Identity is usually considered to be a personal thing: who am I– as a person? - as an individual?
Who am I? often gets answered in contrast with who are you? We tend to identify ourselves as essentially separate and different from others.
Not everyone, however, comes to self-knowledge with this assumption – that distinct and autonomous personhood is the defining feature of identity. Many believe, instead, that they and everything else around them is part of one fundamental entity or process. They feel an essential connection with all people, animals and nature, manifestations of the same underlying substance.
A belief in oneness has psychological implications, as a recent study out of Duke University demonstrates (Diebels & Leary, 2019). Those participants who believed in oneness were found to value benevolence and universalism more than those who did not believe in oneness. Perhaps this is not surprising – that identifying as allis correlated with an increased concern for the welfare of all, not just for the people one has immediate contact with.
Oneness beliefs were found to be associated with more spiritual themes as opposed to theistic religious views, such as an overall connection with nature and humanity. Believers in oneness tended to have more mystical experiences (such as losing the sense of having a separate self) than non-believers. Other research has found that an extended sense of connection with all of humankind and the natural world promotes concern about the environment, something the planet could use right now.
Interestingly, the study also found that belief in oneness does not diminish one’s self-interest. Self-absorption or selfish attitudes are just as likely among those believing in oneness as among those who do not. Apparently, a person can still function quite well as an individual and advocate for their wants and needs even when believing their true nature to be one with all creation!
And so, perhaps, we can have our cake and eat it too with enough to share with everyone else. That is, we can live both identities as non-competitive, simultaneous truths: being both one and Oneness.