Transcending the Illusion of Separateness – A Path of Healing for People and the Planet
By Goli Gabbay
As a mental health and wellness expert as well as an environmental consultant and educator, I have always felt a powerful connection between our well-being and the well-being of the planet. Knowing that what we do to nature and animals, we do to ourselves, I dedicated two parallel career paths weaving together well-being in mind/body and earth.
It is challenging to witness what we are doing to the Earth. According to a recent UN global assessment report, we are destroying nature at unprecedented rates faster than we have during the past 10 million years. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, due to human activity. We have altered more than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources for livestock production and crops which we feed that livestock. Rapid deforestation and urbanization is destroying the “green” buffer zones that normally separate humans from animals—creating more opportunities for pathogens (zoonotic viruses) to spill over from wild animals to people.1
“It is clear that humankind needs to learn how to live more harmoniously with nature — and it is not the Earth that we need to “save” or fix.”
Industrial fishing now covers 55% of the world’s ocean.2 Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980. 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.3 We breed only to slaughter more than 150 billion land animals every year for a meal soon forgotten. Waste from animal agriculture entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones,’ totaling more than 245,000 km2 – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.4
And these disheartening numbers are just a glimpse of it. It is clear that humankind needs to learn how to live more harmoniously with nature — and it is not the Earth that we need to “save or fix.” From the beginning of time, the Earth has had its natural checks and balances — an innate wisdom that has always brought the planet back into ecological balance. It is human consciousness that needs to evolve and heal.
The Illusion of Separateness
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beautifully stated, “In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Interrelatedness is not just ideology but also science as it applies to the interconnected web of nature – which we are a part of.
“Interrelatedness is not just ideology but also science as it applies to the interconnected web of nature – which we are a part of.”
There is a huge disconnect from this concept of interconnectedness, replaced by the illusion that we are somehow separate from the very planet that provides us everything we need to live and thrive. We need to address the underlying awareness that makes humans continue to act with short-term vision and greed. We need to address the human ego that entitles us to the widespread alteration and destruction of rich biodiverse ancient forests into barren land for cattle grazing or cheap palm oil and thus, the demise of millions of other species along the way. We need to look at the fast-moving alteration of natural places into urban sprawl, concrete, high rises and mini malls in the name of “development.”
Researchers found that the rate of urban expansion is faster than that of population growth, indicating that the urban land area already exceeds what is needed to sustain population growth. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.5 Our physical separation from natural places further exacerbates the underlying separateness we may feel spiritually.
The Path to Healing Humanity and the Planet
And while public education and awareness is essential in supporting us to make more conscious, “sustainable” choices, I believe that the underlying issue lies in addressing and healing the paradigm and illusion of “separateness”— beginning with the spiritual relationship that we have with ourselves.
Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully stated, “The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken…is, because man is disunited with himself.” It is the “disunited with him/herself” that needs the fundamental healing. The disunity within is the source of our dissatisfaction and unhappiness in our lives. Stress and separateness between mind, body and the world around us is the source of most mental health imbalances and mood disorders in general. The idea of separateness and disconnect within is the root of abrasiveness and hostility towards other people. (I don’t imagine too many Zen Buddhist masters exhibiting road rage the way people in big cities do). The illusion that we are separate from nature is the root cause of the greed, short-term vision and destruction of the natural environment.
Transcending Separation and Reuniting with Oneness
So how do we fundamentally heal human consciousness so we can feel invested and connected enough to want to protect the planet? This is where our opportunities lie. In 22-years of clinical experience teaching master classes in mind-body health and wellness, I know that no matter what the outer landscape of life is – we have the ability to profoundly shift our inner landscape. I have taught corporate clients, universities and colleges across the nation, psychological rehab centers, medical centers, celebrities and royalty. And I discovered something consistent across all people and walks of life. When we calm our noisy mind, sooth our fluctuating emotions, and relax our tension-filled bodies deeply….so deeply….something happens. We momentarily transcend the mind-body itself and reunite with our truest essence.
In this peaceful state of “yoga” or union with our truest essence — our higher consciousness, we unite with infinite intelligence. And in this blissful state of deep relaxation and well-being — we experience oneness.
In this state of “oneness,” we experience a deep connection between mind, body and the world around us. When practicing in community, we cannot help but feel a connection and sense of inter-relatedness and belonging with others. Coming out of meditation, we experience a softer feeling of connection, compassion and oneness within the physical environment we’re practicing in–whether in a beautiful, 400-person full, wood-carved university auditorium, or virtually in the cozy corner of people’s homes. And finally, we experience oneness—an undeniable feeling of connection with the natural world, especially when practicing outdoors. It is an experience where we experience everything around us as part of us.
Well-Being of People. Well-Being of the Planet
With repetition of this experience of profound calm, stillness and well-being, there is an undeniable feeling of connection, compassion and unity that emerges. In my system of teaching, we develop both spiritual awareness and emotional intelligence that we are powerful, whole beings and interconnected and also part of something greater. And we tap into the gift of neuroplasticity–our ability to transform our brain, body and nervous system into a sustained state of well-being and calm. This profound sense of well-being, oneness and love is transforming. It awakens human consciousness and improves our daily life experience.
And the union with our truest self and infinite spring of well-being within is also the greatest source of happiness, contentment and peace. By attaining mental, emotional and physical well-being through calming, unifying, stress-relieving, mindfulness practices….we heal. And we can begin to heal the world.
Protect What You Love
As we develop greater spiritual awareness and emotional intelligence, we realize that our daily choices and actions can either help improve or further destroy the natural world around us. Each individual action multiplied by billions of other people taking kinder, more thoughtful, more earth-friendly and cruelty-free actions can change the world. As we become greater, more attuned, powerful stewards of our mind-body, we become greater stewards and guardians of the animals and the natural world. Scientists around the world agree that adopting a plant-based lifestyle is the single most effective way to reduce our impact on the natural world. This can be one powerful step towards living more harmoniously with the planet.
“Once we begin to experience all of nature and life forms as part of ourselves – we cannot help but to fall in love with everything around us.”
Our well-being fundamentally depends on nature. Scientists agree that our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with. Once we begin to experience nature and all life forms as part of ourselves – we cannot help but to fall in love with everything around us. By generating this profound sense of love and the desire to protect what we love in millions of people, we can genuinely transform the world.
Goli Gabbay Goli has been at the forefront of combining the healing benefits of yoga, mindfulness, meditation, yoga nidra and plant-based nutrition with neuroscience and has over 22-years of teaching combined with clinical experience.