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The Sleep of Separateness: the Effects of Ego-Separateness and its Causes

by Steve Taylor


From the standpoint of ordinary consciousness, separateness seems to be a basic part of the human condition. Most human beings experience themselves as egos trapped inside their own mind-space, observing a world which seems to be ‘out there’, on the other side of their skulls. As a result, the normal human state is one of aloneness. We’re always onlookers rather than participants. We can communicate with other people by speaking, writing or gesturing, but they will never be able to truly know us, or to share our thoughts and feelings. Our inner being will always be sealed off from them.

Ego-separation also creates a sense of incompleteness. Because we’re separate from the world, we’re like fragments which have broken off from the whole, and so feel a sense of insufficiency. There’s a kind of hole inside us which we spend most of our lives trying to fill (but very rarely manage to), like cats who were taken away from their mother at birth and who are always hankering for affection and attention to try to compensate for a sense of lack. Born-again Christians mean something close to this when they say that there is a ‘god-shaped hole’ inside us – although in my view traditional religion can’t fill the hole either, only provide the same (ultimately incomplete) consolation as wealth or success.

As a result of this aloneness and incompleteness, we don’t feel completely ‘at home’ in the world. We’re not completely rooted here, and so feel somehow adrift, as if we don’t fully belong, like people who have travelled around the world so much that they no longer feel at home anywhere. Whereas traditional indigenous peoples seem to perceive the world as a benign and benevolent place, to us it seems indifferent and even vaguely malevolent.

The Wider Effects of Separateness

However, the effects of this separateness reach far beyond the individual. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the sense of separateness is the root cause of the constant conflict, warfare and oppression which have blighted human history. The human sense of incompleteness generates a craving for possessions, power and status, as a way of trying to complete ourselves and compensate for our inner discord. We try to complete ourselves - and make ourselves significant - by gaining power over other people or by collecting wealth and possessions. This desire for wealth and power is the root cause of warfare and oppression too, coupled with the reduced empathy which separateness causes. The separate self ‘walls us off’ from other human beings, makes it difficult for us to 'feel with' them and to experience the world from their perspective. This makes it possible for us to be violent and cruel to other people, since we can’t sense the suffering we cause them. So we oppress and exploit them in the service of our own desires – oppress women, members of ‘lower’ classes or castes, different races, so that we can gain more power, status and wealth.

The sense of separateness is also the root cause of our abuse of the environment. It means that we experience a sense of 'otherness' to nature, and that we can't sense its aliveness, and as a result we don't feel any qualms about exploiting and abusing it.

Why Separateness?

I wouldn’t exactly say that separateness is an illusion, as many non-duality teachers would. Not an illusion but an aberration - something which exists but shouldn’t. Children don’t experience separateness; they exist in a state of natural relatedness to the world. This is one of the reasons why childhood is so wonderful – because the child feels connected to everything around them, in a participatory flow with all experience, with no ‘in here’ or ‘out there.’

The sense of separateness seems to be a quirk of our psychological development. For us, it slowly develops as we move into adolescence, becoming firmly established in our late teens. The ego develops as a structure, creating a sense of ‘inner-ness’ and ‘walling us off’.

Witness the massive change which occurs when a child enters adolescence. Especially with boys, the freshness and joy of childhood gives way to dullness and confusion. After being a part of the glorious flow of experience, we’re suddenly outside the world, alone inside our own mental space.

As they grow into adulthood, most people deal with the fragility and vulnerability of the self by taking on roles and attachments. They take on the roles of their jobs, attach themselves to certain beliefs – strengthening their identity with labels such as ‘socialists’, ‘atheists’ or ‘muslims’ – or attach themselves to ambitions, to knowledge they’ve accumulated, to their self-image as ‘important’ or ‘powerful’ people, or emotionally attach themselves to other people…These roles and attachments become the scaffolding of the ego, propping it up – and at the same time, they reinforce separation, making the individual ‘walled off’.

Awakening From the Sleep of Separateness

However, no matter how far into separateness we fall, in a sense it’s never more than superficial. No matter how strong the ego becomes, it’s never more than a construct. Everyone experiences moments when separateness temporarily fades, and we become part of the unity again. These are what I refer to as ‘awakening experiences.’ They frequently occur when we’re walking amongst natural surroundings, when we’re dancing or running, during or after sex, listening to or playing music. In these situations, the normal chattering of the ego – which is the normal fuel of the ego, maintaining it as a structure – becomes quiet, leading to a softening of its boundaries. Separateness dissolves and we’re afloat on the ocean of Being again, immersed in the glorious is-ness and aliveness of the world.

Tellingly, in these moments there is always an identity shift. We feel that we’ve become someone else, a deeper, more grounded self which seems more authentically you. The ego-self we identified with before seems like an imposter, a limited and shallow trickster who somehow deluded us into thinking it was our identity.

In all of these experiences, there is a sense of ‘coming home,’ back to our original oneness, the harmony which – both as an individual and as a species – we ‘fell’ away from. It was always there – it is always here. It’s just that our separate selves deluded us into thinking we were asleep.

Steve Taylor’s new book, Waking From Sleep: Why Awakening Experiences Occur and how to Make them Permanent is published by Hay House. (http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Sleep-Awakening-Experiences-Permanent/dp/1401928706/ref=pd_sim_b_3) Eckhart Tolle has called it ‘One of the best books on spiritual awakening I have come across. An important contribution to the shift in consciousness taking place on our planet.’ Steve lives in Manchester, England with his wife and three young children. His website is www.stevenmtaylor.com essytaylor@hotmail.com


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