“There is a raying out of all orders of existence, an external emanation from the ineffable one. There is again a returning impulse, drawing all upwards and inwards towards the centre from whence all came.” — Plotinus
HUMANS YEARN TO UNITE. This compulsion manifests in many ways: physiological, as in a desire to return to our mother’s womb; sexual or personal, as in the desire to bond with a partner; ecstatic and mystical, as in enchanting interludes with heightened feelings and forms; evolutionary, as in a calling to evolve into a new “being;” cosmological, as in the impulse to return to the “centre from whence we came;” or spiritual, as in a desire to live eternally, go or return to embrace the source and point of being: for many, with God.
Of course, there are other ways to come together as humans or with the world(s) beyond us, some of which involve unique combinations of physiological, sexual, esthetic, evolutionary, cosmological, and spiritual dimensions. Remaining mindful of such overlaps is useful, even while investigating yearnings individually. Our desire for union and reunion are pervasive and seductive on many simultaneous levels.
American psychologist James Hillman speaks of this desire as follows:
“Loneliness presents the emotions of exile; the soul has not been able to fully grow down, and is wanting to return. To where? We do not know, for that place the myths and cosmologies say is gone from memory. But the imaginative yearning and the sadness attest to an exile from what the soul cannot express except as loneliness. All it can recall is a nostalgia of feeling and an imagination of yearning. And a condition of want beyond personal needs.”
This article considers ways that we respond to this pervasive yearning for union and what the desire to unite might have to do with our individual and collective destiny.
THE BIRTH EXPERIENCE
What a shock it must have been to leave our mother’s wet, warm, and comforting womb.
I suspect that it is just as well that most of us do not consciously recall that special and traumatic birth occasion. No doubt there was pain. At that fateful moment, rather than floating around and breathing effortlessly inside our mothers, we are on our own. Amidst the flurry of womb-evacuation, I doubt that we had the time, composure or capacity to consider the option of womb re-entry — breathing and crying were the order of the day.
Many believe that the notion of returning to inter-uterine pleasure is pervasive among humans. In his book The Search for the Beloved: A Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Pre-Natal Conditioning, British/American psychologist Nandor Fodor states, “The outstanding motive behind the desire to return into the womb is the attainment of happiness in the only perfect form we have known it.”
While returning to the womb is unlikely for most of us, enjoying warm, wet interludes in water is not out of reach.
When I was 3 years old, most every Friday night I shared warm baths with Jane, the daughter of the doctor who delivered me. While our parents enjoyed bourbon and canasta, Jane and I took pleasure in warm, natural, uncomplicated union. For me — I hope for Jane — those wet playtimes were magical. To this day those immersions conjure up memories (perhaps enhanced by my active imagination) of a delightful, embryonic stage of my life: I suppose of a glorious womb return, with the added pleasure of conscious enjoyment. I am fairly sure that those baths played a role in the writing of this article.
I am certainly not alone in finding watery interludes to be magical. Swimming, splashing, and diving in pools, lakes, rivers and ponds very often proves joyful for people and animals, as well. The popularity of emersions in hot tubs is often attributed to their therapeutic value for health conditions ranging from muscle pains to psychological tension. However, there may be more to it than that. When such tubs feature a massage component, some benefits may intensify and the added sensual component may transport tub-dwellers in lovely ways. The relaxation of body and mind — perhaps raised to a trance-state in some cases — may remind bathers, whether consciously or unconsciously, of their warm pre-emergent past in the womb.
And then there is the ocean: the vast womb from whence life emerged so long ago.
Henri Ellenberger, in The Discovery of the Unconscious, offers some insight into how the ocean serves as a goad to our sense of union.
“Water is the ancient symbol of the unconscious. The waves of its ocean break of the shore of our awareness. We can stand on the shore and gaze into the water, but all we can discern is surface conditions. We can’t fathom the depths from the shore. When we dive into the water we inhabit a different realm where our thought processes are different from those we used when standing on the shore. Here are the reveries from which creativity arises, the disjointed images and emotions of dream states, meditation, mysticism, and spiritual tranquility. It is in the substance of our unconscious ocean that we feel certainty, control, surety, a deep sense of knowing, not in the analytic chatter of the cognitive mind. When we pull ourselves out and stand again on the shore it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to express what happened to us in that other realm or what knowledge we have gained. But we definitely know, we feel, that we have gained something.”
Immersion — whether in the womb or another watery body — may be comforting. For those who do not fear such emersion, and some do, it is not about drowning but about re-entering and reviving in a peace-imbued environment. On some level it is no doubt a return, or perhaps escape, to the “good old days.” On the other hand, it may signal an anticipation of a future where we disperse into a different flow of reality. Becoming part of everything may involve a fascinating mix of dissolution (going away) and re-integration (coming back), both of which permit the enjoyment of a wider sphere of being.
After birth our bodies are mostly water, so a return to the same constitutes something of a homecoming. However, being wet isn’t everything, and a satisfying reunion may involve something more. In the Bible, Jesus says, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I say unto thee: ye must be born again.”
While watery emersion may engage profound connections with our past, present, and perhaps even future permutations, there are other spirited modes of expansion.
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