The Illusion of Separateness – By Pierre Zimmerman 10/1/22

FROM THE DESK OF PIERRE ZIMMERMAN: The Illusion of Separateness

We may have the illusion of separateness, believing that we are isolated from many people, and more than likely have been taught by our parents, teachers, peers and society in general the consensus view and importance of a separate self. The problem is that this construct of a solo self may have a sad sense of meaninglessness and disconnect for so many in our culture.

We share interconnectedness by breathing the same air, sharing the same water, living in the same ecosphere and inhabiting this same planet as it spins through space. In most wisdom traditions and religions throughout the world, compassion is considered one of the highest values that enhances well-being in both individuals and communities. It is the way we sense the suffering in another sentient being and figure out ways to decrease or reduce it.

Interconnectedness requires empathy which has five aspects:

  • Emotional resonance (feeling another’s feelings),

  • Perspective taking (seeing through another’s eyes),

  • Cognitive understanding (imagining the mental experiences of another and their meaning),

  • Empathic concern (motivation and gateway for compassion), and

  • Sympathetic joy.

    We need to place empathy with altruistic love, otherwise empathic resonance alone will lead to distress. These two qualities reinforce our courage and give us resources to deal with the suffering of others in a constructive way. Empathy without compassion is like an electric water pump without water. It will overheat and shut down. With the water of love and compassion it will cool down empathic distress, counteract emotional exhaustion and reduce burnout. Resilience is necessary, without it, a potential downside to being tuned in to others will usually have us over identify with suffering and lead to shutting down. This is called empathic resonance fatigue.

    When we are aware where our attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows. Kindness and compassion then help us strengthen these body/mind connections and create traits of kind intentions, a way of being, not just mind/heart states that come and go. A trait is a propensity or way of behaving that happens without effort or major planning and with practice becomes stronger, integrated and enduring.

    When we are connected to others, finding ways of being of service in our world, beyond our private brain or skin defined self, is a time tested path towards a meaningful life. We are more alive when we embrace the reality of our interconnectedness.


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