The idea of Oneness has its roots on ancient spiritual traditions where it goes by other names; but since its reality is transcendental, the labels used to describe it are no more that signposts to the same experience. a human experience of unity and transcendental awareness. If you’re thinking that it exists only for practicing spiritual aspirants then think again; as we go through our lives we experience oneness in various forms. In this article we look at the idea of Oneness in relation to independent identities.
The Many Selves
There are many theories of self, as many as there are human beings on planet earth, or fishes in the seas. Well not quite that many, but there have been lots over the centuries, and too many to cram into such a short article. There are also theories of non-self, which propose the self in its entirety is fictional. For now, let’s stick to modern psychology which has broadly three categories for ‘Self.’ These are ‘Personal,’ ‘Relational,’ and ‘Collective.’
The Personal Self
According to some theories the personal self is a mode of consciousness that develops early in life. There is a self-conscious awareness that differentiates itself from other people and objects in the physical world. It is also known as the Objective Mind and refers to the ‘me’ and ‘I’ aspects of consciousness. This is the type of consciousness the early Western philosophers like Descarte and Kent studied and used as evidence for existence.
The Relational Self
The personal self represents an individual’s unique qualities, but they are autonomous qualities without outside influence. Since human beings are group animals it is not possible to entirely separate them from family members, friends, partners, and lovers. The Relational Self is made up of those influences. No longer only concerned with individual traits, the Relational Self describes shared traits and influences that define roles within personal relationships.
The Collective Self
The final category in this widely accepted model is the Collective Self. In the same way the Relational Self describes interpersonal processes and trait-sharing to develop a self-concept and to define roles, the Collective Self does much the same thing on the level of groups. Individuals with shared traits and values come together to form small concentrations of people who are identified with a single ethos. In some cases this is known as Identity-Fusion.
The Many Selves Activity
If you want to begin to explore yourself or your identity the Many Selves journaling activity is a nice place to start. Brew your favourite hot drink and set yourself up in a bubble without distractions. Imagine a stranger asks ‘tell me who you are?’ Use one page of your notebook and write a response. When you’ve done this, repeat the process. Aim for ten pages.
You will notice a lot of variation in your answers. That’s because you are made up of different selves that are identified in different ways. Some of your selves are identified in a personal way, other selves are defined by relationships, you will also notice where group mentalities have an affect on your self-identity. The activity will help you gain perspective on how you see yourself and how you identify with other people and groups.
A Wider View of Self
Many people believe that selfishness is an innately human trait that is fixed and unchanging, but what if we could widen our perspective on Self to include more groups of human beings and living things, such as non-human animals and the planet? That wider identification with other ‘positive’ groups and ideas would create a new motivation – the desire to look out for ‘I’ will become a desire to look out for ‘us.’
The famous psychologist and mystic Carl Jung outlined a process called ‘Individuation’ when an individual ego differentiates itself from others. When this happens certain beliefs, ideas, and attitudes are formed that become part of the ‘self-identity.’ However, these beliefs, ideas, and attitudes lead us into direct conflict with others who have different beliefs, ideas, and attitudes. Beliefs can be strongly anchoring, but it’s worth remembering that uncertainty is a better path to reality than certainty and making an effort to ‘understand’ other people is a route to harmony.
A New Motivation
We don’t have to agree with the beliefs of others but if we understand where those beliefs come from then it’s easier to understand the ideas and attitudes that follow from them. This understanding can create harmony if we choose to respect the beliefs of other people based on their own processes, along with their individual, relational, and collective identities. If understanding creates harmony, then harmony can create a new motivation that arises from non-competing views.
‘We’ instead of ‘I’
In a mindset dominated by dualism our ideas, attitudes, and motivations tend to be somewhat narrow. We are concerned about ourselves in relation to others, and we are concerned about our own groups in relation to other groups. When you think about it, this is very primitive, but also very human. Oneness is about transcending our dualistic thinking, and category thinking, to realise that there is a higher reality that unites us all. One way to develop this disposition is to think of humanity in terms of ‘We,’ instead of the individual ‘I,’ or ‘Us,’ existing in relation to others.
The Ego Boundary
The ‘ego’ is another concept and model that has been defined and redefined many times over the decades – since the advent of psychology as a science; but of course it existed before Freud and Jung. In simple terms the ego is dualistic consciousness. A place where we spend much of our waking lives, and probably unconscious lives too. This dualistic consciousness is extremely useful in the world, it allows us to function, but it isn’t all there is. Beyond this dualistic ego is transcendental awareness.
Reaching states transcendental awareness doesn’t require sitting on a Himalayan mountain in a lotus position for days or weeks. In fact you are probably already aware of transcendental awareness in your life; it’s those moments of profound beauty or sublime perspective we have that seem to exist outside human mind concepts such as time. If you want to access this transcendental awareness and experience oneness beyond self-identities, then mindfulness meditation is an excellent place to start.