My neighbors and I have an unspoken agreement.
An invisible line divides my lawn from theirs. Our houses are close enough that we can hear the music drifting over from the stereo next door (and they can almost certainly here the sounds of lovemaking coming from my bedroom, although they are too polite to say so), but we allow each other to come and go with only a wave and a smile. Maybe a neighborly “hello.”
We know each others names, at least. If we happen to be outside doing yard work at the same time, we might engage in some shallow conversation. But not for too long. And not too much eye contact. No invasive questions. We are to guard each others privacy at all costs.
These unspoken rules are observed more carefully than any law or legal contract.
I see something similar at the grocery store, the gas station, the coffee shop and other public locales. We might be standing in line mere inches from each other, yet we act oblivious. The person at the next table may as well be on another planet.
It’s like our whole society is engaged in a tedious and complicated dance, the steps of which vary between partners based on their familiarity with one another. Lovers, friends, family members, acquaintances, strangers; each level of relationship has a corresponding amount of psychic space associated with it.
We work hard to maintain these distances between us. It isn’t easy or natural—it’s often agonizing.
But the alternative is scarier still: to actually acknowledge that we are all One.
Sometimes I cherish this distance. Sometimes I withdraw into the innermost fortress of my mind, raise all the drawbridges and put a yawning chasm between me and the rest of the world.
Sometimes I want to violate all the treaties of polite society and come crashing into your inner life like a marauder.
Sometimes I stop pretending to be separate from everyone else, just for a little while.
Sometimes, just for fun, I like to give a total stranger my complete, unrelenting attention, and tear down the walls and battlements between us with a word, or a glance.
Sometimes I get really tired of following the script and I step out of character, let my guard down for a moment.
Sometimes that moment is all it takes for reality to come back into focus.
The distances between us vanish in an instant, and all of our most private thoughts run together like rivers into the ocean. The innocence of animals and little children shines forth from the depths of our eyes, radiant as 10,000 suns. The whole universe smiles.
Something frozen deep inside us softens, melts, and we dissolve into each other; a cosmic whirlpool of consciousness. It’s terrifying. It’s beautiful.
You should try it sometime.
(You can always put your mask back on again, if you want to.)
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Ed: Bryonie Wise