The dynamic dance of Non-duality & Separation

For a long time, I have been wanting to write about the dance of duality and non duality that engages us in our everyday life even if we have little awareness of the moves. I had abundant experiences but few words to describe them – perhaps they were not organized into cognition. For an unknown reason, the words flow freely today, so here is an offering from the deepest recesses of my own psyche, my own experiences with the intra-psychic dance of duality and non duality.

How do we negotiate non duality and separation in our daily lives ? Each day we come closer and embrace millions of “objects” and we distance ourselves, we separate from a million others. Even with the same object, we maintain this constantly changing dynamics, a dance of sorts, that pulls us closer or takes us away from it. Our emotional distance – the contact space – with every object is subject to a constant change. Either in a physical sense, or in an emotional way. Some of our thoughts bring people and things closer to us, but within a fraction of moment, a conflicting thought, usually born out of our vulnerability will push away the same person or thing. Our external physical space then becomes a consequence, a manifestation or an outcome of this inner emotional space that we maintain wit our internal representation of external objects. Pressured by   the dance of internal processes, we are constantly forced into managing these external spaces, and we assume that we are in control of the external environment, but really, the internal is always more powerful. And usually disguised.

Lets return to the mother and infant in an attempt to understand an infant’s world because such a world is a simplified version of our own world.  After so many blogs, you may well ask – why does she always return to mother and child? Why can’t our problems be understood in the context of adult behaviors ?  My answer to this is that we are born with our instincts and react in a purest way to an external stimuli.  However, our adult world has been made infinitely more complex by perceptual scripts – scripts that are created by perception so most repetitive processing is made unnecessary thereby saving valuable processing resources of the mind. These scripts optimize our faculties for adaptation and help create predictive validity, constructing a metaphorical ground for our existence – else we’d always remain as insecure, uncertain and confused in the face of all unpredictability just like a child. Learning thus provides an illusion of safety and security and is necessary for survival. But unfortunately these perceptual scripts – learning – achieve their goals by disguising reality from our intellect. One can say that the negative side effect of learning is that unless intentional awareness is developed purposefully, a person becomes increasingly blind to reality. Hence it is always helpful to see the world from an infant’s perspective, because then we can visualize how layers of environmental constraints may have contributed to the changed product – the adult. Hence even though the experiences of the womb contributes to personality development, a new born infant’s world is far less contaminated by external processes than an adult world is.

So if we return to the infant’s world, we can experience a unity with the mother. A place where me and you does not yet exist. Everything is me. But it really isn’t me, because I do not yet know that I exist. So one can also say that everything is you. And you are all powerful, omnipresent. And through you I am made all powerful. Both these experiences must seem familiar – at least metaphorically !

In the first few days of life, every thing exists as it is, but things are not distinct from one another, being merely extensions of each other, and that of the omnipotent you, the mother. To adults, used to experiences of separation, such unity seems like an illusion, but this is the infant’s reality. Most people think adult’s perception is “correct” and the infant’s perception is “incorrect” – me, I like to think that the two perspectives come from alternate states, alternate forms of reality. Each state/form attempts – through human cognition – to project its own experiences on the other. Or perhaps it is appropriate to say that humans too have dual aspects to life – much like the photon, the elementary unit of light which simultaneous is a particle and a wave. At any moment, perhaps we can only exist in a transient location and there is always dynamic movement within this continuum bounded by these opposites of unity and separation. Which refers to the first paragraph of my writing today.

The infant attempts to express this non duality to the adult, the adult in turn impresses the duality on the child. This is where most communication fails. And the degree of such failure, in my opinion, gives rise to culture and diversity, and in its extreme, it gives rise to psychopathology. When viewed in  such a way, one can say that various cultures represent the benign end of our psychopathologies, the diagnostic psychopathology being the other extreme of the continuum.

Before we explore the meaning of the cultural-psychological continuum further, lets first explore what it means to say that the infant’s expression of non duality and adult’s expression of duality fail each other.

The emotional dance between mother-infant is initiated in the womb, and depends on the intensity of the mother-infant emotions and how each holds the other. Mother’s acceptance, level of happiness and contentment with her environment and her pregnancy varies from moment to moment and is transmitted dynamically to the infant, and impacts the neurological development of the infant and its state of mind – dynamically. And infant’s state of mind in turn affects the pregnancy, and mother moods during the term. Even in this physically merged state, there is a feeling of separation vs unity between the duo, depending on mother’s investment in the infant’s future. If the pregnancy is unwanted,  and/or if the baby is to be given up for adoption, the emotional imbalance in the mother is experienced by the child and must cause unrest and imbalance of its own. The development of such a child must be more tenuous and unpredictable. The separation must be experienced more frequently, and the felt state must leave the fetus’ mind “weaker’ or prone to greater uncertainty and chaos. To compensate for this felt lack of attachment, in self defense, the fetus may then be forced to develop appropriate adaptive strategies and defenses in the womb itself. The disconnection, or separation is etched somatically on the child and must impact neurological development. This infant is already a hurried child at birth and will carry all such symptoms and associated unconscious predispositions. On the other hand, the excitement and eager anticipation of the happy mother are also conveyed to the fetus and gets etched into the tender psyche. This infant and subsequent adult may be experience development that is different – delayed in its extreme – from the hurried child. There probably is less “weakness,” uncertainty and chaos. Such an early dance between duality and non duality may then be the basis of our resiliance, or lack thereof, as well as our ambivalence as adults.  The terms hurried and delayed are merely being used to emphasize the relativity of the process, they are not used diagnostically here.

After birth, the infant exists in union – which is one pole of our existential reality. It cannot yet experience/feel the complete separation from the mother, and it attempts to convey its reality to the mother through its distress at being separated by the mother. Jung calls this Participation Mystique, a stage where the two are physically separate but psychically they are still united. The mother remains the carrier of the infant’s psychic apparatus and its spirituality.

In the adult world, the mother is relieved of the burden of carrying the child in her womb, and expresses the physical separation by “abandoning” the infant into the care of others – nurses, partner, family at least initially. For the infant, any and all separation is traumatizing. For the mother, any further unity is traumatizing. The degree of such an intricate external balance of the merger and separation stretches the conscious and the unconscious psyche of both parties. To an extent this dynamically changing stretch can maintain its plasticity and hold the tension, but beyond a certain degree the two psyche can get stretched beyond repair – with adverse consequences for both.

The mothers psyche is stretched in relinquishing her perceived duality and embracing the demands for non-duality. The infant’s psyche is stretched in relinquishing nonduality, and accepting the inevitability of duality dictated by the mother. Both of these are conscious acts with unconscious components, but for the infant the effort is enormous. One can imagine the extent to which such a humungous effort would tax the nascent infant psyche. Small wonder that the infant cognition is protected from such trauma through the defenses of repression and somatization. The severity or laxity with which the two manage this dance, will determine the shape of the infant psyche, and hence its further neurological development. It must also determine how the constructs of trust, faith, love, commitment etc are first shaped  in the infant psyche, although developmental environment will provide construction and reinforcement opportunities.

This movement from non duality to duality for the infant, and from non duality to duality for the mother, though progressive, is non linear. The movement is, like expressed before, a dance that is often regressive, and progressive in its manifestation. And as the two go back and forth, the perceptual apparatus attempts to predict this movement/motion. Such prediction, in my opinion, can only be mediated by intellect. In human beings, the intellect is linked to language because in the evolution of language, we have lost  the capacity to reason through other faculties. In primitive societies, and indeed in the shamanic cultures, the intellect is linked to soma, and somatic experiences can bypass thought. Perhaps that is why these societies had emphasized the feeling function, remaining concerned with eros and not particularly bothered with logos. But that is not true for us. So for us, predictive validity is through perception and verbalization. And thoughts seem to be the precursor to verbalization process. They are successors of experiences, and precursors of expressions. They lie somewhere along the continuum between experiential activity and physical expression of that activity, rising as a mere psychical awareness, and terminating as an cognitive acknowledgment of that awareness – moving from the unconscious to conscious psyche. Thus this movement of the psyche for both mother and child stretches each psyche, and gives rise to thoughts. For the mother, the thoughts are mediated by the conscious mind, for the infant they must be first mediated by the soma, progressively experienced by the psyche, and eventually becoming thoughts as the infant passes developmental milestones. Such progress is dynamically mediated, not being linear because love, apathy and hate coexists in various degrees.

Hence, thoughts must then arise as a consequence of the felt separation between mother and infant, which is later projected as a separation between mind and body – the body being the feminine aspect of our being. If there were no separation, there would be no thoughts. The more the felt separation, the more intense our thoughts. This statement has enormous implications for treatment of what are called “thought disorders” in DSM. All unity is non dual, it is irrational, non linear, illogical, chaotic, unfathomable, unknown and un-understood. Or one may say it is beyond logic, rationality, beyond the known. In Jungian psychology, these are the qualities of the feminine as well. Hence one can see how unity is associated with the oroboros, and with the feminine. Further, the primal unity is out of sight, prior to the organizing vision of the mother brings them into consciousness. And as Robert Wright would speculate, whatever is outside of the vision of the mother, is dark, un-understood, unconscious. Again these are qualities of the mother, and childbirth allows for the mother to relinquish some of these and allow the child to emerge from the oroboros, the womb.

The separation brings organizing principles into existence. It throws light on existence, and individuality. It snatches the fetus from the mother’s womb and moves it towards self sufficiency. The infant is now in light, in the vision of the mother, and thus begins to develop conscious aspects of its personality. Again, such journeys are not smooth, but occur in in sporadic bursts, being a non linear dance between the two.

How slowly this transformation is achieved, gives rise first to diversity, then to culture and then to psychopathology.  A very quick shove from infancy to adulthood will create psychopathology in an individual. According to attachment theory, psychopathology arises as an adaptive defense from the traumatizing experience of a child who is forced to move too quickly into self sufficiency and independent adulthood. For example a child who is neglected, or abused. Culture arises out of child rearing norms. Thus various cultures follow their own child rearing practices so that adults in that society have similar psychological structures. For example in traditional cultures children spend more time with their mothers during infancy, whereas in other cultures, the children are separated from mothers much earlier. These experiences give rise to adaptive mechanisms that become societal traits. Within those individual societies, the finer nuances of child rearing practices will create a diversity were people are similar on the broader spectrum of behaviors, but they differ from each other based on the minor differences in how this dance between non duality and duality was maintained in their initial years. For example loss of paternal symbol through death or divorce may cause certain adults in a particular society to become more violent and aggressive whereas others who have not experienced this loss may remain calm and peace loving. These children are “special” and they would have to separate from their parents, and a society that is more homogenous between others, their situations causing a sense of perceived separation.

Thus we can see how diversity, culture and psychopathology may just be milestones on a continuum that has at one end a Perfect Mother, the Oroboros, the Garden of Eden and on the other end by a Perfectly Psychotic Mother, who is also symbolic for grueling Hell and Satan himself. The real mother of our experience as well as that of our internal representation lies somewhere between and keeps changing in relation to the mother moment to moment. The mother can become perfect in some moments, and psychotic in some moments and the child connects and disconnects in varying degrees, the dynamics changing from moment to moment.

The term psychotic mother is used here as a construct. It is not a real person that can be objectively perceived as being psychotic in diagnostic terms. In fact, the psychotic mothers may not necessarily be visibly psychotic, or abusive. She is simply an internal representation of the earliest caregiver who was experienced as being traumatizing to possibilities of unity and connection. She moved the child too quickly from non duality to duality, possibly before the internal structures to maintain duality and separation were in place. I use the term psychotic mother to indicate the impulse that raises its head when an infant experiences a moment of connection but is unable to make that connection. That abortion of the process of connection is a frightening experience that gets etched on the psyche. In such an adult, the impulse to maintain separation will remain instinctual, and is a consequence of that internal representation of the earliest caregiver who was experienced as being traumatizing to the possibility of establishing connection. The recurrence of such an impulse – causing disconnection – is referred to as the emergence of a psychotic mother. The impossibility of establishing or maintaining an intimate connection is carried well into adulthood and the transformation – the possibility of establishing a connection, also referred as the demise of the psychotic mother – becomes a major goal of therapy. This transformation redresses the psychotic aspects of personality – anger, personality disorders, depression, counter dependency – in the service of a connection with the mother. Through such regression to the earliest stages of non duality, the client unlearns this dance of separation, and relearns to hold and maintain that connection as much as it can be realistically held in the real world. In the process of unlearning separation, the behavioral by-products of separation – anger, anxiety, panic, resentment, envy, depression – automatically fall off. Thus, behavioral modification is not the goal of such therapy, but becomes a secondary by- product of successful therapy. Therapy itself focuses on maintaining a unity with the world, or maintaining a loving feeling towards the objects of the universe. What was an intra-psychic dance becomes an inter-psychic tango. Such practice involves recreating and re-experiencing the wonder of trust and faith for the magic of the symbolic mother, the cosmic universe.

To recap, too much emphasis on unity and merger in formative years, on the other hand, causes an intensely dependent personality that cannot separate itself from the environment. A personality that loves too much, trusts too much, and too readily. Too much separation, on the other hand, causes a counter dependent personality even anti social personality that cannot connect, cannot trust, cannot relate. Thus a person, depending upon his own experiences with non duality and duality in early adulthood, may become predisposed to one or the other as a strategy of choice – either in though, or in relations – for optimizing existence. And since a group of individuals collectively form societies and cultures, the concepts become cultural truths as the internal is manifest in the external. Hence the variations in cultures – some are cultures where trust and dependency are prized, vs cultures which are cautious about trusting, and depending; in these cultures self sufficiency and individuality are prized.

Since such explorations of early childhood invariably involve explorations of individual psychopathologies, of cultural norms, and individual idiosyncrasies that define an individual and their diversity, they are self realizing in their quests. Hence they are experienced as sacred and spiritual insights.  However, just like modification of behaviors is a by product of successful therapy, spirituality too is a consequence, a by product of such exploration, the explorations themselves being deeply rooted in science and psychology, being primarily concerned with how the beautiful dance of non-duality and duality (union and separation) was negotiated between the mother and the infant during the formative years of the infant psyche. That early dance between non duality and duality continues to define the rhythm and pace of the ongoing dance of the same, in our daily lives. How we negotiated that dance determine how we will dance in every moment since, and beyond.

So next time when you feel angry at someone, or something, try and look into the psychic configuration of the moment. Chances are you will immediately realize that you see the other as being totally dissimilar, as completely unlike you in that moment. The thought of dissimilarity is a consequence of  perceived separation – and like all separations, it falls into the template of your own early separation from your mother, and how violently it was negotiated and how it was interpreted. The intensity of such a separation will determine the intensity of your adult separation, and resulting thoughts.  And the more pronounced the experienced dissimilarity of separation, the less unity you will experience with the object as well as with the external environment. At that moment, if a thought or an impulse arises in you that can abolish, or deconstruct that dissimilarity and bridge the separation, and see the object as being similar, or even an extension of yourself, you may be able to sense a feeling of well being, of unity. Alternately, you can see the moment as being transient, and the separation as being transient as well, a separation that will eventually fall back into the all encompassing oroboric unity of the next moment. Such an insightful awareness itself comes from within the calm unfathomable waters of the oroboros, the beneficent feminine principle, the great cosmic mother.

If Shiva and Shakti are representative of the conscious and the unconscious, of logos and eros, then in Hinduism (Shaivism), this is the harmonious dance of Shiva and Parvati. In Tantra too, this constitutes the union of Shiva and Shakti. The psychological explorations of early childhood almost always bridge the separation between psychology, science and spirituality.

In conclusion, I’d like to add that non duality and duality are two necessary components of our psychic apparatus. They keep the wheels of life in motion. Excess of either will cause life, as we know and live it, to become paralyzed. Excessive attempts to bridge the separation may cause repeated distress in life, just as excessive or repeated separation will cause distress. Deficit in either leaves the psyche deficient in optimal functioning in everyday life, for separation fosters civilization by promoting thoughts, which leads to motivations, imagination, innovations, adaptation. To label one desirable and the other undesirable is a consequence of not understanding the full impact each has on our lives. Our best bet lies in dynamically flitting between the two and learning to manage them.

5 responses to “The dynamic dance of Non-duality & Separation”

  1. I’m not surprised you feel spent – there is a lot in here. Can’t say I understand it all but it definitely influenced me as when I was reading and thinking about something else yesterday I found in my comment I was making reference to the way individual behaviour and group culture is influenced by early experiences in the womb. So it has had some small impact on this reader at least.
    Hope you feel re-energised soon. We are facing a very early severe winter here and I am exhausted.

  2. Hello Madhu, thanks for taking the time and effort to write this post. Lots here to think more about. It is very interesting to reflect on how it all starts in the womb and carries itself into our family life, our interactions with others, our cultures….this has certainly led to me having some different reflections on some of the interactions I have had over the last week and perhaps put me in a more accepting mindset.

    • Thanks Karin. For some reason I feel spent after this writing. Must be something within that found expression here. I probably don’t even have to know what !

      Yes, I hope culture is viewed in a different light. Not good, bad, right wrong, but simply as something that is. Just is because the people were raised in a particular way. That is why it changes dynamically.


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