Good news… you’re not alone

This is WeAs Zen master Yasutani Roshi said: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”

However much we value our friendships, family and romantic relationships, there’s often a deep, nagging feeling that ultimately we’re in this game alone and that we need to ‘look after number one’.

This belief leads us to make choices that serve our self-interest, whether that’s arguing with a loved one to get our way, not catching anyone’s eye on the Tube in case we see a pregnant woman or an older person who might need our seat, or choosing to buy battery farmed eggs because we tell ourselves we can’t afford the extra pound for organic.

The ironic thing is that living this way is making us unhappy. Disconnecting from others to protect our own interests leaves a feeling of emptiness, while the efforts it takes to ensure we can ‘get ahead’ and compete in the ‘survival of the fittest’ society we’ve created are creating an epidemic of stress and anxiety.

This month’s Brainy Brunch* was focused on the idea of ‘interbeing’ and how we can build a society that recognises and values our interconnectedness. It followed on from the last event, which was focused on whether there is an authentic ‘me’ to think about how we can create an authentic ‘we’. Curated by Debbie Warrener (Catalysing Change Agents) and Andy Paice (Natural Insight Coaching), the event focused primarily around the ideas of modern philosopher Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and the snappily titled: The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.

In what ended up being a particularly emotional Brainy Brunch, we brunchers were asked to think and feel what it is like to live within the ‘story of separateness’, in which the purpose of life is to survive, reproduce and maximise self-interest with whatever force is required (often at the expense of other’s self- interest.) For me, this brought up anxiety and tension in my stomach – the kind I feel after too long on the Facebook newsfeed or when people are getting in my way in a busy Tube station.

The second half of the event looked at the possibilities for living in ‘the emerging story of interbeing’, where we are fundamentally unseparated from each other and where every act we make is significant and has an impact on the world around us. What I liked about this ‘story’ is that it didn’t deny individuality, asserting that each of us has a unique and necessary gift to give the world and that the purpose of life is to express that gift for the good of humanity and the planet.

Rather than say that individualism is bad and collectivism good, or visa-versa, the opportunity is to create a society in which we draw on the best of both. Where we care for ourselves in order to care for society, and where we can thrive not at the expense of others but because of our interconnectivity with others. After all, it feels good to give and to share.

Where are you in terms of these two narratives? Would you say you were living primarily in the story of separateness or have you found genuine ways of interbeing? For me, I think it’s a little of both. I’m still so influenced by the principles of separateness, trying to get my own way and not giving to others as much as I could, but I’m trying to find ways to weight things into the side of interbeing – through being part of a community (at the Hub) and through my work as a coach.

I think I’ll write a future article on interbeing and see if I can come up with some suggestions for how we might live with less separateness. I’d be fascinated to hear what ideas you have.

In the meantime, check out Charles Eisenstein’s TED talk – A New Story of the People. Andy and Debbie are organising another event on a similar theme at the end of the month – check it out.


* The Brainy Brunch is a volunteer-led event that I launched and which is on every month at Impact Hub Islington. Each brunch is on a different theme and is curated by people from the community who choose TED talks and other videos and lead discussions and exercises around the topic to get us thinking while we enjoy a Sunday brunch. Join the Brainy Brunch Facebook group if you’d like to hear about future events.


5 thoughts on “Good news… you’re not alone

  1. Good write-up. We are told that life as we know it, with its isolation, selfishness and individualism, is the only way of living. The “modern” way of living. The only “realistic” way society can be organised. Free-market capitalism is the only “realistic” option, whereas the concept of mutual aid is “idealistic” or “delusional”. “Human nature is intrinsically greedy,” they say. “The only way humanity can advance is if we harness and encourage that greed – via the profit motive – and use it in a way that (supposedly, somehow) benefits everybody.”

    But it isn’t.

    For (hundreds of) thousands of years – from time immemorial to the advent of farming and cities – humans have hunted and gathered in small bands of up to about 150 people, on whom their lives depended utterly. Interconnectedness was vital for survival: “looking after number one” would have not only led to social isolation and rejection, but ultimately to death.

    Even farming and settling in one place didn’t decrease the necessity of maintaining strong social bonds – threats are best faced together, and people are happiest when surrounded by a solid, tangible social network – as is demonstrated by individuals’ emotional stability in traditional societies from the Americas to Papua New Guinea, and our individualist society’s vast consumption of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs to fill the void where our sense of community and social support should be. “Interbeing” – or whatever you wish to call it – is our fundamental way of living, a way of living which we have been gradually denied in our profit-driven, socially isolationist culture. We’ve traded community living for the “freedom” of isolated suburbia, the virtue of mutual support for the virtue of greed, the pursuit of friendships for the pursuit of profit.

    Basically, we’ve been robbed of a fundamental part of what it means to be human – other people. Interbeing isn’t a new concept – it’s as old as humanity itself.

    We just need to reclaim it.

    “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb.

    A great book on stuff like this: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dexter, really wise stuff. It’s scary how easily and quickly we can believe and get used to the filter our society has placed on the world and to feel that this is ‘just the way it is’, despite thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. I have been recommended that book before, so really must get hold of a copy.


  2. Pingback: How to live the 10 principles of Burning Man every day | Pioneer Pitstop

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