Dissociation basically means detachment from reality. Also fragmentation of the self into compartments. It occurs to me that this is essentially our spiritual predicament. The wisdom traditions all talk in different ways about a fundamental confusion or error. They speak of us going off course and losing our true nature. The soul dissociates. We get stuck in a tiny fragment of identity and limitation.
A.H. Almaas has written extensively, and I do mean extensively, about how normal ego development results in a freaky division between our essence and our ego-self. In order to create a viable ego-self it is as though we have to give up abiding in our true nature. As Freud observed, as infants we externalize our experience, our world, our good, beginning with our mother’s breast and escalating from there. In order to survive, we lose track of our Beingness. Damn.
In the post-Cartesian modern world, where spirituality is marginalized and secularism rules the day, we have additional challenges. The point of life is no longer to discover, integrate, and express our authentic souls. Nowadays life is mostly about seeking external validation through achievement and status recognition. This doesn’t resolve our basic existential uneasiness, but it’s the strategy our culture has conditioned us to pursue in order to feel better. To maybe feel something approximating security or power. Unfortunately it doesn’t work terribly well.
Back when we had soulful cultures we handled the dissociation with stories and wisdom teachings to get us back on track. There was a deep understanding of the larger plot and that knowing was woven into culture. Like in this story about the Sufi Mullah Nasruddin:
A man is walking down the street and encounters Nasruddin, down on his hands and knees under a lamp post. “What are you doing?” he asks. Nasruddin explains that he has lost the key to his house. “Please, kind sir, will you help me look for it?” The man agrees and together they spend quite a long time groping around searching for the key. Finally, the man asks Nasruddin “are you sure you dropped it here?” And Nasruddin replies, “Oh no, I lost it somewhere in my house.” The man exclaims, “Then why are we wasting all this time searching out here in the street?” And Nasruddin answers, “Well, because this is where the lamp post is. There’s light out here and I can see where I’m looking.”
Go inside and turn the lights on.