It seems inarguable that the desire to feel connected is an innate condition of the human animal. Something within us wants to feel engaged and participative with that which is outside of us, if only in terms of a passive co-presence. Whether we may be an insatiable party-goer, a pursuer of solace amidst nature, or a troglodyte hermit seeking union with God, we aspire to attain an inner sense of connectedness.
We struggle to connect, to feel vital and engaged
This implies a feeling of separation of course, a sense of disconnect, of estrangement or alienation. Whilst this sensing is often subliminal, it’s felt at some level and so initiates action. We actively reach out in a bid to overcome our felt notions of separateness in many ways. Increasingly, we seek to quell this inner need using virtual connections, attempting to project ourselves into the minds of others via gadgetry and satellites.
So there’s an active reaching out to a gamut of phenomena external to us; and we do this in dimensions of the physical (people and situations), the aesthetic (the beauty of the world), and the beyond (our deities or metaphysical abstractions). All of this signifies something which is isolated from those things, and this of course is our own sense of being – it’s ‘me’ that reaches out to connect in the discomfiture of isolation.
Our sense of self demands that its needs are met
This active reaching out issues from feelings of need that are believed to be ‘mine’ – ‘my’ bodily or psychological needs, ‘my’ spiritual needs and ‘my’ social needs. So convinced are we that these supposed needs are woven into the fabric of ‘me’ that they become integrated as deep-seated, compulsive inclinations. The presence of them habituates in their unthinking exercise, gaining prominence and priority in our awareness.
Now of course, in order for us to feel at ease, there are needs that require satisfying beyond the physical. It’s fair to say that affection is a need, as is relationship, communication, and a host of positive emotional interactions. And yet we repeatedly build these needs into our identity, seeking their immediate fulfilment as we do so. We ingrain them into a narrative of a ‘me’ whose needs fulfil in what’s sought to become ‘mine’.
The illusion of separation feeds our sense of lack
Without this gratification, the sense of estrangement persists as we continue to regard ourselves as a continuum of selfhood experiencing a lack. Whilst we’ve dealt with the illusory nature of this sense of separation elsewhere on this site, the purpose of this article is to explore the ubiquitous human error of taking the self to be any continuum. In learning we err less, so progressively overcoming all sense of isolation.
A digression: I once knew a man who complained of being addicted to marijuana. He insisted that his assumed addiction was somehow innate to his self-identity – a fixed continuum of ‘me’. It’s ‘my’ addiction occurring to ‘me’, and as the self is assumed to unchangingly endure, then so too does the addiction. So anyway, I asked him to exquisitely observe any cravings to smoke and then to gauge how long they lasted.
Lack, urges and cravings are transient
I suggested he do this for 28 days and for him at no point to indulge any urge. He thought this task impossible, saying ‘there’s no way I can do that!’ After the 28 days, no dope had been smoked, no craving indulged, and the belief in addiction had been exposed as erroneous. This chap did what was asked of him and discovered that cravings never last more than 2 minutes. New cravings arise, but are not part of any continuum.
The same is so for our desires to feel connected. What happens is that as urges arise, we unthinkingly identify them as ‘mine’, as part of ‘me’. Yet the self of ‘me’ is not a continuum, and neither is any urge or feeling of isolation. We might at this point ask as to the significance of recognising this; after all, it remains the case that human needs are real. And some of those needs are fulfilled in connection, in communion and commonality.
We feel we must act so as to satiate our needs
As I said, identification with appearances of need and urge, meaning regarding them as ‘mine’, renders them compulsive and pernicious. We fail to see them as transitory phenomena and so are impelled to act. Yet often, our feelings of disconnect simply cannot be acted upon – the friend we rely upon is away, we’re trapped in the office yearning for the hills, or our God seems remoter than ever. We feel isolated and alone.
At this point, it’s very helpful simply to observe our felt notions of need, unpacking any present urges or desires. It’s to go into these appearances without the baggage of assumption, examining them only for what they are. What we find is that they have two components only: feelings, which are both bodily and mental, and thought. What we can never find is any self to which these things attach; so they alone persist in isolation.
Our assumptions of disconnect are erroneous
We discover that the sense of disconnect predicates itself on an assumption. What’s assumed is something held to be both existent and persistently enduring – the self of ‘me’. And what we see is that there is no continuum such that constitutes or could be thought of as a self, and which also is believed to be an experiencer of the feelings and thoughts. It’s just bare sensation and thought, unattached to ‘me’, and not ‘mine’.
What’s seen to be true when we observe our felt notions of disconnect, doesn’t then become untrue when we don’t. So when we lug along the baggage of ‘me’ and ‘my’ identity, and project them into the situation, we’re assuming a continuity that simply isn’t there. Our feelings of isolation and separation are real enough, but what they’re predicated on is false. There is a resolution, yet this too must first become a need.