Our Trance of Separation
The biggest challenges we face all have their root cause in an artificial separation—between nations, races, religions, classes, between political parties, between humans and the living ecosystem upon which we depend for life—even between our heads and hearts. Such apparent separations represent a kind of global neurosis for which one antidote is what Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing”—the recognition of our deep interdependence.
The paradigm of separation narrows the possibilities of international relations down to a few false choices between appeasement and destructive competition. Iran, ignoring the difficult circumstances that brought Israel to birth, asserts that a Zionist nation has no right to exist. Israel understandably sees Iran as an existential threat. Both the U.S. and Israel are considering preemptive war. Whether the Iranians build nuclear weapons or not, it would hardly be unexpected for them to give it some thought, seeing as the U.S. and Israel between them possess thousands. Meanwhile Iran’s threat to close the Straits of Hormuz if they are attacked confirms their distance from “interbeing.” They would only shoot themselves in the foot by reducing the flow of their own oil to China.
As we learned—or did we?—from fifty years of superpower cold war, pursuing security by threats and attempts at military dominance only increases separation—and the risk of regional and perhaps even planetary self-destruction. We can parse the esoteric strategies of nuclear war until the cows come home, and still the only meaning that emerges is mutual suicide.
The only way to overcome the schizophrenic separation between “enemies” is to really see that the people of Iran, Israel and the U.S.—and Syria, and everyone else—are fundamentally the same in their longings for security and self-determination.
Which leads to the possibility that, far from being naive, it might be the height of self-interested practicality for any one party to take the risk of foregoing nuclear weapons altogether—offering a more effective way than so-called deterrence to break the no-win cycle of mutual fear that leads only to holocaust down the time-stream.
One symptom of our unwillingness to grapple with a huge issue like global climate instability is that candidates for the leadership of the most powerful nation in the “free world”—including the incumbent—conspicuously avoid the subject in campaign discourse, pandering instead to our addiction to quantitative measures of economic growth, the same growth which threatens to strangle the living systems of the planet.
The eco-philosopher Thomas Berry combined all our challenges into a simple formulation, the need for humans to become a beneficent presence on the earth, contributing to the total life-process rather than degrading it. What if we defined our need for security not by whom we were against, but by a willingness to cooperate, even with “enemies,” to address common planetary challenges?
Cynics who assert that our rigid perceptions of self-interest make such a shift in thinking impossible are ignoring the historical record of surprising positive change: the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the success of nuclear weapons reduction treaties.
Iran, Israel, America, can we not wake up? The polar icecaps are melting, the seas are 90 percent fished out, and we remain paralyzed by our fears of each other, wasting billions of dollars on weapons which, if they are ever used, will not resolve our differences, only destroy all we cherish.
What kind of human being is required to foster the immense awakening out of our obsolete trance of separation? Not saints, but the millions of people and organizations who are already working to bring about an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just planet.
These are the goals of an international organization called “Awakening the Dreamer,” which offers interactive seminars that allow citizens to understand the many implications of interdependence. If I had to choose between attending one of those seminars or going to a presidential campaign rally, I know where I’d go. But why not attend the seminar and the rally, to press candidates on how they would help lead us beyond separation toward a new dream of sustainability, fulfillment, and justice.