The loss of separateness

Books are an incredible bargain. For the price of a pizza or two you are going on a journey. It could be a journey of pure entertainment or a journey of self discovery or, best case, even both. It does not only depend on what is written in the book but a lot on what you are able to see and therefore extract from it. I am currently on such a journey while reading a book by Michael Pollan, its title being How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

Whenever I read non-fiction I tend to make notes of passages I will probably like to revisit in the near future. This is one of those rare books in which I find such a tremendous amount of valuable passages that I will most probably just reread the entire book.

In this book Michael, most well know for his earlier books about food and agriculture, writes about psychedelics, a class of drug which can lead to a non-ordinary state of consciousness in which people have a wide range of peculiar experiences. One such experience can be the loss of separateness between oneself and everything else there is.

Here is a related footnote from page 367:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Walter Sullivan, “The Einstein Papers: A Man of Many Parts,” The New York Times, March 29, 1972.)

I find this to be both beautiful and true as I have experienced such a loss of separateness myself before, e.g. during a holotropic breathwork session.