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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Illusion of Separation

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Death and Resurrection: Week 1

The Illusion of Separation
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hopefully we begin life as “holy innocents” in the Garden, with a conscious connection to Being. The gaze of loving, caring parents can mirror us as the beloved and gives us a primal experience of life as union. But sooner or later we all have to leave the Garden. We can’t stay there. We begin the process of individuation, which includes at least four major splits, ways of forgetting our inherent oneness and creating an illusion of separation.

The first split is very understandable. We split ourselves from other selves. We see mom and dad and other family members over there, and we’re over here. We start looking out at life with ourselves as the center point. It’s the beginning of egocentricity. My ego is the center; what I like, what I want, what I need is what matters. Please know that the ego is not bad; it is just not all. The development of a healthy, strong ego is important to human growth.

The second split divides life from death. It comes when we first experience the death of someone we know, perhaps a beloved pet or grandparent. The ego begins differentiating those who are alive and those who are gone. We may then spend our whole life trying to avoid any kind of death, including anything that’s negative, uncomfortable, difficult, unfamiliar, dangerous, or demanding. But at some point, we’ll discover that life and death, negative and positive, are part of the same unavoidable reality. Everything is living and dying simultaneously.

The third split separates mind from body and soul. In the West, we typically give the mind priority and come to identify strongly with our thoughts. As Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” By the age of seven most of us “think we are our thinking” and it’s our thinking that largely defines us. This is the lie that meditation helps us unravel.

The fourth split is the acceptable self from the unacceptable self. We split from our shadow self and pretend to be our idealized self, or what others say we should be. The shadow self contains not only the qualities of which we’re ashamed but also the positive and beautiful traits we’ve forgotten or fear (our “golden” shadow, as some call it).

Splitting is a coping mechanism, a way of surviving. But as we grow, find healing for trauma, and develop mature emotional and spiritual practices, we become able to incorporate that which we have denied and from which we’ve split. Each of these four illusions must—and will—be overcome, either in this world, in our last days and hours, or afterward. That is “resurrection”!

Each of these splits from reality makes any experience of God or our True Self largely impossible. Spiritual practices and the process of dying are both about overcoming these four splits. Kathleen Dowling Singh observed:

The Path of Return involves the healing of previously created dualities [or splits]—in reverse order. . . . The mental ego is humblingly and disturbingly divested of its false sense of being and stripped of its illusions. The sense of self, quite often kicking and screaming, begins its return to the underlying Ground of Being, its own Essential Nature. [1]

[1] Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort, and Spiritual Transformation (HarperOne: 2000), 73, 75.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That which I Am Seeking disc 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self ((Jossey-Bass: 2013), 29.

Image credit: Woman Knitting (detail), fancycarve.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
There is a thread you follow. It goes among
Things that change. But it doesn’t change. . . .
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
—William Stafford
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