The most common metaphor for unity is oneness. We talk about being one with God, one with the world, one with yourself, one with your lover, one with nature, one with reality or if you are buying a hot dog one with the lot. And don’t expect any change, because that of course comes from within.
Oneness is a beautiful metaphor for unity. The ancient Hindu scriptures, The Upanishads, tell a story that describes the metaphor of oneness.
The sage Uddalaka teaches his son about Brahman (God):
Father- Put some salt in this water and bring it to me in the morning.
[The son stirs salt into the water. The next morning, he brings the water to Uddalaka.]
Father- Fetch me the salt that you put there yesterday.
Son- I cannot, father. It is dissolved.
Father- Then take a sip from the edge of it. What is there?
Father- Take a sip from the middle. What is there?
Father- Take a sip from the far edge. What is there?
Son- Salt. It is always the same.
Father- That which you cannot grasp, but can taste in every drop, That is the Real. That is atman (the spirit). That art thou, my son. Upanishad 6.12-13
In other words the foundation for unity is that when you strip things back to their essence everything is connected. Any feeling you have that you are separate; separate from other people, disconnected from parts of yourself, apart from reality in any way, is an illusion. You have simply built barriers to the true experience of unity, and as you strip away these barriers you return to the true nature of the way things are. This is what reality tastes like before you add the seasoning of years of drama and self protection.
With unity as a foundation, we can cross the boundaries that separate us as couples, as communities, as religions, as species etc. Two people who are very different, or who are struggling with a very complex conflict, can agree to disagree because there is something more basic in common. This might be called love or peace or unity in diversity.
Think about unity in terms of numbers. Oneness is one half of the equation. It’s wholly true, but still only one side of the coin called unity. The other half is diversity which is the basis for each part of the whole remaining distinct and unique. Salt is still salt, even if it is indistinguishable from the water. This is one of the amazing miracles of nature that I learnt again while doing a science experiment with my 8 year old. Salt in water does NOT create a chemical reaction that creates a new substance. Salt in water retains its saltiness, that is sodium and chloride. In water the sodium and chloride are pulled apart by the water. But if you remove the water, the sodium and chloride reunite like long lost lovers.
This is the point- salt water is all three things; salt, water AND salt water. You are a distinct and unique person AND you are part of many relationships, communities, genders, etc AND you are part of the sum total of all things, all at the same time. This is an important truth. You don’t leave yourself behind by joining with another. You just create an amazing triangle. And I don’t mean the triangle that Bohemians who live in village squares create. I mean the triangle (or trinity) of you, your relationship and the sum total of the relationship which is greater than each but still profoundly present in each.
It’s all in the numbers. It’s the sacred geometry of trust, the fractals of forgiveness, the golden ratio of love, the physics of unity. We aim for whole numbers as best we can, but because we are frail humans with egos and insecurities, we accept fractions. It’s like it says in the book “I Love Fractions” by Lois T. Denominator.
It’s great to aim for oneness, but if you can’t quite get there then settle for fractions and let that be a spring board for progress. If you can’t quite forgive your enemies and become one with them, become half with them. Most importantly if you can’t fully accept and become one with yourself, then accept part of yourself. Let that partial acceptance blossom into ever increasing joy.
Learn to love the fractions, and wholeness will come a whole lot closer. If you can’t forgive all your enemies, forgive some of them. If you can’t forgive all of your faults, forgive some of them. If you can’t trust your partner all of the way, then forgive your partner with small things and let trust grow. Trust, empathy, forgiveness, understanding, even love itself, are all a process and a journey. Don’t let the metaphor of oneness become a cause for guilt and disappointment. Break oneness down into manageable parts and create a Fibonacci sequence of love and acceptance that will have mathematicians scrambling for their calculators. It’s all unfolding in perfect patterns of mysterious and deliciously unpredictable order. For in the end love has no formula. As the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times, in life after life, in age after age forever.”