Every time I have read about spirituality, and usually when I am reading anything vaguely self-help-y, and sometimes when I am trawling through the Internet, there is a message that keeps coming back. That we are one. All of life, all of the Universe is, or is part of, the same organism, essence, energy.
I’m not too interested in debating or justifying this though I’ll happily discuss it, and often do, when someone is willing to engage with the idea. But without any religion, I have always believed that somehow we are all connected. I don’t know why, and I can’t really explain it. I don’t need to.
One of my best friends believes that we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, the same spirit of her God; my other best friend is an atheist, but does believes that we each have a soul, or spirit of some kind, and that we are connected to each other through mutual dependence and a moral responsibility to each other, simply by being alive and in proximity.
I’m not sure I can describe my experience of ‘oneness’, other than to say that at times I feel a connection, an emotional mirroring, and a rush and pull so visceral that it’s frightening, as though the soul I haven’t yet decided whether or not I have is being clamped and dragged from my body. I often shut that feeling down, especially since this happens most often when I am faced with the pain of others. Pain I’d rather not feel with no power to act on it, that’s not mine to fully grasp anyway, that’s distorted and egged on by my imagination and my adrenal glands.
This oneness, connection, is both physical and mental. My partner believes that those two things are one and the same. Billions of us believe billions of things; and thus, we are all potentially as different, and potentially as similar, as we can be. Our consciousness, and the oneness, are Schroedinger’s Cats.
Last Sunday, I arrived to see my friend Sara perform at #SanctumBristol (a 24/7, 20-day performance space for residents of the city to use, built by US artist Theaster Gates and run by Bristol public art company Situations.). For an hour, every single day, throughout the entirety of the installation, she has been singing, in Arabic, a call to prayer. Sara wrote the translation of her prayer on the chalkboard for us, and asked everyone to face the back right-hand corner of the structure; in the direction of Iran, her country of heritage. The chalkboard read:
The Oneness is the Greatest
I testify that there is no God greater than the Oneness
Come to Sanctuary
Come to prayer
There is no God greater than the Oneness.
It was bright and early in the morning. There was cold wintery sunlight eking everywhere and showing us everything it possibly could. I sat in the newest and most beautiful structure in my city, holding a hot cup of tea, sheltered from the damp outside and swaddled in a large scarf, and felt lucky and happy. I listened to Sara’s strong and worn voice, a vocal offering of connection with the Oneness; with anyone who cared to listen; with anyone who happened to turn up that morning; with Iran; with you; with me. As she began and continued to sing I felt a rush, an impact. A connection with so much and so many that overwhelmed me in its torrent – but for a second, an instant. A collision of whatever that fist inside my chest is that punches up and out and forces me to breathe deeper than before and open my eyes with the hope of seeing something. I see nothing out of the ordinary, simply what was there the second before, and the second before that, but I feel so many tiny fingers and roots and cracks of life surging in one single snap through every neuron and each bronchi. Between my consciousness and others’ spirits must be so much recognition, so much obscurity and all at once and altogether and if only we could have it. Hold it. And actually know each other. In all our generosity. In all our violence. In all our carefree and carelessness.
The connections, the Oneness, was, as always, too quick for me to comprehend. As I faced the feelings of fear that gathered from my seat and crowned over my head I breathed and listened to the river of Sara’s voice. So much possibility and so much pain, so much potential for downfall and excitement and creation and admission and revelation, and the only limitation that will exist will be the boundaries that I put up, as healthy as they are, to fend off the onslaught of life. It was terrifying, exhilarating and I felt the luck and the happiness and the nausea and the hatred and the absolute bewilderment and everything else contained in my life so far, to the fullest.
I’d never felt lucky or happy until recently. As I’ve grown I’ve stood and faced the Oneness whenever I could, but most often it’s thrown me to the ground, and I’ve knelt, head bowed, pleading, tempering myself and waiting sheepishly while it ticks, silently, potentially sinister. But whilst there, with a good view of the foundations beneath me I’ve gathered my blessings, my connections, my feet and my sight and I’ve waited again. And each time stood to face the Oneness. And last Sunday I sat and soaked up Sara’s singing it to me.
In the last week, the week that followed, were several more terrorist attacks that have become so frequent that they only really rock us if just across the way. More people lost their children, the loves of their lives, the people who cared for them, the people who provided them with their lifelines. Sara texted to ask that we be with her as she carried on, for an hour, every day, performing, rejoicing, calling for us to be One. Asking that we connect with her, as she continued her connection, while life once again seems to repudiate, abandon, and rip our fragile togetherness away from us.
Billions of us believe billions of things. We are all potentially as different and potentially as similar as we can be. Be aware of yourself as a perpetrator. Are you responding, or maintaining our global supply of revenge?
I don’t know what the Oneness is. I only know that we are together, and there is no choice other than to be together. What a threat, what an opportunity. I am thankful that on a Sunday morning I no longer hide under soft duvet barricades, and useless chemical clouds, but rise to connect with a friend, to hear a city, to seek the Oneness.
Come to Sanctuary. There is no God greater than the Oneness. The Oneness is the greatest.
I wrote this for my Sanctum performance on Mon 16th November 2015. I managed to get a slot directly after Sara – it was a wonderful experience. Many thanks to Situations for having me.