Jan 312013

One of the most common mystical insights shared among spiritual people of all times and traditions, and increasingly among physicists, is that our notion of separateness is an illusion, and that we are all one.  This post offers related quotes for our reflection.  More importantly, it poses some questions to ponder deeply.  Readers are welcome to share responses below.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!  …  As you have done unto the least of these, so have you done to me. … As you have not done to them, so have you not done to me. Jesus of Nazareth

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. … ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Paul the Apostle

Our soul is so fully united to God of His own Goodness that absolutely nothing comes between God and our soul.  …  It is more worshipful to behold God in all than in any special thing. Julian of Norwich

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.  Black Elk

The God who existed before any religion counts on you to make the oneness of the human family known and celebrated. Desmond Tutu

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. Thomas Merton

A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.   Albert Einstein

We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness. … Human beings are not separate from each other or Nature. We are totally interrelated and our actions have consequences to all. What we do to others we do to ourselves. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there. Yasutani Roshi

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate “other.” You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is. Eckhart Tolle

All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything. Swami Vivekananda

Wisdom is nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life. Herman Hesse



  • In what ways does the idea that separateness is an illusion appeal to you or make sense to you?
  • In what ways does this idea seem unbelievable or make you uncomfortable?
  • If you somehow came to a compelling belief in the truth of this idea, or perhaps even a direct realization or revelation of oneness, how might it change you, your relationships, your theology and ideas about sin and salvation, your politics, and other aspects of your life?


  17 Responses to “The Illusion of Separateness”

  1. Thanks for posting, Chuck. Powerful quotes. I formatted them on a small ½ sheet of paper & posted them by my work computer. There is a reason Jesus said the 2nd greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. I may respond to your questions later.


  2. Hi Chandra,

    I almost included the “love your neighbor” quote. 🙂 By the way, while Matthew and Mark have it down as the second of the Greatest Commandments, Luke has it as the second part of the Greatest Commandment, which I suspect better captures the spirit of Jesus’ teaching.


  3. Nice quotes, Chuck. The individuals you chose to include look like a “who’s who” of enlightened/realized beings, so that the “commandment” to “Love Thy Neighbor” is probably second nature to them.

    A while back I had a very interesting discussion with a Buddhist lama regarding Eckhart’s notion of “nothingness” compared to Buddhist “emptiness”. In the course of the conversation I just came out and asked her the nature of the realization of emptiness. What she told me was really mind-blowing.

    She said that after such a realization, conventional reality, including our notions of separateness “appeared” to be an illusion. So, while intellectually we might be able to assert a belief that our separateness is an illusion, after realization separateness is still perceived, but “appears” as an illusion. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one!

    I guess the moral of that story is that if you wake up one morning and things appear to be an illusion, don’t worry, because overnight you became enlightened. (Lol)


    • Hi Steve,

      I know you’ve heard this before, 😛 but for anyone who has had a lucid dream, which is knowing one is dreaming while still in the dream, what the Lama said isn’t too hard to imagine. 🙂

      Thanks for your comments, as always.


  4. Hi Chuck.
    After reading your beautiful compilation of thoughts about human unity. In which one is all and all be one (in God), as is clearly expressed by Jesus Christ, “coincidentally” my aunt sent me an email whit a link where you will find a great orchestra, speaking different regional costumes dancers, singers and even a public deeply penetrated where all are united by the same spirit of the symphonic music. As is the will of our Heavenly Father, we are all united with Him, each of us participating from in our particular place in His wonderful kingdom.
    I invite you to enjoy it. This is the link.

  5. Ulises – I enjoyed the video too. My husband walked in & asked what I was watching. I said just studying from the mystics site again. He thought I was weird and I had to laugh, but it really was a great application of Chuck’s posting. It’s funny how many “coincidences” happen. I’m starting to notice a lot more of them.

    Now I’m finally responding to Chuck’s questions. Separateness as an illusion makes sense to me, but I’m still learning to walk in the Spirit and follow God. I think of things I’ve read related to St. Teresa and Jeanne Guyon about “spiritual marriage” as a complete union, and I don’t feel completely united to God in such a way. I often do feel that way, especially during prayer or even occasionally when thinking of Him. Yet, when busy working or in a loud environment, I feel more like God is there but not always a part of me. I even miss spending time with Him (although He really is there). The reason I believe in the “illusion” concept is my entire world changed somehow after my experience of God in June. I still wonder how many other things are out there that I believe in or relate to that are also illusions (such as time and space).

    Every day I feel closer to God. The more time I spend with Him, the more I feel like my life completely belongs to Him. I’m more drawn to spiritual people, more easily frustrated with worldly discussions (such as money & gossip), and get excited about things that I never had an interest in before (history, reading, theology). I have a great desire to be more charitable and help others. Regarding sin & salvation, I struggle with understanding the best way to help others as it’s God’s role to draw people to Himself. I feel like there is more I should be doing, but don’t know what yet. I even plan to apply for seminary in the fall, something one year ago I would have thought as a crazy idea. I don’t have any career changes in mind, but I feel I’m supposed to attend (also feel a lot of peace and excitement about it).

    I definitely feel more connected with God and others. However, I still believe many people will not choose God and there are evil forces in the world. I’m not so sure how I feel about a oneness with all of humanity at this point in my spiritual path.

    Peace and blessings,

  6. Thank you, Chuck, for compiling these compelling and beautiful quotes. I really do value them and the work you have put into making them available to us.

    I realised the illusion of the separateness and something about the illusory nature of the world around us when I was still a small child. I had a doll which I treasured. My childhood was not particularly happy and I shared all my worries and emotions with this very special doll called Pauline. One day Pauline tumbled from my arms striking her head on the hard path. A small round hole about an inch in diameter appeared on her temple. Horrors! I could see inside her. Inside her was emptiness. There was nothing solid about her. If she had been smashed completely her pieces would have filled less space than a cupful. Her eye sockets bulged inwards; the facial features were all reversed. It was nothing more than an eggshell. Even with the small piece of celluloid glued firmly into place, the illusion did not return. I now knew the truth about Pauline. Hollow emptiness, was what she was. She had no thought for feelings of her own. I had seen only what I wanted to see and not what was really there.

    This changed my view of everything I saw.

    I always felt a close relationship with God. Beyond the time of playing with dolls, I made a ‘church’ in my garden where I could be alone in the presence of God and tell him my problems. Whilst I never felt ‘separate’ I never felt at ‘One’. This came much later.

    From my understanding of Physics, everything is a result of vibrations in energy. There are high and low vibrations but I am not going into that further. The ‘energy’ is everything and is everywhere. There is nothing, be it animal, vegetable or mineral or even thoughts and emotions that are not pure energy. But this energy creates, is sentient, is conscious. This energy is Divine Consciousness; this energy is within each of us and in our culture this energy is called, God. So we cannot be separate. We may feel it but it is an illusion. It physically cannot be.

    We believe God is Love, and my experiences of God reveal him as Love. Therefore, in my way of seeing and believing, God does not punish us. We punish ourselves.

    In November I went to a Confirmation ceremony. The Bishop of Selby in the UK spoke about the paralysed man on a stretcher who was brought to Jesus for healing (Matthew 9:2). Depending on the Bible version the actual words Jesus used vary, but basically he said his sins were forgiven and to get up and go home. The Bishop said that the man was paralysed by his own guilt and when his sins were forgiven he was then able to walk. That was a new way of looking for me, but very much in keeping with my own feelings.

    I have always felt that we have lessons to learn in this life. Some are pleasant and some are not. If we don’t make the right sort of progress then we have to keep repeating the lesson over and over again. This has made so much sense in my life.

    I have said more than enough.

    Chuck, would it be possible for me to copy some of the quotes and paste them into a very private forum? They are so much in keeping with what is going on there. I will understand if this cannot be.

    • Dear Valarie,

      Feel free to do as you wish with these quotes.

      Thank you so much for sharing more of your story. 🙂 I love your illustration of how powerful moments of insight and/or revelation can come through the most ordinary of experiences, and at all ages. It may well be that many of us have had childhood experiences that hinted at, or perhaps even pulled the veil from, a clearer perception of reality. Most of us, however, become entirely programmed to think, feel, and act within the boundaries set by “consensus reality.”

      His disciples said, “When will you be shown forth to us and when shall we behold you?” Jesus said, “When you strip naked without being ashamed, and take your garments and put them under your feet like little children and tread upon them, then [you] will see the child of the living. And you will not be afraid.” Gospel of Thomas, 37


  7. Thanks, Chuck, the sharing of the quotes is very helpful and will benefit others.

  8. Whew, what beautiful quotes you’ve found Chuck!

    I’m a bit speechless in responding to your questions after reading and re-reading the profound messages here. Perhaps I can do little more than nod and think and nod and think.

    OK, and maybe add another, well-known and well-loved:

    “And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision,–what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them,–will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?” (Plato, Allegory of the Cave)

    Perplexed, yes. Intrigued, yes. Resonating, yes. Understanding, no.

    Thanks for the many messages to ponder,

    • Hi Karina,

      That quote from Plato’s Rebublic is a wonderful addition to the collection! 🙂 It suggests how radically different one’s perspective is once the illusion of separation has been peeled away. It is so radically different that it can be uncomfortable, and is in fact actually a threat to our whole understanding of and orientation to everything. We naturally experience that as a threat to ourselves, our comfort, our sanity, our significance, and even our existence. Who would want that?! And why?!


  9. I enjoyed your writing very much. Being considered separate from one another as well as God has truly been an issue all my life. I was raised Catholic and then my parents, after being rejected by the Church were non-Denominational. I had two very extreme beliefs to try and sort out and I have just now come to a place in my life where I no longer believe I am or have ever been separate from God. I pretty much did what I was taught and spent a lot of time in confusion and great sadness. I am now celebrating my life for the first time without any Religion and I have never been happier.
    I especially love the quote from Jesus of Nazareth you shared because it brought out the oneness He claimed we have with God and one another. Growing up I only knew how to be instructed and then heed to the doctrine for the most part because I knew there would be consequences in the here and now and I was taught those consequences would be much greater in the after life if I did not adhere. I just can’t understand why these people who teach the Bible cannot see the love of God that shines very bright for us. Even the least of us are worthy to be called Gods children.

    I was, I suppose somewhat hardened in my heart with the quote from Paul the Apostle. Paul is a very contradictory man in my opinion. He has also stated; “if believers keep on sinning” (Hebrews 10:26-27) “there is no sacrifice for sin left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” We are Gods offspring yet it doesn’t matter whether we believe at all everything hinges on if we can be perfect or holy as some believe.

    I like Black Elk’s mention of the realization of our oneness with all is found within us. I remember when I truly saw this truth. I felt it with my entire being and I have never questioned it again. It was when I understood religion is man made. It doesn’t matter to me how religion presents God – what is important for me to know is that it is through his understanding at that point in time. Religion won’t change but the heart grows deeper because it can’t go away from its Creator. It was important that I realized that I possess oneness with God within my being – it was created as me.

    Albert Einstein I know is my spirit guide! LOL! I just love him. I love his honesty, his frank way of telling it like it is. This delusion we live in within space and time is something we feel from the time we begin to see things with any bit of logic whatsoever. To free ourselves is frightening however when we accept that our hearts feel compassion for those who are the least of these, we are free.

    Eckhart Tolle last but certainly not least. Concepts, labels, images, words, judgments and definitions build the walls around us growing up. When we finally come of age, so to speak, at that time of first love, bravery, honesty, compassion… the illusion is no more. The light has entered the space you occupy and you see as if looking in a mirror -Your fellow-man is in fact your own self. We are one.

    Let me close with one quote by Jeremy Aldana. “Each time a man looks into your eyes, he is only searching to find himself; for he knows already, that he is part of you.”

    • Hi Kathryn,

      I’m glad you liked the post, and honored that you shared some personal reflections. You’re right that the writings attributed to Paul are often contradictory. That’s one reason, among others, that many Biblical scholars believe the books in his name were actually authored by numerous people. Elaine Pagels also convincingly argues that Paul was a Gnostic, and that he therefore used a kind of double-talk, speaking in the language of dualist legalistic religion for some, while also speaking of unity, love, and freedom to those with ears to hear. But I digress. 🙂

      Your comments with regard to Black Elk’s words are deeply appreciated. Throughout all your comments you very nicely show how waking up to unity frees one from so many concerns about doctrine, dogma, scriptural literalism, and other distractions from “love, bravery, honesty, compassion.”

      It’s nice to hear from yet another like-minded soul. 🙂


      • Yes I have read something similar to Paul being Gnostic. I am not sure I would declare him Gnostic or anything else for that matter. I would however remain with the opinion that his writings or the writings we have that appear to be his are simply an attempt to express the war taking place in his mind as it pertains to God and man made belief no different than my own mind has done just before transformation and rising above others theories of belief. One cannot I don’t suppose set a guideline that is tune with their spiritual growth on their level of frequency or not for others to claim and adhere to much less the world. It isn’t comprehensible! The only way it appears to be so with Religion is the willingness of whomever follows to remain on the lowest frequency which pertains to the world and its obligations striving to create a reality within a spiritual context. It just isn’t so. It takes time to resend the boundaries but it will happen as I am sure it did with Paul because there are windows of light throughout his writings that bring one higher. It is nice to remember despite all the rigamarow all is well!

  10. […] The Way of the Heart Reflections from a Christian mysticism centered on the heart, that "place" where intuition, inspiration, thinking, feeling and action can be integrated in the wholeness and harmony of Love. ++++++++++++++++++++++++ Matthew 22:36-40, 1st Corinthians 13, 1st John 4:16 Skip to content HomeAuthor IntroChristianMystics.comMeditationRecommended BooksShrine to the Holy SophiaThe Way ← The Illusion of Separateness […]

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