Poet, author, mystic

No Human Being is an Island


Wednesday 19 April, 2017


No Comment

I found this lovely banner on the website of IMERE, the Insitute for Mystical Experience Research and Education (www.imere.org). This is the US equivalent of the British RERC, Religious Experience Research Centre founded by Sir Alister Hardy, an Oxford Professor of Marine Biology. (www.studyspiritualexperiences.org). I’ve been involved with RERC for more than thirty years and studied for the Master’s degree that was established by the Centre at the University of Wales. RERC have digitised their enormous archive of spirtual experiences, available online at www.uwtsd.ac.uk/library/alister-hardy-religious-experience-research-centre/online-archive.

If you have had a profound spiritual experience, IMERE invites you to contribute to research by submitting a questionnaire. There are some beautiful examples of mystical experience on their website. I recommend reports from astronaut Edgar Mitchell and Jane Goodall, famous for research into chimpanzees – both scientists, it should be noted!

I discovered the IMERE banner when I was hunting for information about brain states, but I got distracted because the image, and especially Einstein’s remarks, prompted me to write this blog.

A human being… experiences himself… as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness… Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature – Albert Einstein

The mission of all meditation teachers is to encourage everyone to experience a sense of connection – with the whole human family, with the whole planet, with the whole cosmos! As Einstein says, this is a collective task, to free ourselves from the mind manacles that keep us feeling separate from one another. He describes this feeling as an ‘optical delusion’.

Many people know the famous poem by John Donne that begins: no man is an island. Donne describes how we are part of the same landscape:

Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

He points out that the death of any other person diminishes us all, and closes with another famous line:

never send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.

Less well known is a bleak poem by Matthew Arnold, To Marguerite, in which the poet describes how we have lost our mystical connection. Arnold uses the identical image as Donne, of being an island –  with echoing straits between us thrown. He complains that we million mortals live alone. When we experience the beauty of the world, such as starry nights, springtime, the sound of the nightingales, we long for something we have lost – because surely, once we were parts of a single continent. He wonders why we should have this longing, but still be separated? Arnold’s poem ends on a bitter note: he complains that it must have been a god who made the rule that we should be separate beings, living as islands kept apart by the unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.

I was especially taken by Arnold’s description of the sea between the islands as unplumbed – so deep we cannot hope to fathom its depth. This mysterious sea makes us strangers to each other. But I don’t believe in a ‘god’ who wants to keep us separate. We can choose. Our consciousness is like a deep ocean, and we can explore its depths. We don’t have to be estranged.  We can experience different levels of our own inner landscape and discover the underlying contintent.

We do have a sense of being separate, individual people, with timelines from birth to death, and identities based on name, gender, familial relationships, tribe, nationhood, and so on. That separate ‘island’ of our being is what we mostly spend time living in. But, much deeper, if we take time to plumb the ocean of consciousness, we will get a sense of being part of a single continent. That continent is often experienced as a land of light, where we feeled loved, protected and reassured. I call this Divine Source.

Meditation is your gateway to the Land of Light, which is your birthright.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.

Related Posts

What – and where – is ‘the crystal sea’? And is it worth visiting?

Many ancient mystical texts describe visits to heavenly halls, where the floors or pavements are shining like crystal. The Victorian hymn which inspired the title of my novel, Across the Crystal Sea, tells us the songs of the ‘sinless’ will sweep across an ocean made of crystal. What can this ‘crystal’ experience be describing? The […]

Read More

The pineal gland – gateway to heaven

This is a very ancient image of an angel… not the oldest I’ve come across, but pretty old. It’s a carved relief from the palace of an Assyrian King, Sargon. Assyria is now Iraq. The reliefs were probably carved around 700 BCE, so nearly three thousand years ago, then discovered by Victorian archeologists, who collected […]

Read More

Leave a Reply

RSS Theolyn Cortens

  • How to live your unique destiny as monarch in all four Kingdoms Friday 13 April, 2018
    Here are some very simple steps that can transform your life. You can ‘upgrade’ from being a servant to being in charge! Meditation at least twice a day for twenty minutes. Meditation opens your connection to Divine Source, the infinite resource of spiritual energy – FIRE Define your Mission and set out your goals for […]
  • Bringing it all back home to the kingdom of Earth Wednesday 11 April, 2018
    The Earth element is the most dense, seemingly solid element. We tend to feel the three-dimensional world is fixed and settled but, like the other elements, Earth is living, growing and malleable. Everything is energy, some things vibrate more slowly than others and seem immoveable, but an advanced yogi can walk through a wall and […]
  • Comforting and sharing in the kingdom of Water Monday 9 April, 2018
    The kingdom of Water can soothe and nurture us, but it can also take our breath away and dampen our Fire. The human body is mostly made of water, which is an essential life-giving element, alongside the air we require for breathing. We are nourished by water and, when we step into a healing pool, […]