Awareness of what I call ‘natural inclusion’ enables us readily to understand just how and why it is that our individual self-identity is both a dynamic inclusion and expression of the spatial and energetic neighbourhood that our bodily lives draw sustenance from and populate. As living inhabitants of our habitat, we cannot be isolated from it. We are both dependent upon one another and our surroundings and vulnerable to harmful influences therein. We can therefore only truly care for and understand our selves by caring for and understanding our natural neighbourhood.
By contrast, abstract conceptions of reality that either imagine us to be entirely isolated from our natural neighbourhood as ‘free-willed entities’, or ignore our differences from one another and our surroundings get us into deep trouble. Unfortunately such perceptions and attitudes have become prevalent in modern human cultures and we find our selves psychologically, socially and environmentally challenged in a huge variety of ways, despite and partly because of our technological wizardry. We ask our selves ‘what can we do about this?’ and ‘how can we get through this?’
At the time of writing, both our individual and social lives are threatened by a global pandemic. This has spread rapidly, unconstrained by natural boundaries, from a tiny initial focus of infection into a vast human population that has become globally connected, mobile and concentrated in urban economic and industrial centres. It seems almost as though our modern social, economic and political organisation has sucked Covid-19 into its midst to cause havoc. What can we learn from this? How can awareness of natural inclusion help us to understand, prepare for and respond effectively to such developments?
Let’s begin by recognising how misconceptions of space and boundaries that have become culturally entrenched over the course of recorded human history make us especially vulnerable to such episodes. Generally speaking, these misconceptions fall into one or other of two categories.
The first misconception, sometimes called ‘dualism’ or ‘positivism’, is that natural space and boundaries are sources of definitive separation that isolate individual and group identities from one another and their surroundings. This misconception is embedded in the foundations of orthodox science, mathematics, religion, language and governance. Older generations have been teaching it to younger generations since ancient times. It arises from a ‘spectator’ view of reality that spatially and/or temporally abstracts the observer as ‘subject’ from what is observed from outside as an independent ‘object’.
We think that ‘I’ am not ‘you’, ‘we’ are not ‘them’ or ‘that’, and ‘here’ and ‘now’ are not ‘there’ or ‘then’. We lose sight of what it means to dwell continuously in the midst of what we observe. Everything ‘out there’ is imagined to be contained by a three- or four-dimensional box of space and time within which the position and movement of material objects can independently be measured in discrete units of distance and duration.
This isolation of subject from object can be accompanied by an egotistic feeling of immunity from and sovereignty over our neighbours and neighbourhood. Alternatively, we may feel fearfully vulnerable to and controlled by whoever or whatever resides outside of our bodily boundaries. Life becomes conceived as a ‘struggle for existence’ in a hierarchical ‘Chain of Being’. Some kind of executive Authority at the ‘top of the heap’ wields power over progressively less powerful but numerically larger ranks of individuals at the bottom. This power structure is evident even in many of the most supposedly ‘democratic’ systems in which a governing elite is elected by a ‘majority rule’ that suppresses minority viewpoints. Too bad, in such regimes, if the governing view is as mistaken as the misconception that supports it. The resulting misrule will result in needless and widespread suffering.
The second misconception, sometimes referred to as ‘monism’ or ‘non-duality’, is that boundaries between different localities are illusory and that all in reality is One seamless Whole. This arises from a meditative inner awareness of being that reaches endlessly outwards without interruption. It may be accompanied by a peaceful sense of harmonious mystical union with All, which dissolves ego into the universal Stillness of space everywhere. But in so doing it removes the energetic desire and capacity to sustain and protect inner life.
Neither of these misconceptions, in themselves, is fully consistent with our actual experience of living as we naturally are in the world as it naturally is, but each reflects a partial truth that if complemented by the other makes profound sense. This is where awareness of natural inclusion becomes possible, through recognising that natural space and boundaries are mutually inclusive sources of receptive continuity and dynamic distinction, not definitive separation or one aloneness.
Natural inclusion correspondingly provides a radically different understanding of natural evolutionary processes as an induced response to receptive opportunity than enforcement by an external agency such as the objective ‘selection pressure’ envisaged by neo-Darwinists or the Almighty ‘Godfather’ envisaged by Creationism and ‘Intelligent Design’. Material form that is intrinsically dynamic as a co-creation of space and energy (which can also be thought of as darkness and light) does not need to be forced into action. We move on from the paradoxical conception of life as a competitive struggle to best fit a predefined objective — a ‘survival of the fittest’ — to a ‘proliferation of the possible’.
In the example of the spread of Covid-19 we can hence recognise an eventuality made possible by a pattern of human social organisation that imposes an abstract hierarchical structure of fixed boundaries upon itself, while ignoring the self-sustaining and protective qualities of natural boundaries. In the short term there is therefore a pressing need to keep a safe distance from one another — which is not the same as isolating ourselves — and in the longer term we need to build communities that are more in tune with our natural neighbourhood.
Be well. Go well.
Further Reading:Rayner, A.D. (2011). Space Cannot Be Cut—Why Self-Identity Naturally Includes Neighbourhood. Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science, 45, 161–184.