From Unconscious Distance to Deliberate Becoming
By now it should be pretty clear that separation isn’t just a neurological phenomenon, but permeates the whole of our human experience, both internally and externally in essential ways. Separation isn’t something to hate and fear. Far from it. In many instances, we relish it – and we relish the journey across the divide between here and there, between now and later, between cluelessness and comprehension. The processes which our bodies follow to jump their myriad gaps and interact successfully with the sea of sensory information around us, correspond with the external activities of our customary lives.
We see examples of this all the time. As we go through life, we sense objects of our affection and desire – possessions, people, positions in the world. We see a car we’ve always wanted, a vacation destination, an outfit or device. We don’t have the time or money in our bank account to pay for it all right now, so we kick off a process to move in that direction. We start to save. We start to plan. We go to our bank to see if they will lend us the money. We talk to our boss to request the time off for vacation. Just as electrical signals reaching synaptic clefts without gap junctions cannot cross them, we are continuously coming up against the fact of our separation from where we’re going, what we want, what’s next. And just like our internal neurology, we kick into action a connecting process which lets us cross the distance between ourselves and the object(s) of our desire.
The distance between us and our goals can be physical – An outfit is hanging on a clothes rack across the store from where you’re standing. It can be temporal – It’s still winter, and you have to wait till spring to go on vacation. It can be conceptual, where you know you want to go on vacation, but you haven’t decided which package to book. Simply desiring something doesn’t translate directly into getting it; we have to go through a whole process to make it all happen. Just as sensory signals don’t just arrive at their destination without going through electrical and chemical changes, our desires don’t immediately materialize without some changes on our side. We have to physically move our body across the distance in the store to get the outfit. We have to put in the time at work to accrue vacation time and wait for spring to arrive, before we can even think of taking time off. And we have to find the right information to figure out whether to stay at a resort or go on a cruise.
Of course, distance can be a problem. Nobody likes to be kept away from things, places, and people they love. Think about how it feels to approach members of your family who are talking with each other and don’t notice you. They may look up and see you and bring you into the conversation, but that minute or so before they included you is uncomfortable. Vulnerable.
Distance may thwart us, yes. But it can also invigorate us. It can motivate us, kick us into gear, wake us out of somnolent inertia to take action. Driving towards a goal, then having an obstacle stand in your way can get you more involved in the process of moving forward. It kicks off an extended process of searching for more signals, gathering more information, and figuring out what to do with it. Just as the electrical signals trigger the release of chemicals that leap into the gaps between axons and dendrites countless times in each moment of our lives, we too have processes we can follow to span the physical, temporal, and conceptual distances that keep us from our intended goals. While separation may make us feel alienated, when we engage with it, it makes our experience into more than base existence.
It all has its place. Separation. Distance. Other-ness. They’re all part of our cellular lives, as well as our gross material and social worlds. Negating distance doesn’t do us any good. Ignoring separation and pretending its absence would make everything better is logically and practically impossible. It’s also undesirable. For without the element of distance, we’d never have the opportunity to creatively connect. Our systems wouldn’t have the need or the opportunity to convert electricity to neurochemicals which add to the richness of our lives. And our human activities would be more active than human. Rather than demonizing separation when it arises, we can choose to accept and embrace it as a valuable, essential component of a total vibrant, dynamic system that lies at the heart of who we are and how we are in the world.