Addiction to Separation: The State of the World and the Story of the Future

Matthew S. Goodman, Ph.D.
8 min readOct 19, 2022




I believe we are being called into a new story of being, and the chaos of the world is our invitation into this new chapter.

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For millennia we have lived under the story of separation. This is a story that emerged tens of thousands (or perhaps hundreds of thousands) of years ago, but has undoubtedly accelerated since the advents of agriculture, manufacturing, science, and other forms of technology.

When I say “story,” I don’t mean a myth that our minds make up; it is in fact the opposite. We are made of myths; they tell us. Our consciousness is built on stories, and these stories dictate the way we perceive the world and behave in it.

The story of separation filters out the recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependence. It explains that we’re individuals, and sometimes groups (e.g., political parties, nations, allied nations) — but it essentially stops there. The story of separation fails to account for the interconnectedness of all human beings, and of human beings to the natural world. This is what I think we’re being call to. And the suffering and destruction we see in the world today is a co-creation and invitation into that new way of being.


We are, of course, separate. It’s not accurate to say that my body is not literally merged with yours, nor am I literally fused with the keyboard I am typing on, nor the living room I am standing in, nor “all the beauty and oneness” surrounding me. A complex system contains parts and each part, in a narrow context, stands on its own. But if we expand our perception to include broader contexts, we can see how parts are more than just isolated parts. Nobody would deny, for example, that the individual cells and organs in our body are not part of a greater whole (i.e., you).

Wisdom traditions have taught us about our interconnectedness and interdependence for ages. Science is even beginning to catch up to this. But making that transition in our consciousness — in our collective story — is a more gradual and painful process. Perhaps the new story to emerge for humanity — the next chapter of our consciousness — will see the world through the lens of connection.

The story of connection and unity does not necessarily mean that we universally agree on values, principles, or policies. It doesn’t have to look like a single political party, or one world government, or anything like that. The story of unity can maintain and even celebrate differences and distinctions, while still recognizing our inevitable interconnection and interdependence. This allows us to bridge unhelpful divides, extend more compassion, and create a world with less suffering. The cells of an organism can maintain their distinct communities, borders, and functions — they can be separate — but ultimately recognize their connectedness and purpose to serve a higher whole. The same is true for the world.

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Birthing such a new story is an initiatory and sacrificial act that involves immense pangs and perils — the psychological equivalence, perhaps, to birthing a child. In childbirth the mother risks sacrificing herself for new life. She is initiated into a new role: once a separate and autonomous being, she is now inextricably connected to this new being. A psychological birthing process of new collective consciousness is no less painful and perilous. We risk giving up our old “selves” and human ways of being, and encounter much suffering (and possibly destruction) along the way.

The birthing process of a new story is not an easy one. Yet it is necessary — our evolution and survival depend on it. We have to figure out how to get from “here” to “there,” ideally with the least amount of suffering possible. The world helps on this path by giving us symptoms; the world points us in the direction of “go here” and “not there” through the feedback of suffering.

Symptoms as Gifts

Just as an individual evolves on his or her spiritual path through symptoms — through suffering — so, too, does the world. We are invited to discover our interconnectedness as individuals and as a collective as we grow. The growing pains help get us there.

But when we ignore symptoms or are unable to utilize them for growth, we invite more suffering to leverage the motivation for change. We heighten the symptom so that we can eventually reach our destination. What does this mean?

We have all had times in our lives when we continue creating suffering for ourselves — even if unconsciously. Consider the case of addiction. We are all addicted to something. We might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, shopping, love, or gambling. Really, what we’re addicted to is the feeling underneath those things. This is the feeling of feeling safe — safe from emotional pain and safe from the unknown (i.e., being in control).

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Many addicts will say that before they could break their addiction, they had to “hit rock bottom.” This means going in the direction of more suffering and destruction, versus less. Why would this be the case? Why would we have to create more destruction in order to change?

Somewhere deep in our psyches, we know that we need suffering to change. So if the status quo of suffering is not doing the job, than what shall we do? On the surface, it may look like the addict who is spiraling into descent is doing the opposite of trying to change; it looks like they only want destruction, not change. Yet I believe there is a deeper intelligence behind these actions. We know that chaos invites new order, and if the current chaos in our lives is not sufficient to produce this new order, then, well, we must create more chaos. This is the only way to motivate us enough to change.

I don’t think the world is any different. In the context of our collective consciousness, I think we are being invited into a greater state of compassion and recognition of our common humanity. We are being asked to change. The symptoms are invitations to do so. However, when we don’t respond to them… what to do? We are forced to unconsciously co-create more symptoms.

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COVID as an Attempted Awakening

COVID was one way, perhaps, that the world tried strip away the story of separation so that we can re-discover our unity. I think we caught a glimpse of this possibility at the beginning of the pandemic. At the dawn of the symptom, there was a collective sense of unity and hope. It was as if the world was saying, here… would you like to use this to wake you up?

Yet our sense of unity; our awareness of the possibilities for a new story; and our resolve to uphold that new narrative, faded with time. We increasingly began clinging to old ways of being. As this happened, symptoms heightened: greater divisions among us formed over policies, politics, and the perception of any sort of shared humanity — we are now flirting with the fantasy of civil war in the U.S. — serving to heighten the story of separation. Why? Why would we move in the direction of greater separation if our destiny is unity?

Knowing our destiny deep in our hearts, we know the only way to create profound change is to manifest enough suffering to actually make that shift.

That is what I believe is happening in our world right now. I believe we are unconsciously co-creating more suffering because somewhere in our souls — deep in the soul of the world — we know that we need to evolve. This is scary. And hard. And not always a linear process. Deep down we all know where we want to go, but we are all struggling to get there.

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Toward a Rock Bottom of Evolution

Currently, I see humanity gravitating towards the “rock bottom” approach to change. It is my belief that the eruption of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is not a coincidence of timing; the fact that it comes on the heels of a global pandemic says that, somewhere in the recesses of the human collective psyche, we are all conspiring to bring more suffering to the world. Could we not foresee the consequences of an escalation between Ukraine (which is, essentially, the West) and Russia? People are dying, economies are tanking, and we’re facing the possibility of mass famine. Increasingly, people seem to be even warming up to the idea World War III. Did we truly not foresee (somewhere deep in our psyche) such catastrophe occurring by engaging in this conflict?

Perhaps you are thinking, “But isn’t this simply Putin’s fault? How could you blame this on other actors in the world?” At the risk of getting too political or controversial, I will say that I believe there was provocation — perhaps unconsciously — on behalf of the West that could have easily been avoided or scaled back. But it goes beyond that: I believe the whole world is in fact co-conspiring to create more chaos. Why? Because we are addicted to suffering. And why are we addicted to suffering? Because we want to wake up.

We are being invited to transition from the story of separation to the story of connection. This is a painful process. If the symptoms of the world are not enough, as they present themselves to us today, to guide us in that direction… then what to do?

We can’t stop the world’s inherent urge to wake up. It is her destiny. We are called to fulfill it. Until we see our interconnection and common humanity, we will continue co-creating more chaos in service of her — our — awakening. Let us wake up as quickly as possible.

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Matthew S. Goodman, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist. Clinical Assistant Professor @ USC. Founder/CEO of The Middle Way. Writing at the intersection of psychology, spirituality, and society.