existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Tag: unity

Grief: isolation and communion

In grief, there is both isolation and communion. This is like all experience. In all experiences there is a dimension of isolation and a dimension of communion.

Grief is isolation in two ways: in its isolative nature and its isolating potential.

Grief is isolative in nature because it belongs to the person. It is matter of the person’s own experience. It has a private nature which is of infinite dimension.

As a result of its isolative nature, grief also has the potential to be isolating. It is characterized not only by being private, but can make us feel more isolated from others. It drives a wedge between us and others. In other experiences we relish this privacy. But grief makes our privacy painful because it makes us feel the distance between us and others. Suffering can easily overtake our sense that we are a part of the human race and make us feel very alone. We feel that no one understands us, or that we have been marked and abandoned by others.

Just as grief is isolation in two ways – its isolative nature and its isolating potential – it is also communion in two ways. It is both common in nature and communing in potential.

Grief is in common as well as in private. It is common to human experience in the world. It is common in a general way, in that all grief flows from the one experience of lack and loss. It is common also in a particular way, in that it is formed by regular features of our environment that are shared by others. For example, it is common for people in some parts of American society to feel that life is disjointed, cacophonous, and without meaning. This is due to the fact that we live in a society with others, and that society forms a common reality for us.

Because grief is common in these ways it is also potentially communing. That means that grief does not only create wedges between us, but it also builds bridges between us. It knits us together as much as it tears us apart, and in fact knits us together in a much stronger way than would be possible otherwise. This happens in a general way, in that grief signals our inclusion in our deepest humanity. All violence and pain flow from the same river of human longing and grief. It happens also in particular ways, in that grief gives us the ability to resonate more fully with the experiences of others. Because we have suffered in particular ways, we are able to hear and understand others who suffer in the same way.

 

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How good, how pleasant it is…

Unification is a worthy guide. “How good, how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall be become one flesh.” But then it also says, “he shall rule over you.” Now, the doorway to the garden is guarded making impossible a return to naivete. We have no choice but to develop within our lives east of Eden the means of trust and unity.

Unity is not fusion. The desire for fusion, as powerful as it may be, is nostalgia for the garden. Unity does not abrogate or destroy distinctness. It preserves and also transcends distinctness. Neither is unity mere co-existence, or cooperation. We can, unfortunately, live into it only in glimpses and glimmers. But it is good when we allow it to order our lives; to order our inner life, and also to order our common life with others. I think that it happens routinely, as we go about our day; it is haphazard, however, and since it is without intention it slips away just as easily.

Before seeking unity with others, it is enough to begin with a desire for unity within ourselves – an end to enmity between the different parts of ourselves, to reconcile that within us which is at war (though I am aware that devoted time to others can also help with this). This reconciliation will have to exercise the spiritual dimension of our existence, which is the only thing which is large enough to bring about reconciliation. Even if we do not know that it is the spiritual dimension of our existence which is being exercises, still that is what brings unity. The more conscious we are of it, however, the better.