It’s almost too easy to be consumed by a wide array of fascinations in the course of a day, ironically thanks to all the devices we own for the very purpose of speeding things up. Our mobile devices, which put us in touch with others immediately and bring the rest of the world to us in a matter of seconds, can be “time sinks” that lure us into hours of casual browsing on social media… when we’re supposed to be doing something productive. And our “time-saving” appliances can take up extra time with added layers of complexity we have to master, as well as when they don’t work as expected. The glut of complex information can clog our thinking and add steps to formerly simple procedures, adding exponentially to the temporal and conceptual distance between ourselves and the world with which we’re interacting. The very thing(s) we hope will bring us closer to our world, actually separate us even more.
The whole process of deriving meaning and taking action, and then gathering more data to develop a closer conceptual connection with our world can take time. But we can’t avoid that deeper process we have to follow, as the laws of physics and perception widen our temporal distance. Ironically, we may also find that the closer we come to understanding something, the more we realize we cannot know – and thus, cannot fully understand. The Conceptual-Gap-closing process turns in on itself, and we may be left wondering why we started asking questions, to begin with.
And yet, we can’t help ourselves. Surely, there must be a way to learn more, to work faster, to shrink distances, thus enhancing our connection to the world around us. We hunger for Unity. We seek connection. We’ve built vast networks to be in closer contact with others, and we regularly choose proximity over distance in our everyday decisions. All for the sake of overcoming distance, eradicating division.
I know a lot of people who agree with what Parker Palmer says in his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life:
I pay a steep price when I live a divided life — feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open—divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within—things around me get shaky and start to fall apart.
But up north, in the wilderness, I sense the wholeness hidden “in all things.” It is in the taste of wild berries, the scent of sunbaked pine, the sight of the Northern Lights, the sound of water lapping the shore, signs of a bedrock integrity that is eternal and beyond all doubt. And when I return to a human world that is transient and riddled with disbelief, I have new eyes for the wholeness hidden in me and my kind and a new heart for loving even our imperfections.
Many of us have experienced this restorative effect through our senses. Connection with nature has been linked with greater levels of well-being and happiness. The irony is, our ability to sense Unity is by its very nature fragmented, as alternating electrical and chemical impulses are ferried across a network of billions of interconnected – but absolutely divided – cells.