“This is story about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air — until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.”
“‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!’”
“Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’ “
“The first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?’ “
“The second wave says, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’”
“Part of the ocean,” he says. “Part of the ocean.”
The story of separation, as Charles Eisenstein describes our collective cultural narrative, tells us that we exist as isolated, separate selves. Yet as the above story illustrates this is an inaccurate perception, a hallucination of the mind, based simply on a belief that is not in accord with reality. This misperception is what Einstein was referring to when he said:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”
This misperception of reality is based on the Newtonian world view that the world is made up of separate objects that interact with each other in linear, cause and effect ways. However, a more accurate way of thinking about reality is in terms of systems: we are one part of a vast, interconnected network of communication. We are, as Dan Siegel observes, more verbs than nouns, systems of emergence and flux embedded within larger systems of emergence and flux. Our actions, rather than being like billiard balls that knock into and just effect those objects in closest proximity, actually effect the whole system in which we are embedded: society, the ecological system, the universe.
John Muir wrote:
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
The essence of life is communication and the quality of our lives is dependant on our ability to communicate – that is to listen and receive, and to speak and express. Real listening, deep listening is the rarest thing, a true art, and the source of wisdom. Listening is the capacity to tune in and attend to the signals that are being sent to us in any moment. Listening involves the capacity to pick up information or symbols and to make sense of the messages we are receiving.
Internally we are constantly receiving communications through the sensations and feelings in our bodies, the thoughts and images flowing through the mind. The self speaks in dreams, intuitions, gut instincts, and hunches. To the extent that we can find direction and live authentic lives of meaning and purpose we must become good at tuning into what is being spoken to us, and what seeks expression through us.
In our lives we communicate or express ourselves in what we do, how we live, the values we embody, how we treat people, speak and think – our general way of being in the world. Carl Jung wrote about this when he said:
“The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me. Or, conversely, I myself am a question which is addressed to the world, and I must communicate my answer, for otherwise I am dependent upon the world’s answer.”
Intra-communication is accompanied by inter-communication – our capacity to attend to others and accurately seek to understand what they are trying to say to us. In this we work with our capacity for empathy which then becomes the gateway to compassion and altruistic action.
But communication does not end there – we have a relationship with ourselves, with other human beings, but we also have a relationship with the wider world. We have a relationship to our society and culture. Through our actions we interact with and effect and shape the culture we live in, while it in turn shapes us through the messages that it sends.
Then there is the wider life-world – the-more-than-human world of living beings and the earth, nature and the universe. Even so called ‘inanimate’ objects communicate with us in that they signal something. Trees, rocks, rivers, fields all speak their own language, they all say something, a point emphasised when we consider what effect their absence would have. Simply by our being alive we are related to everything in the whole universe, which of course means that we are communicating with the cosmos, as well as our lives being a communication of the cosmos. This fact is perhaps the greatest source of human meaning.
The modern malaise that is arguably at the heart of most of our problems today is that collectively we suffer from a deep sense of alienation – we are alienated from ourselves, others, and the natural world. This alienation can only be overcome through relationship – by learning to attend to and begin to befriend ourselves, other people, and the planet.
Through learning to relate we can aspire toward what Rilke was speaking about when he said:
“Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner — what is it?
if not the intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.”