One of the consequences of having self-awareness is the feeling that you are separate, and not at one with the universe. Feeling separate leads to existential angst. However we are not really separate at all.

It is true that we are differentiated from other things but not for long. The atoms in our bodies are being continuously recycled through the environment. Our bodies completely rejuvenate about every 10 years. In other words there is no part of you now that was part of you 15 years ago.

Also, it is estimated there are about 100 trillion microbial organisms in and on every human. If we had too many more or too many less than that we would probably get quite sick. It is hard to think of these microorganisms and think we are separate.

Our very existence is connected to, and completely reliant on, energy from the sun and minerals from the Earth. Also, people are deeply connected with the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. These things are in turn deeply connected with the systems and processes that provide them, such as nutrient cycles, weather, water cycle, soil, ecosystems (e.g. forests, wetlands, grasslands, coral reefs, etc), microbiomes, photosynthesis, and so on.

We are connected with all of the plants on earth for the existence of our most crucial nutrient, oxygen. It is quite incredible that aerobic animals breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2 and plants breathe in CO2 and breathe out O2. Some might call this miraculous but it is just natural order.

The Gaia hypothesis, proposed by James Lovelock (1972) and named after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, states that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge single entity. The hypothesis suggests that living organisms on the planet interact with their inorganic environment to form a synergetic and self-regulating system that created, and now maintains, the climate and biochemical conditions that make life on Earth possible.

Traditional cultures, Maori for example, believe that nature is our kin, everything is the child of the Earth and Sky. Spiritual traditions say that everything has a spirit and that these ‘spirits’ are all the same thing. Mystics throughout the ages and throughout all traditions speak of their direct connection with the ‘source’. As humanists, Econation believes that there is nothing supernatural. The Source and the realm of Spirit are metaphors for what connects us all. Whatever that actually is, it is natural and it constitutes the natural order of the universe.

Connection with people

Probably the most important connection we all have is with other people. Our ancestors and descendants, our relatives, our close friends, colleagues, neighbours and community. Modern economic systems want us to feel envious, competitive and isolated from others because that’s more profitable but it’s unnatural. We are naturally social, cooperative and empathic. Feeling separate and different can cause fear, distrust, prejudice, and discrimination. But we are all cut from the same cloth using the same pattern. To think we are separate and different is imaginary, whatever difference we perceive, it pales in comparison to our common core.

The experience of Self is a crucial factor for people to fully function as humans. Without a strong sense of Self, we would live like all the other animals as passive-reactive beings living lives of stimulus and response. We would feel no need to express ourselves through volition, creativity and purposeful action. So feeling differentiated is important for our Self to evolve. However, we are more connected than we are separate.

At one with the universe

Since we are constantly challenged by life, we might think that the universe is against us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Universe is not a person, it does not have intentions. The world around us is always changing but our fundamental needs don’t change. Facing challenges is a normal and fruitful part of life, and avoiding them is harmful.

The word ‘universe’ comes from the Latin word ‘ūniversus’ which literally translates as ‘turned into one’. One way to feel at one with the universe is to feel kindred empathy with it. We are all the offspring of the Universe and kin to the earth and all nature.