7. Spiritual maturity requires a sense of separation.
These days there is a great emphasis in spiritual teachings upon interconnectedness. These ideas have some sense, but should not be taken too far. Separation is also important. Even connectedness requires that there be separate participants. Thus there is a great deal of difference between the kind of relationship in which the people who are together would have no great difficulty managing on their own and the kind where they cling together because they could not face standing on their own feet.
As we grow up we separate from our parents. This separation, however, is often incomplete. We remain psychologically dependent, caught up in playing 'games' around parent figures even long after they are dead. Many young people feel extreme emotions about their parents, often both positive and negative, but when one listens to their accounts one has the sense that the person does not really see the parent as a separate person with reasons of their own. Only when we see our parents as people in their own right can we really arrive at having respect for them. We are told that we should love our parents but one cannot love on demand. However, one can arrive at respect.
The ability to respect is important for spiritual development, for good social relations, for world peace, even. It depends upon seeing and accepting the otherness of the other. It does not come from any sense of merger. If there is love, that is wonderful, but it would be too much to ask that everybody in the world love everybody else. However, respect should be an achievable goal.
Ideas of nonduality are interesting philosophically, but in real life, separation is important both in the sense of the value of solitude and in that of having healthy relationships. The Buddha strongly recommended periods of solitude (as did Leonardo Da Vinci).
Separation in the from of loss can be a great shock and bring acute and prolonged grief when the person lost was close. These breaks can occasion major reoganisation of one's life. Identity is broken up and one gradually pieces together something new out of the bits, welded with new experience. We are very vulnerable at such times. They are, however, not only times of pain, but also of liberation. What is reborn may be for better or for worse.
So separation is a two edged sword. It can help us or harm us; enable us to grow or throw us into panic - often both.
In the work of therapy, we are often concerned to accompany a person through a period of separation of one kind or another and to do so in such a way as to increase the likelihood that the ultimate outcome be positive; that the person emerge more mature, more wise, more compassionate, and less in thrall to ghosts from the past. The process that this involves is well documented in many books. The essential attitude required of the therapist is on the one hand to be willing to enter into the experience of the client fully and on the other hand to not be oneself afraid of the powerful forces that separation can let loose.
When a person experiences a loss, they not only suffer the dukkha of that particular affliction, it also tends to stir up all previous experiences of loss too. This can be terribly distressing. It can, however, also be a time to heal not only the present wound, but much that is left over from earlier ones too.
All in all, therefore, separation, whether chosen or thrust upon us, is no small matter. It is accompanied by major risks and opportunities. We should not minimise it nor its importance. It is a gateway to liberation.