The dis-ease of separation and comparison

I’ve heard from various people, particularly those in the yoga world, that the epidemic of depression and anxiety are primarily caused by one thing: believing we are separate and not intimately connected to each other. Oneness is such an old concept it can start to sound cliché a sweet idea in theory, sure, but hard to feel as reality.

It’s easy to witness how separation shows up in the world. We live in a culture of independence, of every man for himself, of children schooled on high self-esteem— which, although has many healthy qualities, is dependent on success— aka you have to beat someone else. In order to be the “best,” other people have to lose. Social comparison is rampant on sites like Facebook where we start to think everybody else is different, better, and happier than us.

Our whole lives can feel poisoned by this experience of separation, from bullying others as children in order to feel superior, to bullying others in the workplace, to comparing our grades and then our jobs, our cars, our timelines for marriage and children, and even our travel experiences. In its most toxic form, we bully each other in the political arena and then across country lines on to the battlefield. The cost of separation is inevitably a deadly one.

And the strangest part is that recognizing we are all the same is not new age-y hokum, but actual science. It’s scientific reality. This is especially important, even necessary, to remember when we are sad or anxious. Otherwise we breed more violence and war within ourselves and then take that out on others. We are living a human, not personal experience. We are not special. And what’s more, we are not only not separate from each other, we are not separate from anything around us.

This leads into something I’ve been experimenting a lot with lately— self-compassion. You might wonder how the two are connected, but one of the main pillars of self-compassion, as researched by self-compassion queen Kristin Neff, is common humanity. She’s done a lot of research on self-esteem vs self-compassion and one of the biggest problems with self-esteem is that it is dependent on competition and comparison. Being the “best” equals minus on feelings of common humanity.

On the other hand, self-compassion is not dependent on what happens to us or if we succeed or not; it’s there for us because we are human and made out of the substance of the universe— not aliens traipsing about on a foreign soil but composed of the same matter of all that is around us. We are not separate from nature, we are nature. Think of how your parents looked at you as a new-born baby— a miracle to behold, brought into the universe from the universe.

In short, if you want to feel connected to others, to beat social comparison and all the heartbreak and violence it breeds, self-compassion is the way to go. Remember that we all suffer, every one of us, and we are not alone in our suffering. Every single thing we are thinking and feeling is not personal but universal. In every tiny way, we are not alone. This is oneness.

See below for some amazing downloadable audio meditations to help you remember— I’ve been listening to many of them on a daily basis.

Guided self-compassion meditations with Kristin Neff

More self-compassion meditations with Christopher Germer

Here is a downloadable talk with Kristin Neff on self-compassion: Kristin Neff- The Liberating Power of Self-Compassion 

Another talk with Kristin Neff where she describes the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion: Kristin Neff Ted Talk

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