A Separate Peace

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 4, 2012

I am separate from you.

I have my own ideas, my own beliefs, my own desires.

You are separate from me.

You have your own ideas, your own beliefs, your own desires.

You and I, we are separate individuals.

We each have our own ways of being, having, doing, and becoming.

These differences serve to stimulate other ways of being, having, doing, and becoming.

In this light, I place value on my separation from you.

Being separate, I have opportunities to trust, respond, respect, love, cherish, honor, give, care, and share.

Being separate is a blessing for me – and for you.

I can find my own peace – a separate peace – and so can you.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 10

Have you ever read something that rubbed you the wrong way, and you read it again later in a new light, in another context, and realized, yes, these words make sense?

Have you ever met someone who rubbed you the wrong way, and you met again later, in a new light, in another context, and realized, yes, this person makes sense?

Separation is given a bad rap in religious and spiritual circles because it’s conflated with conflict and confused by entitlement.

Separation is not conflict.

Conflict is not separation.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: separation is not conflict; conflict is not separation.

Did I mention that separation is not conflict?

Did I mention that conflict is not separation?

Ah yes, and so I did – just wanted to be sure.

Carrying body and soul
and embracing the One,
can you avoid separation?

Can you let your body
become as supple
as a newborn child’s?

In the opening and shutting
of heaven’s gate,
can you play the feminine part?

Can you love your people
and govern your domain
without self-importance?

Giving birth and nourishing;
having, yet not possessing;
working, yet not taking credit;
leading without dominating.

One who heeds this power
brings the Tao to this very earth.
This is the primal virtue.

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Can you avoid separation?

There’s a lot of resistance in this question. Can you feel it?

Try this on for size:

Can you accept
the value in discord
short of conflict?

My Impressions of the Verse

Notwithstanding my protestation, my overall impression of this verse is favorable.

As a person of the male sex, I am two-spirited. I can move with ease between the masculine and feminine aspects of gender. I appreciate ultra-masculine energy (as and when it honors the feminine) and I cherish ultra-feminine energy (as and when it respects the masculine).

Aside: I presently feel comfortable and blessed to occupy a male body.

My reason for disclosing this personal matter will soon become apparent.

Carrying body and soul
and embracing the One,
can you avoid separation?

I’m sorry, but I really need to rewrite this monstrosity – this sad and sorry excuse for wisdom – before responding to its intended message (note: I’m setting myself up here for disagreement, not conflict; I trust you know the difference).

Here’s my take on it …

On being a witness
to the flow in your life,
allowing and observing
and following your bliss,
can you accept
the value in discord
short of conflict?

This version feels so much more down to earth for those of us who actually live and love and learn and laugh on this earth.

Where the first four lines in this stanza offer a standard of unity and harmony for your life, the remaining three lines pose a question, which acknowledges and supports the wisdom of healthy, vital discord.

Discord simply means disagreement. When disagreement remains healthy and vital, conflict is averted, and when all is said and done, the value in discord usually becomes evident and worthy in retrospect.

Discord not only serves to stimulate change and restore balance, it also helps us to learn and grow, to evolve and ascend, to more fully realize a worthy and worthwhile place in the overall scheme of things.

Absent healthy, vital discord, I will have fallen prey to the trap of spiritual bypassing like a cushy little teddy bear in the arms of a young child, where there’s no stimulation to grow and therefore no growth.

Can you let your body
become as supple
as a newborn child’s?

In the opening and shutting
of heaven’s gate,
can you play the feminine part?

I am partial to these questions because I cherish ultra-feminine energy manifesting in life-giving ways, but I think that you can appreciate them even if you’re emotionally repressed and merely recognize the value of feminine energy.

These questions invite us to open up and receive the many blessings of life and love.

More specifically, they speak metaphorically to the vitality of being receptive, vulnerable, and gracious.

Can you love your people
and govern your domain
without self-importance?

This question seems tailored to a feudal lord in control of a fiefdom, but I think its applicability can be broadened to include those who carry authority in any domain where said authority is exercised.

Indeed, I think this question can be interpreted this way:

Can you generally respect those
with whom you come into contact,
governing your sphere of influence
with apt modesty and humility?

Some such version of this question prepares us to appreciate the following:

Giving birth and nourishing;
having, yet not possessing;
working, yet not taking credit;
leading without dominating.

One who heeds this power
brings the Tao to this very earth.
This is the primal virtue.

Notice, this portion of the verse does not say primary virtue. This virtue is more fundamental than primary – it’s essential to life.

So what is this primal virtue to be practiced in accordance with wisdom?

To heed is to pay careful attention to, to take careful notice of. In other words, I can see it, I can hear it, and I can feel it, but can I heed it?

Am I paying close enough attention? Am I noticing what’s actually going on?

As I heed the power to allow, to observe, to follow my promptings from the heart of my soul, energy flows where careful attention goes.

To wit:

On being a witness
to the flow in my life,
allowing and observing
and following my bliss,
can I nevertheless accept
the value in discord
short of conflict?

As I pay attention, nurturance, modesty, humility, and compassion are expressed naturally.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Sometimes, unity is a worthy ideal, a worthwhile endeavor, but only if and when and as I understand and appreciate the meaning and value of discord in relation to conflict.

When I understand and appreciate the meaning and value of discord short of conflict, I can more easily negotiate and navigate disagreement, allowing harmony to emerge somewhere between unity and separation.

We live in a temporal realm, where change is constant.

The duality that is unity and separation are conceptual poles on a globe of promise and possibility. If you’re still involved or engaged with this world, you’re living somewhere between these poles.

Somewhere between unity and separation, separation has value in relation to unity – and vice versa.

For myself, it’s vitally important that I not conflate separation with conflict, that I not confuse separation with a sense of entitlement, in my interactions and my relations.

With no such conflation or confusion, I can favor either unity or separation within the dynamic between unity and separation. If I favor unity, unity is my standard for gauging the extent of separation; if I favor separation, separation is my standard for gauging the extent of unity.

With friends, I favor unity first, separation second; with frenemies, I favor separation first, unity second.

With this in mind, let us explore the following practical implications for personal fulfillment:

  1. I am that: I accept the dynamic between unity and separation when I see myself in everything I have
  2. I am thou: I accept the dynamic between unity and separation when I see myself in everyone I meet

When I am that, my preference is to give pleasure to that which I experience, have, or manifest, and do so without attachment. Attachment to an experience, object, or outcome implies an attachment to unity; it implies a longing to return to the security of the womb.

For example, I enjoyed my desktop: it was reliable, it was functional, and it allowed me to do many things I enjoy. About a week ago, the hard drive took a nose dive. I was disappointed, but not devastated. After all, I had my laptop as backup. Upon further investigation and reflection, I realized that I could replace the hard drive with relative ease and minimal expense. Had I been attached to my desktop, I would’ve minimized the laptop as a saving grace and it would’ve taken longer for me to realize I still had options where the repair of my desktop was concerned.

I need not renounce my identification with what I experience, have, or manifest. I merely need to loosen and release any attachments to unity through the experiences I enjoy, the things I have, and the outcomes I manifest. I can allow myself to enjoy all that flows into my life, to enjoy what I am, what I have, and what I do, simply for the pleasure of allowing and observing and following the flow itself. Divinely speaking, nothing and no one belongs to me; all that is composed will decompose and all that for which I presume ownership will someday be left behind.

As a witness to I am that, I can step back and allow myself to be an observer of form, to follow my bliss, to ease my grip on unity, to release my attachments to all that I claim as my own, finding a special kind of freedom with form to live out what the Tao always teaches by example.

When I am thou, my preference is to be playful with similarities and differences, to give pleasure to a constantly evolving dynamic between unity and separation, without becoming attached to that which would have me be either unified or separate.

It’s a fact of life that people provide a wealth of confusing and difficult opportunities to interact with those parts of ourselves that we’d rather keep under wraps. Herein lies our challenge to be both human and humane.

It’s all well and good to love, to be love, to say that we are one, to be perfect embodiments of divinity, but the moment I become attached to peace and love is the moment I undermine my capacity to appreciate unity by way of separation.

Think about that for a moment.

Let us not seek too much darkness to see the light and let us not draw too much darkness to ourselves when the light we carry becomes too bright. Rather, let us carry the light while being mindful of those moments when we feel drawn into the dark.

Next up: Coming to Grips with the Void

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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