Much of our experience seems to reinforce our sense of separateness. We are surrounded by forms of life that differ greatly from our own, and if we find very little in common with them the differences are bound to make up most of our reality. Yet there are times when we identify so strongly with the life around us that we feel at one with it. These fleeting moments of unity can be so potent that they change the way we see the world. Instead of looking only at the forms, we begin to look within and beyond them for a single unifying source. This is the One that is the essence of the many. Including all of life, it must be found in all of life.
But how can we find what is all-inclusive in what we perceive to be very exclusive? Our perception of things usually focuses on those familiar qualities with which we can relate, while whatever has opposing qualities is often dismissed as irrelevant or even threatening. But sometimes we see the connection between ourselves and what we had thought was opposite or unrelated — we recognize some inner relationship that transcends our exclusiveness. This recognition must come from higher senses that seek out the essential common nature of things, senses that can reconcile all our differences because they give us a vision of the whole and a feeling that we belong to it.
Finding this vision of the One in all the many forms of our experience would seem to be an incredibly difficult task. And indeed it would be if we had to make a constant effort to look beyond all appearances, to examine all our preconceptions about ourselves and others, and to search for our connection with everything we find strange or fearful. Yet this appears to happen without the least effort when we see ourselves in the life around us. Suppose we felt that we had very little in common with the other kingdoms of nature. Judging by appearances, we might think that rocks are just exploitable pieces of dead matter, that plants are not aware of what we do to them, and that animals have no feelings, only instincts. How would our perceptions change if we became lovers of nature? Wouldn't we feel an intimate connection with the earth and all its kingdoms? We might then find it quite conceivable that Earth is a live and conscious entity and that all forms of life including ourselves — are evolving toward the same kind of awareness.
One might even see oneself as this evolving awareness. An exclusive self-image, such as "I am this body, I am this mind, I am these thoughts and feelings," would give way to an ever-expanding identity embracing such thoughts as "I am all that I welcome into my awareness from moment to moment: the more I welcome, the more I know my Self." Imagine being seized with wonder at the beauty of Mother Nature, feeling at this moment that everything is a living expression of one all-pervading consciousness. In this holy instant all appearances are welcome because their Source is welcome — all are fellow children of consciousness, one in purpose and one in essence.
Such a feeling of oneness with the beauty of nature is not an uncommon experience. But how do we relate to the ugliness of human relations? Judging by a person's behavior, we may think he has a heart of stone, that he's rooted in selfishness, or that he's beastly cruel. But what if we could see him as a fellow child of consciousness who is terribly frightened of his own sense of separateness? Wouldn't we empathize with someone so blind to the beauty of the One that all he can see is his own distorted image, an image so fearful that it attacks the very relationships that could release him from fear? The ugliness of human relations is the vicious circle where people deny their connection with others, cling only to themselves, and attack those who are a threat to their sense of separateness.
And what of those whom they attack? We all know how quickly we forget our true Self whenever we strike back and start our own circle of fear and denial. But knowing this, we also recognize that we have the power to break the circuit of separateness by focusing on its very opposite. We know how difficult it is to deal with a person who denies and rejects any connection with us and behaves accordingly. By remembering our inner Self, we refuse to mistake his body and his actions for his inner Self. Looking right past his denial, we affirm that there is indeed a very welcome connection between us. Whatever outward response this evokes, the seed of inner trust has been planted. Sooner or later, our fellow child of consciousness will call his exclusive image into doubt and start looking for the vision that we see in him.
If this sounds too idealistic and impractical, it may be because we too cling to parts of us that we are afraid to lose and feel we must defend. Yet every time we rise above that fear, we are touched by the Reality we can never lose. By refusing to acknowledge separateness and the actions that reinforce it, we see through every thoughtless deed and every ugly emotion to the beauty of the One evolving through all. Whatever form it takes, be it welcome or unwelcome, the interaction of the many is this evolution.
Such a vision could indeed change the way a person sees himself and the world around him. He could begin by thinking, "I am this body." Yet what is this body? All that I know of it is my perception of it — I am what I perceive. But in a room full of people, I am also my perceptions of everyone in that room: all of this is my self because this is my awareness. My familiar self needs no defense against my unfamiliar self, for I am one Self; and the more open I am to this oneness, the more conscious I become of the inner relationships that make it one. I am this evolving consciousness, whose purpose is to grow more and more aware of what I am. By embracing this awareness, I feel the life of the whole, know it as my life, and remember the Source of my being as the Source of all being.
Transforming the mind to think along these lines might seem far beyond our capacity. But each new moment gives us the opportunity to stop identifying with our differences and see ourselves in the life around us. We already find it easy to relate to what we love. Whether we are lovers of art, music, sports, nature — the list is endless — it is not unusual to become so absorbed in our favorite pastime that we feel at one with it. But how did it become our favorite pastime? We have come to know it and love it by relating to it as a whole. We have tried to understand how all its outer aspects result from inner aspects working on many levels — and in these inner workings we see something of ourselves. Because this relationship is not based on fear, we feel no need to protect our sense of separateness, and we are open to appreciate the inner nature of what we love.
If we could only appreciate each other in this way, as lovers of human nature, we would have much more understanding for our outer differences because we would be sensitive to the whole person, whose words and actions often hide the beauty of his soul. And in our fellow-feeling for this evolving child of consciousness, our higher senses would remind us instantly — we are one.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Theosophical University Press)