Friday, June 17, 2011


by Scott Bradley

I have spent a great deal of my life relatively alone. I say this as preamble, to let you know that what follows is rooted in my own psyche — I cannot speak for yours, though it may appear that I do.

It has always struck me how every human being is essentially alone within his or her own heart. How ever many friends or significant others one might have, no one can share that space. In this sense, we all live alone and die alone. This, it seems to me, is so fundamental to our reality that it has to inform our entire approach to life, should we wish to understand it and grow a way to most fulfill it.

Zhuangzi and his successors also seem to have given this a lot of thought. For him, the most natural way to live would be like the fish, "forgetting all about one another...transforming along our own courses [ways]" (6:25; B. Ziporyn)

But this is not without balance. Three guys came together and said, "Who can be together in their very not being together, do things for one another by not doing things for one another?... living their lives in mutual forgetfulness...and thus did they become friends." (6:45) It is not about being a recluse, but being sufficiently self-contained and self-realized that others are not simply a means of avoiding the task of knowing ourselves.

"The Spirit Man always hates the arrival of a crowd," writes another. "For where there is a crowd there is no togetherness." (Chap. 24) Simply being with others is not togetherness. Another tells us: "If you cannot accept and shelter others, you will have no intimates, and for one without intimates, everyone — including oneself — is a complete stranger." (Chap. 23)

Togetherness, intimacy, is a necessary part, apparently, of being whole in oneself. And yet, there can be no true intimacy unless one is also so comfortable within his own inviolable aloneness as to be capable of living with others in "mutual forgetfulness."

One must be free in order to freely commune with others.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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