate from life, from all living things. 

Small Contribution - Danna Faulds

Each one of us is

woven tightly in the

tapestry of life.

I used to think my

thread could be readily

discarded. One thread

in a billion threads –

who would ever notice?

But the beauty of the

cloth depends on all

of us – no superfluous 

material here, no excess

thread to cut off and

throw away. Every

strand is irreplaceable.

How different to live

as if each small contribution

matters to the whole.

Pause for a moment: Consider the food you recently ate, or even the clothes on your body – think about all the people and nature involved in getting the clothes on your body or the food on your plate….See how far back you can go all the way to the land, the sun, the water.

When we begin to dispel this myth of separation, wake up from this delusion of individualism and recognize interconnection, experience we consciosuness – gratefulness, generosity, joy, awe, appreciation, contentment, compassion, etc. begin to arise.

Our intention to practice heartfulness with courage and curiosity is to uncover our native state of interconnection so we can live more fully in the present.

A teacher and mentor of mine, Deborah Eden Tull, writes in her book Relational Mindfulness

[M]editation is not just something we do while sitting on a cushion. It is an attitude of mind and way of life. It begins on the cushion, and we then bring it into movement, into our interactions and communication, into our work life, into how we relate with the earth, with politics, and all aspects of our life. We can use every moment of our lives, every interaction, and every relationship as an opportunity to wake up to and affirm the consciousness of interconnection.

In the accompanying meditation, you will 

  • connect with your body, listening deeply to the wisdom within that can get muted by the myth of separation
  • connect with your mind in a gentle and non-judgmental way – with kind neutrality so that you can see all of its activity trying to live up to the conditions of this myth of separation  
  • to connect with and from the heart, your source of healing, love, joy, gratefulness, awe…of life.

If you go deeper into your own heart, you’ll be living in a world with

less fear, isolation and loneliness. ~ Sharon Salzberg

Let's practice...

We Can Never Be Strangers Poem-1

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