Illusions of Separation

A New Unity Sunday Gathering


Come. Whoever you are.
Come into a circle of love.
A deep connection that holds us all is the promise of community
And the challenges of togetherness are here too
The jostling that touches our wounded places
The armour we hold up to keep safe
By this light - in this place - may we come together
May we know the promise and power of our unity



Daily Afflictions, by Andrew Boyd

We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us. But if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. And it isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems—the ones that make you truly who you are—that we’re ready to find a lifelong mate. Only then do you finally know what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: it's got to be the right wrong person—someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.”

Words by Carter Heyward

Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being 'drawn toward.' Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one's friends and enemies.
[...] sexual lovers and good friends know that the most compelling relationships demand hard work, patience, and a willingness to endure tensions and anxiety in creating mutually empowering bonds.

For this reason loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called 'love.' Love is a choice -- not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity -- a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.

Message, by Andy Pakula


"As drops of rain that find each other and build to become a track, a rivulet, a stream, a river, a sea, so are we drawn together; so are we fortunate to find each other; so are we bound together, on this shared passage toward an unknown ocean and eternity."

Those lovely words were written by my colleague, Liz Lerner Maclay. You may have been here when she spoke at New Unity this summer.

We’ve begun our focus on interdependence, which will continue through December. Last Sunday, we thought about connection - the real ways that we are deeply connected even while we strive to be completely independent. We know that beneath the current societal commandments that dependence is wrong and weak and that we should be entirely self-sufficient - there is something more. There is a way that we are connected deeply one with another.

We crave to feel that oneness - to know that we we are not alone - to feel completely held.
If you are like most people - that craving - that longing - remains unfulfilled most of the time. We get into relationships - hoping for those deep, sustaining, mutually-healing connections with friends and with lovers, but something is not right. What we hoped would hold us brings pain - or maybe just settles into an unsatisfying but safe habit.

So we search again and search some more or we just give up.

The Sufi mystic, Rumi, wrote extensively about love. He extolled love but he also knew how hard and frustrating love could be and how we go searching here and there for the right person, the right time, the right place…

That search is misguided. Rumi tells us:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Barriers? Who me?

Here is a fable:

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.

The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.

After awhile, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companions in order to receive the heat that came from the others. This way they were able to survive.

                                                                      Image from Greatstock/Barcroft Media

                                                                      Image from Greatstock/Barcroft Media

We want to feel the life-sustaining heat. We want to be loved. We know it’s possible and it’s there, but there are too many wounds to bear.

Where do these wounds come from? Why do we encounter this pain in attempting to recover the oneness that we somehow know is ours to have?

Tara Brach - a Buddhist teacher and writer describes the problem in this way: “We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”

What do those voices say to us?

Maybe they warn us of danger. Maybe they tell us that he is not good looking enough, or she is not kind enough, or he has unacceptable habits, or she doesn’t have the right work ethic.
Maybe they tell us to grab on so tightly to someone that they inevitably run away toward freedom.

Maybe the voices tell us to fight. That whatever we’re not getting is someone else’s fault and we should yell and pound at them until they love us they way the voices say is right.

I want to suggest something though - that all of these voices are secondary - they are voices that we created to protect and defend us from the effect of deeper, more damaging voices.
Those are voices speak of our deepest fears of inadequacy and shame. They speak in the tones of parents and teachers and supposed friends who said in one way or another “you are not OK.” “You are not good enough.” And you made those words your own to use as a whip on your own back.

It is said - and it is true - that we cannot fully love others until we can love ourselves. When we think of ourselves as deeply flawed and unworthy, we must protect ourselves. We grow long, sharp quills to make sure no one can get close enough to know just how imperfect we are. No one can be allowed to see beneath the veneer that is painted with that good, happy, perfect, well-adjusted image.

Loving is not one way. It requires letting another in and not just sending out love from within our defensive walls. But the barriers stand. Whether we are with a partner, or a friend, or we are here, together, we stand within the barriers we have built to love because - ultimately - we don’t understand that we are worth loving.

Each of us is able to grow and change. Each of us is able to learn more about ourselves. Sometimes we may develop into people that better fit our notion of what it looks like to be worthy of love.

Maybe. But this is like thinking we are only justified in calling ourselves an artist if we rival Picasso, or can be considered a runner if we come in first in every race. If you are that one in a billion person who can become free of all flaws, then please don’t listen to me.

For the rest of us, the voices that keep us small can only be quieted - the barriers that keep us from loving can only be demolished - by coming to accept and love the flawed person we already are.

As Andrew Boyd writes in his snarky but very wise “Daily Afflictions”: “it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness.”

The work of learning about and growing into and loving our “own wrongness” is not work we can do alone. The jazz and soul artist Gil Scott Heron reminds us that “The way you get to know yourself is by the expression on other people's faces.”

So the process of coming to find and live into our unity is a dance. We step forward to connect - we step backward as we are met with challenge and the pain that teaches us something new about ourselves. We turn to face ourselves with love and compassion and acceptance - and then turn to step forward again into the learning, challenging, warming, loving, embrace of oneness.

May it be so

Unity is ours
Oneness is our nature
If it seems tantalizing, yet out of reach
The answer lies within
The barriers we have built can be dismantled
Brick by brick and stone by stone
Together, we work as one to be one