There Is No Here


How Separation Is Our Natural State Of Being

The shortest distance between two points is under construction.

  • Leo Aikman

Many of us long to connect more closely with others. But where do we start? How do we gauge the depth of our connection? How do we tell the difference between Unity and Separation? Who qualifies as Near, and who is Far?

When we think about Unity, we often think of physical closeness. We feel “close” to friends and loved-ones mentally, emotionally, and often physically. As for strangers, we tend to feel “distant” from them, in those same ways. How close we get to the people around us varies from culture to culture, of course. Some cultures are more comfortable with less “personal space”, while others prefer a larger “social buffer”. Some people keep a polite distance, until they get to know others very well, while others connect relatively easily with total strangers. But whatever our cultural conditioning, most of us associate close contact with intimacy (or, if it’s closer than we want from someone we don’t know, we may take it as a threat). We make the effort to get closer to those whose company we enjoy, as well as actively distancing ourselves from the people we dislike.

That same principle applies to our interactions with the material world. We like to keep our favorite things close to us. Many people keep a lucky charm or a keepsake in a pocket where they can easily reach it, or they carry pictures of their loved ones in their wallet so they’re the first thing they see when they open it. You don’t just admire your favorite shirt as it hangs in the wardrobe; you wear it every chance you get, relishing the feel of its soft fabric on your skin and matching it with pants or socks that bring out its distinctive colors. Likewise, things we don’t like – an uncomfortable pair of shoes or copies of old tax returns – we tend to shunt away from us, stashed in the back of the closet or filed away in a bottom drawer somewhere. Out-of-sight means out-of-mind, and keeping necessary evils out of view spares us the discomfort of having to think about them more than needed.

Our senses are our bridge to the world. They allow us to interact with our environment in ways that can either soothe and center us, or warn us away from danger. Your sense of smell tells you there’s a fertile garden under the blanket of leaves behind the house you’re considering buying. Your sense of sight tells you the back of that tractor trailer is coming at you too fast for comfort. And your hearing lets you gauge the relative friendliness of your new neighbors. Without our senses, the world is an uncertain place. Many of us can’t imagine what it would be like to have one sense impaired, let alone several.

Now, when we think of our senses and how they connect us with the world, we typically consider some close-up, and some at a distance. Sight, smell and hearing are examples of “distal” senses – where we’re detecting input from things at a distance. Taste and touch are “proximal” senses; they put us in direct contact with things that are right here. When all the world around us seems to be falling apart, our senses are often the one thing we feel we can count on. They give us a rich and steady stream of clues and cues about what’s going on in the world, which helps to center us, to ground us in what’s real. Even our distal senses enrich our immediate experience, as they bring the sight of something across a field or the sound of something half a mile away into our immediate experience and let us react to them in the moment. Global financial systems may fail, the housing market may bubble up and burst, and the political scene may morph into the kind of train-wreck reality show we (God help us) can’t look away from, but at least we can trust our senses.

Or can we?

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