What is the relationship between personal existence and surrounding environment, between self and world?
The self is born into a ‘world’ that is prior to, more extensive than, and the necessary ground from which an individual emerges—as a seed sprouts and grows, given fertile soil, water and sunlight.
Surely there is something greater than ourselves, even if we have difficulty identifying what it is and assigning qualities to it. We are part way there when we refrain from defining this greater reality as a substantial entity similar to the thousand things that populate the ‘world’ we inhabit. Since what we experience are things and concepts, which are defined in terms of our preoccupations, physical senses and the perspectives we bring to our experience, it seems a good idea to be skeptical that we can ever fully complete the jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are our concepts, beliefs and emotions.
The ‘greater whole” which we yearn to return to, like the ‘prodigal son’ returning to where he started, is a realm in which a self and its ‘world’ is an approximation that can never fully capture what is greater and vaster about this realm. That is because the strategy of beginning with an entity who feels separate and isolated from everything else and who only knows particular things, which it tries to combine into increasingly complex composites, is constantly setting up the oppositions which perpetuate a sense of being isolated.
It seems that a different approach is needed. And that is to begin with the greater whole, not with the opposed pair of self and world; then through wondering (and appreciation for our capacity to wonder and appreciate what we can’t fully understand), to invite this greater whole to come forth into our lives. And when we finally feel at home in a realm from which we have been straying, we may discover something surprising. We never have strayed and never could stray from what has made us and has guided us every step along the way.