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15 September, 2008


You and your environment are one. Looking at yourself, you perceive that your body stops at a certain point; it is separated from the wall of your room or a tree outdoors by empty space. In quantum terms, however, the distinction between “solid” and “empty” is insignificant. Every cubic centimeter of quantum space is filled with a nearly infinite amount of energy, and the tiniest vibration is part of vast fields of vibration spanning whole galaxies. In a very real sense, your environment is your extended body: With every breath, you inhale hundreds of millions of atoms of air exhaled yesterday by someone in China. All the oxygen, water, and sunlight around you are only faintly distinguishable from that which is inside you.

If you choose, you can experience yourself in a state of unity with everything you contact. In ordinary waking consciousness, you touch your finger to a rose and feel it as solid, but in truth one bundle of energy and information—your finger—is contacting another bundle of energy and information—the rose. Your finger and the thing it touches are both just minute outcroppings of the infinite field we call the universe. This truth inspired the ancient sages of India to declare:

As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.
As is the atom, so is the universe.
As is the human body, so is the cosmic body.
As is the human body, so is the cosmic mind.

These are not just mystic teachings but actual experiences of those who could dislodge their awareness from a state of separation and identify instead with the unity of everything. In unity consciousness, people, things, and events “out there” all become part of your body; in fact, you are only a mirror of relationships centered on these influences. The famous naturalist John Muir declared, “Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” This shouldn’t be a rare experience but the first building block of everything we know.

The possibility of experiencing unity has tremendous implications for aging, because when there is harmonious interaction between you and your extended body, you feel joyful, healthy, and youthful. “Fear is born of separation,” the ancient Indian sages maintained; in this statement they probed deep into why we age. Seeing ourselves as separate, we create chaos and disorder between ourselves and things “out there.” We war with other people and destroy the environment. Death, the final state of separation, looms as a fearsome unknown; the very prospect of change, which is part of life, create untold dread because it connotes loss.

Fear inevitably brings violence in its wake. Being separate from other people, things and events, we want to force them to be what we want. In harmony there is no violence. Instead of futilely trying to control the uncontrollable, a person in unity learns acceptance, not because he has to but because there actually is peace and orderliness in himself and his extended body. The modern sage J. Krishnamurti lived into his nineties with wonderful alertness, wisdom and undiminished vitality. I remember seeing him bound up the stairs to a lecture podium when he was 85, and I was very moved when a woman who had known him for many years told me, “I have learned one thing about him—he is completely without violence.”

The transformation from separation to unity, from conflict to peace, is the goal of all spiritual traditions. “Don’t we live in the same objective world?” a disciple once queried his guru. “Yes,” his master replied, “but you see yourself in the world, I see the world in myself. This minor perceptual shift makes all the difference between freedom and bondage.”

All of us are in bondage to the disorder we create by seeing ourselves as separate and isolated. The perfect example is the Type A personality with its driven, frustrated behavior its constant sense of being pressured by deadlines. Unable to relax into any kind of acceptance or flow, such a person nurtures his past hurts as anger; this repressed turmoil gets projected into the environment as hostility, impatience, blame and unacknowledged panic. Endlessly trying to control others, such a person reacts to minor stresses with harsh criticism of both self and others. In the act of creating so much chaos, the Type A person, particularly in the business world, is deluded into thinking that he or she is competing successfully. In actuality, the level of efficient work is very low, and as frustrations mount, the feedback the Type A personality receives from his or her extended body creates more havoc within the physical body. Cholesterol and blood pressure rise; the heart is subjected to needless stressful arousal, seriously increasing the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Type A is an extreme example of the harm created by not interacting harmoniously with one’s extended body. As we will see, perceived stress in the environment is directly related to most of the age changes that overtake everyone. What makes us old isn’t the stress so much as it is the perception of stress. Someone who doesn’t see the world “out there” as a threat can coexist with the environment, free of the damage created by the stress response. In many ways, the most important thing you can do to experience a world without aging is to nurture the knowledge that world is you.


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