Our next Evolution as Humans — Integrating the Paradox of Separation and Oneness

philip horváth
7 min readApr 13, 2020

“When people talk about oneness, hold on to your wallet and your girlfriend.”

My yoga teacher gave me that advice many years ago, when — in my naive innocence and enthusiasm— I talked to him about how, if people could just understand that we are all one, the world would be such a better place.

Yoga (related to the English yoke), is about connecting, about consciously being in relationship.

For relationship to occur, we have to have separation.

Otherwise, there would be nobody relating or being related to. We have to commit the original sin before we can eat from the tree of life and experience our existence fully.

Experience requires relationship.

Without relating to something that we perceive as “other” (even if that is an aspect of ourselves, e.g. our body), we would not be experiencing reality.

And therein lies the rub:

We have to be separate to experience being here.

At the same time, Sensing that we are also part of a whole, we long for connection, for that sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

Our highest bliss happens in moments when we feel completely connected to everything (or maybe feeling connected to everything is exactly what causes the feeling of bliss in the first place).

And logically, we are connected to everything:

We are all part of life, we are all part of life on this planet, we are all part of humanity living on this planet. Every particle that makes up who we are was once part of other parts of life.

Then why separation?

In order to perceive reality, we require distinction.

As children we learn separation: first, when we are physically cut off, when we are leaving the safety and comfort of our mother’s womb into a stark harsh and cold reality. Then, when we learn that our mother’s warm embrace, her feeding breasts are not always there for us, even when we learn to cry, or shape sounds to call her specifically. Then, when we begin to explore our worlds, crawling toward that which we like and learning to move away from that which hurts us. We learn words and time to describe these things. First nouns, creating an “objective” world, then adjectives to allow ever more refinement of “other”, and of our separation experience — and with that of our experience of “self”.

Feeling separated is required to evolve a unique identity, to become an individual.

To be yourself you have to be willing to risk belonging.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why do we fear separation?

The feeling of separation is one of the worst things we know as humans. This fear is rooted deeply in our instinctual learning that separation from the tribe in all likelihood will cause death — true, back in the days of collaborative hunting, as it is in the world of super connected and globally networked supply chains.

While we fear the opposite as well (nobody likes to be smothered), we fear disconnection from the tribe even more since it more directly leads to our demise. The two fears are pairs of needs on the same spectrum according to Fritz Riemann’s basic ideas on anxiety.

Overcoming Separation

Fear of separation is why conformity works. We become willing to surrender our identity and individualism to in return for feeling the safety of the herd, safety in numbers.

Conformity, erotic entanglement and intoxication are the three strategies Erich Fromm pointed out as our typical go-tos in order to avoid aloneness:

  • When we do what we are told, and what everyone else seems to be doing, we are okay, we feel like we belong. Conformity seems like a safe choice — until it isn’t, and conformity is abused to create atrocious us-vs-them systems — as the history of the last century has shown.
  • Erotic entanglement, and that sweet “little death” we seek from each other, is another common strategy for overcoming our aloneness. When we lose ourselves in the embrace of another, we catch glimpses of that union that underlies all. It feels okay to die for a moment in the loving proximity of another — until that proximity becomes its own nightmare in emotionally co-dependent relationships that continue to amplify each others darkest sides.
  • And intoxication… well, it lasts for hopefully delightful moments and can even support us in evolving our individuality if used appropriately— until chasing the rabbit becomes more of your experience than the high, only further enforcing your aloneness, and slowly but surely separating you from your community.

Since all three are dependent on external factors, to ensure a sense of connection, Erich Fromm suggest to first embrace aloneness. In “The Art of Loving” he writes:

“Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.”

In order to consciously relate with each other, to love each other, we have to acknowledge and embrace our separation.

We have to become comfortable with our own selves, become self-reliant, all the while knowing that this is impossible, that we need each other, that hell would be “no other people.”

As such, we have to also give respect to all other individuals, honor them as just that, as distinct and precious just like ourselves, not only as a member of whatever cognitive category we associate them with.

This requires becoming conscious of relating, our own integrity and accountability, and how we show up in the context of our ecosystem.

From Individual to Planetary

In the course of the 20th century, we have stretched the spectrum. While at the beginning, family was the smallest unit of concern for most, we have seen the rise of individualism (both individualism spurred by personal development work, and the illusion thereof sold by advertising). At the same time, in part due to seeing the catastrophic levels of devastation our war machinery could now accomplish, we expanded our view beyond nations to encompass at least multiple nations.

Pictures of Earth from space, and the most recent events from climate to pandemics have shown us again and again that we are part of an interconnected whole, and have been waking up our experience of the planet as a whole ecosystem which we are part of.

It has also shown that this whole is a sum of its parts, and that each individual matters.

In no other time has a single ‘bad actor” had so much capacity to create devastation.

In no other time in history have we needed “all hands on deck” to this extent.

Paradoxically, in order to create well-being for the whole, we need to focus on the well-being of the individual.

Yes, and…?

Being an adult also means being able to hold a paradox, hold two seemingly contradictory ideas as equally true. Instead of dualistic either or logic, we now need higher order perspectives.

A circle can also be a square.

Dualism only exists when we look at the world in 2D.

We are in the middle of a Transformation

Transformations are essential for “Copernican growth”, the kind of jump in our developments required to become adults.

Transformation is a phase shift. It allows us to look at the world in new ways.

Fueled by exceptional circumstances and maybe even isolation for some, a new view on self, the trans-personal perspective, has been forcefully come to attention. It is the self that is aware of its parts and is thus able to find ways to integrate them.

Time to integrate the Paradox

We now all get to grow up in new ways, step up, no matter how far we have already come. Humanity has reached awareness of its planetary co-existence.

Let’s dare to be individuals that understand themselves as intricate and important parts of an inter-connected whole playing the game of lila, of separation into the web of jewels through which light can shine brightly in all its colors and create a future we would want to live in — each in our very own ways.

“If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do […] HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?” — R. Buckminster Fuller

If you enjoyed these thoughts, please take a moment to clap here (you can up to 50 times) — it will give me lots of delicious dopamine, and therefore more reason to continue creating.

Resources for leaders in these times: http://luman.io/create-the-future

The future belongs to those who create it. That is why I work with change leaders and their teams to create future-ready cultures and organizations. Through my work with LUMAN and other projects, I provide frameworks and operating metaphors to support leaders around the world in their individual evolution and in growing innovation capacity in their teams and organizations. I have worked with startups, NGOs and with global brands in a variety of industries around the world. More at http://philiphorvath.com.



philip horváth

culture catalyst ★ planetary strategist — creating cultural operating systems at planetary scale — tweeting on #future, #culture, #leadership @philiphorvath