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Separation vs Interbeing

by Charles Eisenstein: Every culture has a mythology that answers the deep questions like “who am I?” or “what’s important in life?”.


But when the dominant culture answers all those questions through the story of separation, then what is the alternative? What is interbeing?

Every culture has a mythology that answers the deep questions like “who am I?” or “what’s important in life?”. But when the dominant culture answers all those questions through the story of separation, then what is the alternative? What is interbeing?

Separation vs Interbeing (transcript)

So one of the concepts that I work with is that the world is built on stories. Or even a story, a mythology. Every culture has a mythology that answers the deep questions like, “Who am I? What is the self? What’s real? How does change happen? What is the nature of reality? What is possible? What is important in life?” Every culture answers that in a different way. And the answers that our culture has that have guided us… And when I say our culture I mean the dominant culture of this planet… the answers that have worked and guided our culture for several hundred years now (and to some extent thousand of years), aren’t working anymore. We are facing a crisis in our basic way of making meaning about the world. And our understanding of the recipe for living life. Like, all of these are in a state of crisis. So we are entering a space between stories that creates the emptiness into which a new story can arise.

I don’t know if you’ve had this experience if you’re an activist in some field, or working to heal some aspect of society, or the planet, or even individuals, where you run into somebody else who is also devoted to this mission of healing in some completely other realm. Like maybe… But you feel a sense of alliance anyway. Like, even though I am trying to free the Orcas from aquariums and you are trying to end the prison industrial complex and somebody else is devoted to radical educational reform and another person is trying to save a wetlands from development… and maybe another person is trying to restore the Maori language… You sense that, “We are allies on the same thing.” Now what ‘the same thing?’ What ties all of these thing… pretty much anything that is alternative or holistic… Like, what brings all of these things together?

And one way I understand that is that we are all in service to the emergence of a new story on this earth. The new story is the successor to the story that has guided us for so long, ‘The Story of Separation.’ The Story of Separation gives a certain set of answers to the deep questions. Who am I? What’s real? What’s possible? What is the role of humans on Earth?

The Story of Separation essentially says that you are is a separate individual among other separate individuals in this objective reality that has fundamentally nothing to do with you. So different fields have a different conception of what the separate self looks like but they all share in common the underlying conception of separation. So psychology might say, “Well, yeah, essentially what you are is a mind enclosed in a body.” Religion would say that you are a soul encased in flesh. Biology would say that you are basically a meat machine programmed by your genes to maximize reproductive self-interest. Economics says something quite similar, that we are all driven to maximize rational self-interest.

So here we are, these kind of bubbles of psychology bouncing around the world, in competition, fundamentally, with other individuals. Because if I am separate from you, then, more for you is less for me. And, the forces of nature, outside of ourselves, they is no… they are not intelligent; they are not conscious. It’s just a bunch of protons, neutrons, and electrons bouncing around out there according to mathematically determined forces.

So in order to be secure, in order to thrive and enjoy well-being, you have to, on the one hand, dominate the competing other separate selves. And you have to insulate yourself from the forces of nature and become their master, so that you are no longer at the whim of impersonal, natural forces that are indifferent to human well-being. You have to gain control over those.

So an underlying tendency in the story of separation is the will to control, the will to dominate. It’s kind of baked into the cake. It’s not because, like, we are bad and we’re dominators. It’s because of the story that we live in. If you see the world as composed of separate competing others and if you see nature as this random melee of force and mass, then of course you’re going to want to dominate, of course you’re going to want to control.

So the history of civilization has been kind of, like, a history of an increasing power to dominate and control the Other, the cultural Other and also the natural Other. And this was supposed to bring us into utopia. We were supposed to live in paradise by now. A paradise of electrified comfort, robot servants, space colonies, artificial food, infinite lifespans, etc., etc. The breakdown that’s happening today, in part is happening because this glorious promise of technology and also social engineering was never fulfilled.

And in fact things are getting worse and worse. And in fact our technologies of control now look to be seeding our destruction, the breakdown of the ecological basis of civilization. So we are entering now this time of… I call it, ‘The Space between Stories.’ Like, we don’t know anymore what the answer is. We don’t know who we are. We don’t even know what’s real. Because on every level, the story that answered those questions is breaking down, politically, economically, and especially technologically and in our relationship to nature. So that leaves us not knowing. And it leaves us open to another story, which is the new and ancient story of… I use the word ‘Interbeing,’ which I am told was coined by Thicht Nhat Han.

‘Interbeing’ is a very natural term. It means more than Interconnection or Interdependency, which kind of suggests separate selves ‘having’ relationships. Interbeing is more of an understanding that we are relationships, that my very existence depends or draws from or includes your existence. So my well-being is intimately connected to your well-being or to the well-being of the river, the ocean, the forest, people across the world, and so forth, because I am not really separate from you. And that means that, in the story of Interbeing, I know that whatever I do to the world will come back to me, somehow.

And it’s impossible to build a high enough wall or a strong enough surveillance system to keep out whatever violence is happening somewhere else. This is something that my country… I am an American… we think that if we bomb and drone the terrorists and visit wars upon other countries, that the violence can be kept out of our country. If we have strong enough anti-immigration policies and full-spectrum dominance and global information surveillance and all this kind of stuff, that we can keep violence out.

But it’s obviously not true. I mean, look at the levels of domestic violence, of crime, of gun violence. And even, inside our homes, the levels of domestic violence are an exact mirror to the violence that’s happening outside ourselves. And in the mentality of Interbeing this isn’t because we haven’t controlled it enough. It isn’t because we need to do even more, apply even more control to the Other. It’s because, fundamentally, it is inescapable. What happens to the world happens to the self because self and world are not really separate. So that’s the story of Interbeing.

Oh, another important piece of it is that the qualities of a self, intelligence, consciousness, subjectivity, beingness, sentience, these are not only in human beings, but they are universal. Indigenous people always… whatever the differences in their world stories… they, in common, shared the belief that other beings were in fact beings, that it wasn’t absurd to say, “What does the river want?” “What does the mountain think?” “What does the deer want?” “What is it like to be a forest?” These were not absurd questions, but they lived in a community of being. Even down to, not just to plants and animals, but even things like rocks, or the wind, or clouds; they were understood to be beings as well. The story of separation says that beingness is only in human beings and the world outside of ourselves is just a bunch of stuff.

So the story of Interbeing animates pretty much everything that you’re making this film about. Everything that, from on a social level, things like restorative justice, or alternative gift-based ways of meeting human needs, Time Banking for example, to, on the agricultural or the ecological level, anything that says that the way that we treat the soil, the way that we treat nature, the way that we treat the rivers, the way that we treat other people, that is going to benefit ourselves as well.

And it’s not out of this calculating mindset, that “Ok, we better respect the river so that we’ll be okay, too.” That’s still kind of an instrumental, utilitarian mindset of, “The world is here for our benefit.” It’s more like a relationship between a parent and a child. The parent doesn’t say, “Oh, I better take good care of my son because then then when I am in my old age, my son will take care of me.” It’s not that calculating mindset.

It’s because the parent, the self of the parent expands to include the son. That’s called ‘love.’ Love is the expansion of self to include another. So, his happiness is my happiness. I have four son. His happiness is my happiness. His suffering is my suffering. It’s the truth.

The future of humanity is to return to that relationship to nature, and to all beings and, to all human beings, too. To fall in love with the world. Its well-being is my well-being. It’s also true, on a practical level, practically speaking… and this is being discovered by regenerative agriculture… practically speaking when you do respect and honor and serve the soil then you get higher crop yields. So it’s not just, like, some spiritual principle, but it pervades every level of interaction.

But the basis of it ultimately has to be love. Love for the soil, love for the other people, love for the world. That’s what unifies so many of the things that you’re making this documentary about. And this is why we feel that sense of alliance even when it’s hard, rationally, to connect what these two things have in common… you know, prison reform and stopping fracking, something like that… like, why are those two related? We understand that they are. The reason that they are is that they both draw from and contribute to the new mythology, the new story of Interbeing.

Source: Charles Eisenstein


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