What Does 'We're All One' Actually Mean?

An unnecessarily sarcastic philosophical dialogue

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‘So I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all one.’

‘Nice one, did you come up with that all by yourself?’

‘’I’d be angrier with you for that unenlightened comment if you and I weren’t one. As it is, I forgive you with all compassion and speed.’

‘Great, I’ll get to work on your medal.’

‘You’re really trying my patience here.’

‘Don’t you mean you’re trying my patience? Us being one and all.’

‘I’m off to meditate until I’ve put the intense rage I’m feeling into its proper context. See you in two hours.’

‘Good for you my fellow me, don’t forget to slam the door on your way out.’

Two hours later —

‘Hello again, comrade.’

‘’Sup.’

‘As I was saying, I think we’re all one.’

‘Oh, was that you? I thought it was some Indian dude 2500 years ago. My bad.’

‘Post-meditation that comment creates nothing in me but pity, and I forgive you with all compassion and speed.’

‘Nice one, I’ll just get to work on your —’

‘Heh-hem. So here’s what I think the mystics mean by “we’re all one”. Basically, our true selves — our spiritual selves — are all fundamentally the same self. What creates the illusion of individuality is the physical world, which separates us into different bodies with access to different cultural and physical environments. These environments create distinctions that obscure the underlying oneness.’

‘I’m slightly less bored than I was before, but that’s probably because I stopped paying attention a paragraph ago and drifted into fantasies so filthy I’m sorry I polluted the cosmic consciousness with them. Go on.’

‘But lest you think I’ve fallen into the trap of Platonic idealism or, worse, Cartesian mind-body dualism —’

‘Perish the thought.’

‘Every interruption from you is another 20 minutes of deep breathing I’ll have to do later.’

‘Happy to be of service.’

‘Anyway, we’ve traditionally associated the spiritual world with the mind and the world of temptation and illusion with the physical world in general and the body in particular. But in the past hundred or so years there’s been a big push to rehabilitate the physical side of life, with people embracing the transcendent potential of things like dancing, music, sex and psychedelics.’

‘I just use ’em to blot out every trace of the working week to be honest.’

‘That’s because you’re mired in samsara. Don’t worry, I’m always available to help you become a better person. All you need to do is ask.’

‘I’ll pencil it in.’

‘Anyway, I think people are trying to solve the spiritual vs. physical problem in the wrong direction. It’s not that the mind and the body both get to access the spiritual world. It’s that neither of them do. Why? Because the mind is the body. I don’t just mean our traditional beliefs and customs are culturally conditioned — I mean every facet of our identity is predetermined. Our emotions, abilities, ideas and political leanings are purely genetic phenomena, nothing we can take credit for, nothing we can take with us when we die, no more “the real us” than our nose and ears.’

‘You know, when you use italics for emphasis I can actually hear the italics. It’s fascinating.’

‘Strip away all the geographical, cultural, historical, physical and neurological data points that make up an individual person — every life event, every trauma, every illusion they were taught at school, everything that constitutes their “personality” — and what are you left with? Nothing but the simple raw fact of their humanity. We all share this simple, irreducible fact in common — that we are human — and that makes us one.’

‘Is this a fancy way of saying you’d act the same way as a bad person if you were in their shoes? No, I’ve got it — you’re rewriting Bob Marley’s “One Love”. When are you going to learn that his songs are perfect the way they are? What’s wrong with you, comrade?’

‘You make a good point — I’m not defining “humanness” very clearly, still less explaining how it ties in with the spiritual world. That was the gist of your criticism, right?’

‘Sure, why not.’

‘Maybe “humanness” is the wrong word. Maybe I should fall back on the old cliché, “consciousness”. Or “awareness”. Or “self-awareness”.’

‘I can actually hear the air quotes too. Amazing.’

‘The point I’m making is that when you strip away all the physical stuff we think is “us”, we’re left with the one thing that actually is us — the part that notices everything. Consciousness. This mysterious mechanism is present in every single human being, and when we speak of one person having “more consciousness” or “more awareness” than another what we actually mean is they have less cultural and personal baggage in the way of their awareness. The basic awareness itself is present in everyone in exactly the same amount. And it sees no distinction between you, me, him, her or them.’

‘Good for it.’

‘That’s basically what some people mean by enlightenment — not that we’ve actualised ourselves until we’ve become the best selves we can be, but that we’ve stripped away every bit of conditioning and contingency until there’s nothing left but that raw awareness. We all partake in and consist of that awareness the way waves consist of the sea. Awareness makes use of all our individual genetic stuff the way the sea throws up foam, but the foam’s soon gone and so are our personalities. So the real gap isn’t between you and me but between our shared awareness and all the genetic foam we think of as our identities. Certain mental and physical practices can offer us glimpses of the spiritual dimension of pure undivided awareness, but ultimately the physical world’s job is to fall away until that dimension is all that’s left — just like a wave eventually collapses back into the sea.’

‘Mm. Yeah. Just one problem with this little talk we’re having — ‘

‘It goes against common sense, rejects healthy forms of individualism, negates free will and accountability, reduces personality to neurobiology, doesn’t sit easily with our Judeo-Christian heritage, clashes with most of the Western philosophical tradition and devalues the physical world? Yeah, I know. I’m working on it.’

‘I was going to say it was preventing me from making dinner but yeah, that works too. Anyway, it’s spaghetti tonight. Will I add you into the mix or are you too disillusioned with the physical world to eat?’

‘Not if you add those red pepper flakes I like so much.’

‘That’s the spirit. Here, give us a hand with the sauce.’