Definition of dissociation
a: the process by which a chemical combination breaks up into simpler constituents
especially: one that results from the action of energy (such as heat) on a gas or of a solvent on a dissolved substance
b: the separation of whole segments of the personality (as in multiple personality disorder) or of discrete mental processes (as in the schizophrenias) from the mainstream of consciousness or of behavior
2: the property inherent in some biological stocks (as of certain bacteria) of differentiating into two or more distinct and relatively permanent strains
I want to propose an exercise before we begin: Start by thinking about what is your self. Does it feel sort of foreign? Sort of detached from the observer you? Congratulations!, that is dissociation. If not, congratulations anyway! you belong to the smallest percentile of the population who feels good about themselves, has absolutely no trauma, or feels heavily identified with the notions that others have about them and what society indoctrinates in us all.
It actually starts with language. The idea that the self is a foreign entity has been propagated throughout the ages because it does feel foreign somehow, an entity which we are but are not. Some religions and spiritual paths suggest that there isn’t even a self. The way we tend to separate everything is also dissociation, the idea that we need to name and understand every single small differentiated aspect of life and reality is behind that, a pear cannot be an apple, and an apple cannot be an orange, and no orange is the same as another orange. But they shall remain oranges. Now, if one orange is called Sophia and the other Anna, you have Sophia and Anna, not simply two oranges. This has a reason, but it can be a problem when we separate the mind from the body, or feelings from bowel movements. Language proposes a divide: this is spoken, understood, and has meaning. Whatever that “this” is, oranges or Annas. A big example is how we all speak about love but don’t understand it, it’s an entity, a concept for a bunch of feelings, what is called an umbrella term. That is possibly the biggest example in the current times (since the Enlightenment ages, actually) that I can find that is easily acceptable. Also since the Enlightenment ages, another thing comes to pass: the relationship between self and nature. It’s quite interesting to note that in this, the connection between both seems so off-centered, so maladaptive that there is even a slight disgruntle about it. If you feel deep within, you’ll notice the heavyweight of not knowing who you are, if you dismiss that you have a name, a social security number, and a library card. You identify with other concepts and notions and move through the motions of those concepts — vegan, permaculture, yuppie, capitalism, punk, metal, jazz, and so forth. But what is really you, behind all those identifications that are born out of language and attributed meaning?
The language divide flows even deeper, whatever is not named as such, it’s not only different but unacceptable, which is also why it’s so difficult to learn different languages. When we surpass the need to find the connection, and we learn the logic behind the linguistics we want to learn, even if it is subconscious, it becomes much easier to have a natural mind-translation. Even more so, there’s a root of ethnocentrism to it. The difficulty the Western World has in understanding Chinese, for example, is deeply rooted in ethnocentrism. The Chinese language flows as concepts, whether our languages flow as naming and meaning attributed to names. So the notion of water for the Chinese is not simply a fluid substance, it is life, it is flowing, it is movement, it’s radically interconnected with our notions of being, but not static like ours, much more always in constant transformation, everlasting. So our language divide, mixed with ethnocentrism, falls short at the depth of how our meaning translates into the word itself. Our static notions of being do not translate the meaning of no-self properly either, the notions of the absence of self have a lot to do with the notions of service to the All. Of deeply rooted compassion to everything that exists. That’s why on the spiritual paths of love, the self has no meaning besides that who loves. That does not indicate the absence of authenticity or uniqueness — simply, notions of self are deeply different.
So when we try to look at Eastern religions to understand ourselves, we need to start understanding the deep language divide and how we can build mental bridges. For a lot of people, moving to the East and living there for a long time is a solution, until you’re no longer a foreigner and truly, deeply understand and breathe the culture.
I was having a small conversation the other day about my difficulties in passing information in English. I do this thing about translating things in my mind, to understand the music of the language, what I call the untranslatable. A lot of sentences make sense to one culture and not another, “thick as thieves” is one of them, it bears absolutely no meaning in Portuguese. We may understand it, but we feel nothing about it, it has no emotional or cultural meaning, so it makes little sense. For English speakers, most Portuguese cultural sentences or gimmicks would be utter nonsense.
So, after this thorough explanation of the language divide, I propose another exercise: Think of yourself, what it means to be you, the meaning you give to your existence. Nevermind the aching pain of not knowing what you’re here for, or the existential dread of lost love, or the traumas you’ve faced. Think behind all that, to what is you. Now say your name out loud. What did you feel? Belonging? Or the opposite, nothing, divide, foreign again. Now, think of nature. Is it outside of you? Are you part of it? What do you feel about this word?
So, this connection to Nature as a concept issue feels like a problem. But it isn’t. The solution is where you least expect it: it was never a problem, to begin with, you just don’t understand Nature enough, and maybe you never will. And that’s ok.
We see it as a problem because we feel the issues, capitalism, industry, pollution, climate change, have their root in a disconnection with nature, but that is simply an impossibility. The dissociation from the conceptual part of nature, the language meaning we attribute to it, is the issue and the problem. The way dissociation is solved in therapy is not enough, we still have to do a lot of work to feel ourselves, to understand our paths, and to feel belonging in our bodies. And that is quite the journey we all have to undertake. There is no disconnection with nature, otherwise, there wouldn’t be life, you wouldn’t exist. However, you feel separate from it, because your language has become such a deep part of your life that you can hardly separate your own thoughts from it.
Back when my friends and I did way too much acid for our own good, I used to do something that really annoyed people. “Do you think in words or images?” — Stop that crap, Matilde. But well, do you think in words or images? Do you see your thoughts, or do you word them?
Ok, another exercise: Sit down, if you’re standing or laying down. Touch your right hand on whatever is next to you and observe your bodily reactions. Is it cold, warm, metal, cloth, stone, a pet, or a person? Regardless of what it is, it exists, and that’s the only thing I want you to realize. Whatever is next to you, exists like you, and it’s next to you. Now, look at this screen like you’re not reading the words. Really look at it and observe the image, the letters, the colors you see in your peripheral vision, the tiredness of the eyes, the focus points. This that is observing, is you. Whatever you see, is deeply real, as real as you. And we could go on with the rest of the senses, but you get my point I think.
So the language divide tells us that the computer or phone you’re reading this on is not alive because it does not have a conscience. That’s how humanity, or the Western part of humanity, decided that life is. Nevermind that life itself decided before humanity, but hey, let’s go with that particular flow. So, in Eastern thinking, there is no death. Shocker I know, but it’s not the concept of after-life we have from our Catholic backgrounds in the West, it’s simply a word like the mathematical zero. It has no substance, the only meaning it has is the one we give to it. There is a common sentence, “No birth, no death, no problem” and it’s quite real if you know what I’m speaking about. Because if we suppose that for example, reincarnation is real, birth is no more than a way to be here again, for another reason. If we suppose Heaven is real, then by any means, it’s just moving dimensions of time and space. Early Christians were really amazing sci-fi writers, I think.
So, the idea of death and nonexistent is based solely on the absence of something that once was not absent. Like a person, a pet, or an orange, or an Anna. The idea that somehow something ceases to be, it’s only meaningful if it ceases to be where we are, but if it carries on in some other form or place, we have no way of knowing, right? Well, some might suggest otherwise, but given our language divide and because we decided above to flow in this particular wave of thought, I’m carrying it here. So our language says what ceased to be here is dead, so is your computer or phone alive? Begs the question. Is it alive if you name it Anna? That’s another question entirely.
So if we move along the idea of being and non-being, we arrive exactly at the same conclusion we had when we started thinking about it: to live is the opposite of being dead. But what if, to live has a different meaning than the one our language divide attributes to it, and what if death has a different meaning than our language divide attributes to it? And if the issue currently is precise because we do not understand that meaning and we desperately want to, but can’t? Oh, the innuit I’m providing my readers, I can feel it from here.
So, if we can’t understand it, does it mean it does not exist? What if we name it Anna? So, if the understanding of this conceptual nonsense language has provided for us, and so did cultural and religious affiliations of our ancestors, the places we were born in, and the cultures we absorbed so far, and all that we live and breathe in everyday life, is not the end-all solution and realization we all hoped for, but is one more conundrum to solve?
My take on this global human society is the following: someone decided something and it went bezerk, totally out of hand, and now everyone is just wiggling with it how they can. It morphed this language thing into something which has become a problem for us to understand ourselves, and it has become an issue in terms of our presence on the planet. We keep solving problems with the same degree of ignorance as we started, and we keep thinking about solutions that will bring the same problems in the future. All because we can’t really solve the problem which is not a problem, because it does not exist.
I apologize if you’re confused. The problem seemingly is a disconnection with nature that does not exist, exacerbated by notions of life and death that do not exist, because of a deeply rooted problem of ethnocentrism which also does not really exist in a much deeper level, but does create superficial problems that once not healed, become deeper issues, and hence, we have problems.
My father, who is not with us anymore, used to say people turn on the “complicator” and that is the only real problem with the world. Things are fairly simple, but we confuse it all into a big pile of things to solve because some of us like the challenge of solving problems. Societies all over the world behave in similar ways, we live, have families, traditions, cultural beliefs, then we are here for a while, maybe we have kids, maybe we don’t, and then we are not anymore. That is what is transversal to all societies, right? So the issue is really, how to be here in the best way possible, for all of us.
And that’s why I start with notions of self. How can we possibly begin to start something completely new to humankind and the planet and our presence in it, if we can’t even agree on what we don’t understand? As much as I like the scientific method, I think we all too often settle on headlines and clickbait in order to feel taller than we want to feel or are feeling at the moment. The issue has been one of presence and what to do with that presence, it’s not enough to simply be, it’s not enough to simply do. A marriage of the two in their best behaviors should occur.
The widespread of meditation, yoga, and more Eastern practices have been so absolutely vital for the grassroots movements of today because it was through the ’60s and 70’s drug craze that we have what are notions about being alive that you can’t find in a laboratory studying one particle in a million, but there are things that you can find in looking at a particle that can bring more questions to the puzzle of what it is to be living. But if you come home, and yes this is for you in particular, and not call your friend from forever to check up on her, are you really living? I’ll be waiting for that call.
When we look deeper into these notions of the concepts we hold as true but in the end, we are not quite sure, we end up in a maze of confusion. So it’s needed to have grounds that it is okay not to know, it is okay to not understand everything immediately with a Google search and it is okay to rest in the not knowing. We live our lives in fear of the unknown, too afraid to do something about what we care about, and either we jump and take the lead of how we want things to happen, or it will stop us in our tracks. Then we have that whole thing of “we don’t always get what we wish for, and that was maybe for the best”.
Life is not a foreign concept, there is no separating life, death and nature, and oranges and Annas. There is however a deep sense of understanding that needs to occur between the sisterhood and brotherhood that is the human animal. And once and for all, really deal with our undealt issues.
Why did I spend so much time talking about this idea of being and non-being? Mostly because that is the primary cause Indigenous cultures attribute to Western lack of sense in behavior. We live to escape death, killing in the meanwhile. That issue particularly denotes a very unhealthy relationship with life and death, obviously.
I’ve written about this before, but when a system collapses, if what is wrong is not healed, it will be worse in the system that comes next. It’s possibly the biggest piece of advice, as a complexity student, I have to give to the grassroots movements and “the people of tomorrow”. The issue is not that somehow if the neoliberal economic system ends everything will be alright, is what causes the issues due to there being a neoliberal economic system to have exploitation, segregation, racism, and murder? It’s not enough to be born in a way that teaches fierce competition and unhealthy interpersonal dynamics, but what is the most that we can heal that leads to all of that above? Things are not born out of a vacuum, and to suppose that it’s “human nature” leaves out the majority of us who don’t exploit, segregate or murder anyone as if we were “less natural”. It’s a supposition in our society that what is wrong is nature’s fault, or a tsunami being a “god made disaster”, but what is good is simply outside of us to find, unnatural, to be created out of thin air. That also gives rise to the absurd amount of unhealthy partnerships that we find in our couples friends and love life. If we embody the bad and leave the good out of the way, then we can’t in a good way construct or reconstruct a healthy society.
So, when we think about our connection to the land and other people, we can see it all through the lens of love or we can see it all through the lens of social structures given to us by language. When we are building the bridges of tomorrow, we can start by trying to deepen our understanding of what bridges we need to build in ourselves to understand the other place we’re going. Otherwise, it’s just another highway with too much traffic, where no animal, tree, or flower can thrive.
Continues on in the next article (Part II)…