My good friend Giles Hutchins received worldwide critical acclaim for his first book The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience which articulated a new paradigm for businesses seeking to operate sustainably in a volatile and interconnected world.
It seems a long time ago now when Giles sent me his proposal for a new book he was planning, which at the time remained untitled, and for which he was looking for feedback and commentary. Over the following months myself and a few other friends and colleagues would receive a new chapter to review, and so I had the great pleasure for the first time of seeing Giles’ thoughts mature, evolve and reach their final expression into what became The Illusion of Separation, in which we are taken on a deep walk back in time through the history of human thought and consciousness, to find the roots of a world view that has instilled in us an artificial reality which imprisons us in our minds. Then with equal clarity and vision we are shown a pathway for the future.
Giles’ aim is to lead us back into a mindful and participatory level of awareness, opening up both our receptiveness to nature and empathy to others. He does so through a wide-ranging narrative of humanity which combines and integrates perspectives from quantum theory, ecology, phenomenology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, indigenous wisdom and spirituality.
At the heart of The Illusion of Separation is the thesis that rather than the Western paradigm being the grand solution to all our problems – economic, social and ecological – its very nature is actually fuelling the multiple crises we find ourselves in. The way in which we frame our experiences leads us to construct “logical boundaries to help our understanding, and yet in the process we close ourselves off from truly making sense. We create an illusion of separation that then deludes and imprisons us.”
The book’s narrative is divided into three clear parts – firstly, a look at the way in which we are currently living within the illusion, secondly, the thinning of the veil, in which new ways of relating to, and understanding nature are explored, and finally in part three, a vision of a new way of embracing life, in which we complete the journey of self-realisation, breaking the illusion and repairing “our estranged relation with ourselves, each other and Nature”.
Part One starts with a short analysis of modern consumerism, where “hollow whims taken from focus group research are then magnified through sophisticated public relations, advertising and marketing media.” Hence consumerism is the first aspect of the illusion, which plays up to and satisfies “our fickle desires of the egotistic self.”
Giles’ tour of human consciousness through the rest of Part One is at first disconcerting, being a backwards narrative through time, starting with Gregory Bateson’s critiques of Darwinian evolution, the emergence of dualism following the Enlightenment and back to the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato and then the Presocratics, for instance Pythagoras for whom “Nature was imbued with the unfolding patterns and processes of the Divine.”
The disconcertment comes with the mirror Giles holds up for us to see ourselves and how we currently participate in and with nature. His insights are combined with an exploration of the scientific and philosophical theories of Owen Barfield, Steve Taylor and Iain McGilchrist which Giles draws together in his analysis of ‘ego-consciousness’ which “sees the ‘I’ as separate and in fearful competition with others and life, breeding a self-fulfilling and self-deluding anxiety of over-analysis based on a detached, abstract view of reality.”
The ‘illusion of separation’ can therefore be understood as a fall from grace, resulting in what Taylor termed the ‘Ego Explosion’. In understanding the fall, we are shown the path back into what Giles describes as ‘participatory consciousness’, an ecological consciousness in which “we perceive the aliveness of the interrelating way of Nature, which in turn allows for a sense of reverence for all of life.”
Part Two explores Nature’s ways of relating, quantum theories and many different Western schools of thought such as phenomenology, panpsychism, panentheism and pantheism which can help lead us to the insight that rather than our bodies being disembodied, as they are in Cartesian philosophy, our bodies are “resonating within a flux of interrelations. We are engaged within a continual dialogue of sensing and responding through the semi-permeability of ourselves with each other: intuiting, sensing and rationalising through our interactions.”
In constructing a new paradigm which brings us out of the separation of illusion, Giles applies the work of Alan Rayner, a British scientist whose theory of Natural Inclusion is a revolutionary way of perceiving reality:
We start to intuitively feel and perceive the world as it really is – spatially and dynamically continuous – rather than numbed by our own abstraction. This helps us shift from a purely self-centred, power-hungry, manipulative, ego-centric engagement with our world to a more empathic embodiment of our world. Our disposition becomes one of care rather than of control.
For me, the great insight from the concluding chapters is the way in which the solution to the illusion of separation lies in the way in which we attend to reality. This insight, as Giles acknowledges, can also be found in the work of Owen Barfield, who had the ambition of setting us free from our current ways of knowing the world, the phenomenological philosophy of Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and also Goethe’s ‘active seeing’, a receptive and phenomenological way of perceiving the aliveness of Nature, leading to a more direct experience of love:
As we allow for our receptivity to deepen with trust, we may begin to feel more engagement with all that we attend to. We may start to learn to love life through our unadulterated, direct experience of it. The realisation that we are co-creative participants in this enchanting synchronistic dance of life starts to dawn on us. As we open up to our true nature, our creative potential flows freer, allowing for an even greater intensity of beauty, wisdom and synchronicity to be revealed. This in turn heightens our responsiveness which is vital to any creative interaction; it is our authentic response to our engagement with life.
Giles is explicit in acknowledging the ambition of his work, which although focusing on the Western paradigm, fully embraces indigenous knowledge and Eastern spirituality. The Illusion of Separation is a richly evocative journey which teaches us how we can rediscover our humanity, and become inspirational leaders and authentic co-creators.
To see more information about The Illusion of Separation and read the opening pages please see the book’s page at Floris Books. And below is a video of Giles discussing The Illusion of Separation.