My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found the first two-thirds of this book to be kind of a slog. There are some really insightful gems in there, but Eisenstein’s style is so incredibly wordy, I wasn’t sure it was worth it to keep reading. I kept going just because a dear friend said the book was awesome, and I wanted to get a sense of what she’d gotten out of it. With the chapter entitled “Righteousness” about 170 pages in (well beyond the point that I usually set a book down if it’s not doing it for me) the book really seemed to coalesce, and I started to get into it. It was still wordy, but it was either less so or the insights were profound enough for me that the wordiness no longer bothered me.
The basic premise is that the problems in the world are based on the fact that we operate within a Story of Separation, and that story isn’t firm reality; it’s just a story. As such, we can choose to live within a different story instead. Eisenstein offers the Story of Interbeing as the alternative, and goes on to enumerate the nature of the Story of Interbeing and the difficulties in moving from one story to the other.
What really struck me about this book is that I’ve been thinking about the myth of Separation myself for quite a while. Sometimes I’m more trapped in Separation and sometimes I feel almost completely immersed in the story of Oneness (as I think of it), but it’s always in my consciousness, pulling me towards it.
I think my first really profound experience of oneness happened when I was pregnant with my daughter and went in for my first ultrasound at 18 weeks. Rather than making me feel closer to my baby, seeing her as a separate being on the screen was incongruous with the feeling of oneness I had in myself. At the time, I described the experience of oneness as the sense that I was giving birth to the universe, and that experience couldn’t be contained within the boundaries of the video screen. Indeed, my entire experience within the medical model of birth was one of profound separation, with a few bright lights guiding me back to the oneness I felt (one of these lights was the incredible nurse we got during my labor, but that’s a story for another time).
I felt it again when I gave birth to my son at home, this feeling—this knowing—that I was a part of an eternity of creation and in that one moment, that eternity came through me. It’s difficult to explain, but since then, I’ve worked to recapture that feeling of oneness and belonging. I’ve studied Buddhist, Jewish, Taoist, Baha’i, Muslim, and Christian traditions, and the feeling of oneness is only heightened as I see similarities between each of these traditions. The more I see the oneness, the more I want it, and the more I seek it.
This book puts this experience of oneness in slightly different terms, like in terms of stories and power structures, and that resonates with me. So, I suppose I could say that I like the book because I already agree with it, which is true, but it’s also not the whole story. I don’t need validation of the way I see the world, but I do find it encouraging that someone else sees it the same way. I feel encouraged to continue trying each day to live the way I want to be and the way I want the world to be and to trust that by doing so, I’m doing what I can to change things.
It was even encouraging to see echoed what I’ve been noticing about the generation younger than mine, that there is an understanding, a passion, a fearlessness, and an acceptance that comes through in my in-person conversations with them and even in their exchanges on social media. It’s a pleasure to be around, and it leaves me feeling hopeful. My spouse and I have one friend in particular who is living his idealism in such an earnest way and engages with the world with such honest curiosity and interest that I love being around him because it makes me feel like my desire to live my ideals is less silly than I sometimes worry it is.
For me, this book wasn’t important so much for the content of the insights, but for the feeling it left me of being not alone in having these insights.