Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom. Show all posts

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Long Arc of Commitment

by Miki Kashtan

One of the challenges that many people must transcend along the way of integrating the radical freedom that living from within our needs spells is the temptation to ignore commitments we made at a certain point because of a more pressing and live need that arises in the moment. At a recent workshop, the difficult task of balancing spontaneity and intention came up. In the conversation that ensued we used a metaphor that helped us understand more fully both the challenge and what we can do about it.

Whenever we make a decision to do something to attend to a need or some needs, the metaphor goes, we are drawing an arc between the moment we are in and the completion of what the decision is about, ideally the fulfillment of those needs. If I decide to go to the market to get vegetables for dinner that arc is much shorter, and therefore closer to the ground, than the arc that would signify a decision to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in sociology. At any moment in time, any number of arcs are active at various places on the trajectory. I, the person who always decides what I do next, choose among the many of them which I will give my attention to. On the way to the market I encounter a friend I haven’t seen in years, and am faced with the choice of delaying the vegetables and the dinner they promise. While in graduate school I find myself impatient with the book I am reading for a seminar and I want to take a ride to the beach. Having decided that I want to dedicate my resources to supporting people working to transform the world, I am faced with an invitation to work with a corporation, at a time I am financially strapped.

What is it that helps me stay the course with the initial, longer arc, when the immediate needs keep arising? Is this even what I would want to do, in all circumstances? How do I discern fruitfully? “I am not a slave to my own decisions,” a friend said one day when he lit up a cigarette within days after deciding to quit. What does freedom really look like in those moments when an earlier decision that may no longer feel alive, relevant, or real, encounters an immediate call to our attention, another need that is born from within the flow and reality of the moment? It “feels”, often, freer to ignore the past decisions and only respond to what’s in the moment, one of the challenges that anyone who seriously applies themselves to the study of Nonviolent Communication learns sooner or later. Is that the real freedom, or is there another kind of freedom in being able to stay true to an earlier decision, to follow the arc of life inherent in the moment in which the commitment was made?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Freedom of Committing to a Path

by Miki Kashtan

In June, 1996, I had an epiphany. In a motel room in Indiana, the night before returning home from a solo camping trip in Michigan and Canada, I discovered how much I had lost in my life because of so fiercely protecting myself. Up until that day, bringing forth my vulnerable self was to be avoided at all costs, which kept me numb much of the time, disconnected from myself and from much of life. Alone in my room, I cried, I talked out loud, and I finally exclaimed to myself that I wanted to reclaim every last bit of my vulnerability, just like I had it as a child.

I have had other dramatic moments in my life, before and since; rare and precious experiences of life opening up, my heart expanding, my spirit soaring, defenses falling away. Things suddenly felt possible where previously I was stuck, clarity replaced muddled thinking, hope came in as despair was leaving. I’ve also had such moments since. Only very few of those peak experiences turned into actual life-changing events. This particular one was the beginning of a clear path, the centerpiece of my practice of living the principles of Nonviolent Communication. At the time, I didn’t know this. Today, more than 15 years later, it’s easier to see how things have unfolded and what has helped me turn this from singular moment to a path I’ve been following all these years.

When I teach or even when I write, people sometimes tell me they experience that kind of expansive inspiration. For them, just like for me, many of these moments remain just that. Because I believe that the times are calling on all of us to respond differently to life, I want to offer some support to those who want to sustain these extraordinary experiences and make them part of their daily living practice. Here are some tips:

Clear Vision: I wasn’t just frustrated with my numbness and disconnection. I actually saw and sensed what the alternative was. I felt in my entire body and soul the pull towards the life I wanted. A path has to go somewhere, not primarily away from somewhere. To this day, the beauty of the vision is compelling, and helps me, more often than not, to find the energy to melt the protection and expose my soft self when the old habit still grips me.

Small Steps: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said Lao Tsu in China in the 6th century BCE. I found this wisdom equally true of the spiritual life. At first, I was usually flooded and overwhelmed with the idea of becoming fully vulnerable again. I was so far from it, that imagining it to happen all at once was daunting and discouraging. For quite some time I didn’t make any progress, and then I stumbled on an insight that made it all possible. I realized that I cannot jump start vulnerability all in one step. I, for one, didn’t know what it would even look like. Instead, I discovered that many micro-choices take me closer to or further from openness. When someone asks me how I am, and assuming I trust the question to be genuine (sadly, that’s rarely the case in our culture at large), I get to choose how to respond. Which word I choose to express my inner state can be ever so slightly more or less vulnerable. If I keep making all the micro-choices in the direction of more vulnerability, then, with each iteration, I approximate my goal. I almost always have the strength to peel off one thin layer, even when I feel distressed and frightened. Conversely, although I have made huge strides in my quest, and I often reveal myself with ease in moments when others imagine it taking great courage, there are still times when jumping all at once is beyond me. With small steps, I also can feel and celebrate the micro-successes and build on that energy to continue.

Gentleness and Self-Acceptance: No path is going to have only success. In my experience, the long-term sustainability of a path depends on the level of gentleness we can bring to our “failures.” Being on a path requires enormous amounts of energy to walk directly into discomfort, to shift away from habit. Fighting with ourselves drains energy. Gentleness, on the other hand, creates internal harmony and allows inner energy to flow and be regenerated. Although by now I have very few instances when I am unable to release inner protection and reveal the soft self underneath, in earlier years this happened often. I don’t know what made it possible for me to accept myself to the degree that I did on those occasions. I do know that this acceptance has left my inner landscape truly gentle, a place for me to have a soft landing along the way.

The Freedom to be “Called-Back”: At some point along the way, I lost my interest in protecting myself. Whether by grace, effort, self-acceptance, or the power of vision, I came to full ownership of the path, completely free of any notion of “should” or “have to” about the vision. The most gratifying aspect of this inner alignment is my capacity to come back to the path when I fall off of it. Remaining at the level of vulnerability I now crave requires consciousness. Habit still remains. When I am not conscious, especially when my resilience is low and I feel helpless, I still stiffen up, protect, contract, and lose connection with myself or others. Even in those moments, my deep commitment means I can be called back to my path by anything that wakes me up and invites me to consciousness, even if it’s unpleasant. For example, I was once in a tough conversation with someone who then said: “You’re arguing with me, how about offering me empathy instead?” - and that statement was enough to bring me back and choose to respond empathically. I didn’t need to defend myself from the imaginary attack I could have read into that statement.

The ultimate goal, for me, of being on a path, any path, is to achieve inner freedom - to be able to live according to what my own values, needs, and goals are. I experience this freedom to choose from within, even in the face of a perceived “demand,” as an incredible aspect of what it means for me to be human, and a key reason I continue to be on a path.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Victory Wouldn't Be Enough - Notes about the Occupy Movement, Nov 11th

by Miki Kashtan

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring, and especially since the early days of the Occupy movement in the US, I have been following the wave of unrest that’s been sweeping the globe with great interest. I have visited the Oakland Occupation and participated in the general strike on Nov. 2nd. I have been writing about my amazement, my humility, and my concerns for some weeks. On the basis of all I have seen, heard, read, and felt, I continue to nurse some hope that this movement may be the beginning of transcending the legacy of separation and creating new social structures attentive to the needs of humans, other life forms, and the planet.

At the same time, if I imagine for a moment that the Occupy movement succeeds in replacing existing governments with some other form of governance, I am not so confident that the outcome will be what I most long for: a world that truly works for everyone.

I am fearful that the people who are now the 1% would be mistreated, shamed, incarcerated, or even executed. I am fearful that women will still have an equally challenging time having physical safety, full inclusion in decision-making, and the possibility of affecting the ways that decisions are made. I am fearful that racial and ethnic divides will continue to plague us, and that some people will continue to suffer poverty and human indignities. I am fearful that consumption will continue rampant and the march towards depletion of the earth’s resources will go on. I am even fearful that a new 1% will emerge, sooner or later, and what might be gained would be lost.

Prioritizing social transformation without attending to the ways in which all of us have internalized the very systems and habits of heart and mind that we aim to transform runs the risk of re-creating these systems and habits. From my reading of history, such lack of attention to the internal and relational realms has resulted in astonishing amounts of pain and suffering, sometimes for millions of people. On smaller scales, this lack of attention has meant that many social movements are plagued by vicious conflicts, resentment, cynicism, and despair even while doing inspiring and uplifting work.

I have a very strong desire for the Occupy movement to shift this historical pattern. One of the reasons I have such appreciation for Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. is precisely the depth of their understanding about the personal changes that were necessary to make the movement work. Gandhi put it in simple words: “The very first step in nonviolence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, loving kindness.” (Golden Treasury, p. 41.) Here are some beginning pointers to what this work might entail.

The Means and the Ends
I have never understood the logic of separating means and ends. If people are willing to use violence in order to bring about peace, how would they suddenly, after victory is achieved, know to shift into peaceful modes of operating? If leaders of some movements operate in an authoritarian manner, how would they suddenly know to step down and participate as equals in creating a society of peers? If men in a national liberation movement ask women to set their needs aside until victory is achieved, how would they suddenly be able to shift priorities upon victory? Although I don’t pretend to know everything that’s ever happened on this planet, I don’t know of any examples of a victory magically creating such changes.

I have much more trust in aligning the means and the ends. If we begin to live now the values we seek to bring about, and if we create, now, the relationships that we want to see everywhere, I have more trust that there will be a natural continuity into the world of our dreams, where everyone’s dignity and needs are valued, including those who have done harm. I like this image much more than the prospect of a victory over some enemy or another.

The Irreducible Significance of Vision
I have already written both about how I see so much of what the encampments signify to be a model, on a small scale, of some aspects of how we could structure our lives, and in that way being a lived vision. I want more than an implicit modeling of the future. I want all of us who sympathize with, support, or participate in the Occupy movement to be able to articulate what we stand for. A movement can not continue indefinitely when all that unites people is what they are against. Again, if suddenly the movement managed to get everyone currently in power to step down, in the absence of a clearly articulated vision, what would be put in place? I am hoping that every single one of us would dedicate energy and time to exploring this question, alone and in conversation with others: what do we truly care about? What is it that we want to create in the world? How would we structure social life to attend to everyone’s needs? How can we address the human needs of those who are currently in power?

Finding Freedom Beyond Rebellion
My experience of being at the general assembly in Oakland, of reading notes from and about such meetings, and of speaking with people who have facilitated general assembly meetings is very mixed. On the one hand I am in awe of the commitment to a democratic process that provides room for everyone to have a voice. On a number of occasions I have been amazed by the depth of considerations that have gone into different proposals and have appreciated greatly how a decision has been made. I have been moved, repeatedly, by many specific choices and policies that have been adopted.

On the other hand I hear facilitators say that they have been traumatized by the process. Some people have expressed fear about what would happen if they said or did some particular thing as a facilitator. Facilitators have been heckled. People who express certain minority positions have been silenced by others without facilitators managing to prevent that. Many people speak without regard for the process or for others’ experience. As an experienced facilitator, I have become used to being able to rely on a group to support the process and my own facilitation. I frankly don’t know how I would handle this level of chaos and insistence on no leadership.

Some months ago I wrote an entire piece about the alternative to submission or rebellion. Re-reading this piece now I see its relevance to this situation. When we rebel, we still operate under the terms of those in power. True autonomy, real freedom, involves making choices from within rather than in reaction to what happens outside of us. I very much hope that some participants in the movement who are on a spree of doing what they want because no one can tell them what to do will find sufficient grounding to know what they really want and find ways of going for it that are proactive and interdependent. Without deep engagement with self, without knowing what we want, without having sufficient calm to interact with others even in the face of differences and challenges, it will be exceedingly difficult to maintain the delicate balance of peace within the encampments. When exhausted people who’ve been at it for weeks at a time need to make decisions that are attentive to everyone and to interact with and even collaborate with people who are on drugs, or some that have sexually assaulted others or display extreme levels of rage, their capacity to choose from within and in line with their values is a vital asset.

Cultivating Empathy
For millennia, and especially in the last several hundred years, we have been raised to see ourselves as fundamentally at odds with each other, fighting for scarce resources in a hostile world. Although many spiritual traditions share a common teaching about the oneness of all life, our economic and social structures pit us against each other. We learn to come together against a common enemy, and know little about how to work side by side towards a shared purpose in the service of everyone. Unless we have consciously worked to transform this deeply ingrained habit, we are likely to polarize every time we experience any kind of conflict or disagreement.

Of all the inner resources that I see needed in these challenging times, none is more easily forgotten than the basic human faculty of empathy. Although people have a voice, no one is necessarily listening. When disagreements arise, separating ways of handling them are common in our society, and clearly appear within the movement as well. Anything ranging from debate to shaming and silencing has been known to happen. What would need to happen to support people in truly listening to each other across differences of tactics, preferences, or opinions?

Beyond the internal relationships within the movement, when it comes to the 1%, the level of us-them thinking is high. OccupyWallSt started with a slogan that tapped into a deep vein of meaning and ignited a rush of support and identification from many who are not necessarily participating. And yet, as time passes, I am more and more concerned about how the 1% are viewed. The level of anger, though I fully understand it given the decades and centuries of suffering, concerns me greatly. The only hope I see for a peaceful future lies in finding ways of embracing the humanity of all people. This is what restorative justice is about, which, on a national scale, can take the form of truth and reconciliation committees. Openness to the humanity of others is essential if we are to make something happen that’s not a repetition of all we know with different players.

Freeing Our Consciousness
Since I learned of Nonviolent Communication, I have been working steadily to free up my consciousness from the traps I have inherited. I relentlessly make the effort to remove from my language words that point to certain ways of thinking such as “should”, “can’t”, “have to”, “I don’t have time”, and all war metaphors. I make deliberate choices that are at odds with the addiction to convenience, an addiction whose pull I recognize within myself. I consciously choose to interact with people I don’t know so as to challenge the notion that anyone is a “stranger.” I reveal in public and even in writing aspects of my experience that are often tremendously vulnerable in part in order to affirm my continuity with others. I continually challenge myself to question anything that appears like accepting others’ deference to me because of the position of partial power in which I find myself. I regularly make a conscious attempt to understand people whose actions are incomprehensible to me to increase my capacity for empathy and my ability to hold needs with care. I walk directly towards emotional discomfort again and again so as to create true freedom in myself to live as I want.

Is this an act of social change? Absolutely not in and of itself. A commitment to inner work without a continued and singular focus on social transformation runs the risk of being adaptive to the ways of the world, as social structures have phenomenal power to persist despite significant personal awareness. I continue to engage in these and dozens of other practices, large and small, because it’s the only way I know to have some trust that another way is possible. Rather than waiting for some miraculous victory to begin to create some mysterious world whose contours I haven’t imagined, I want to know that I have done all I can, truly all I can, to move in the direction of my dreams in each and every moment, internally, and, with others, in the world.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Musings on Choice and Children

by Miki Kashtan

When I was twelve my family moved from Israel to Mexico for two years. This decision happened immediately following the first year in my young life, and one of the only times in my life overall, that I had a sense of belonging and acceptance in a group of peers. The decision was made by my parents without consulting with any of us: my seventeen-year-old sister, myself, or my younger sister who was then five. More than that: it was made against my vociferous opposition, which was so strong that I was semi-seriously contemplating jumping off the ship and swimming back to Israel.

Not only did my parents have the legal right to take me against my will. That right is enshrined in millennia of social norm. Would I have wanted my parents not to go to Mexico because I didn’t want to go? Not exactly. I would have wanted them to be open to considering not going as a possible outcome once all the needs were on the table. More than anything, I would have wanted them to hear and appreciate the horrible loss I was about to incur, to hear my plight and hold my needs alongside theirs. I would have wanted them to let me know, in full, their needs, their struggles, and their perspective that would lead them to want to go. I would have wanted to be invited into joint holding of all the needs and making the decision together. The experience of having no choice and no say in our lives, endemic and pervasive in almost all children’s lives, many women’s lives, still, around the world, and other groups with little access to resources is acutely painful and traumatic. I wish it on no one, not even people who have done acts of horror against others, and certainly not so many of us on a daily basis.
Giving Children Voice
In reading the above, a friend who is in the process of going back with her family to live in another country was deeply affected and decided to engage in dialogue with her eight-year-old about the decision. Let’s call them Janey and Sam. When she first brought up the topic of going back there, they started to tell her all the things they liked and didn’t like about their experience there. Then she had the following dialogue with Sam:
Janey: After thinking about all of that, would you be willing to go back?
Sam: Do I have a choice?
Janey: If you really didn’t want to go, and since I really do want to go, it might be hard to figure out what to do.
Sam: (after some more conversation): Sure, I'll go.
Janey: (some time later): What if I told you that you and your brother could make the decision about whether we go or not--whatever you say, we'll do. What would you say then?
Sam: I would say yes to going.
Janey: Why?
Sam: Because you're giving me a choice and I don't like to be told what to do.
Children, like the rest of us human beings, want to be able to participate in decisions that affect them. Yes, we tell ourselves that they can’t, they don’t know enough, they can’t be trusted. The very same kinds of arguments that were used in the past to justify denying choice to women, or to blacks, or other groups. Although we are far from full participation of any such group, as I painfully know as a woman, the established norm is one of equal rights under the law. When it comes to children, however, there isn’t even a lip service commitment to equality. Children are still fully “owned” by their parents, and it’s acceptable and customary to restrict their movement, punish them at will, including physically, and make decisions that affect them dramatically without consulting with them first. The only group of humans still held in this way.
This is an extremely tall order. How can any parent in our society, even if they wholeheartedly embrace the full participation of their children, find enough inner capacity to navigate it all and in addition learn how to do it in partnership with children? If we are to create a world in which children experience choice, we would need to restructure life in major ways so that the responsibility doesn’t fall only on the one or two parents to respond to the needs of their children. I think about this a lot, and anticipate coming back to write about this topic more.
Choice and Options
Except in contexts where parents can physically force younger ones to go somewhere, most of the daily experience of life revolves more around attempting to control children’s behavior. Often I hear parents talk about giving or not giving their children choice in certain matters. Just today, for example, at a training I did, I heard one woman talk about her struggle with her 15-year-old who, in her words, “has to be home by 4pm” and who hasn’t been home by 4pm on most days in the last month. This young man was clearly exercising choice every day: the simple choice of whether or not to do what his mother said he “had” to do. It is completely within his power to make the choice not to come home by 4pm, as he has demonstrated repeatedly.
There is nothing anyone can do to take away or give choice to another. Even when physically forced, we still have inner choice in how we respond to a situation. Even when a parent tells a child to go to their room, the child is still choosing whether or not to do so. The power to “make” the child do anything does not exist except when the parent can exercise physical force of some kind.
Do parents have power in relation to their children’s choices? Absolutely! They have the power to restrict their children’s access to resources, and in this way limit their options. They also have another power that is at the heart of why it appears that we can make children, or other people, do what we want: parents have the power to deliver consequences for their children’s actions, backed up by legal and societal norms for doing so. This is no small matter, and every child knows that.
The question I am left with is not whether or not we give children choice. They have it. The question for me is what we can do to support them in making choices that will nourish their lives and their ability to be thoughtful, active, caring participants in life, now and for the rest of their living days. I doubt that having them make choices based on fear of punishment is going to give them the inner strength and clarity of purpose necessary for making wise choices. I have faith in human beings, and I fiercely believe that showing children care and interest in their needs, and presenting clearly what parents need, is a breeding ground of empathic and courageous human beings who can make choices based on their deepest understanding of their own and others’ needs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Expressing Our Pain without Blame

by Miki Kashtan


Nina (not her real name) was beside herself with anguish. For months she was convinced that Simon’s (another fictitious name) relationship with his ex-girlfriend still had unfinished business. He acknowledged it, and they talked about it again and again, without any relief in sight. He was responding defensively instead of being able to hear her pain, and they spiraled, repeatedly, to the verge of a breakup neither of them wanted.
When Nina asked for my support in how to navigate this situation, I invited her to take full responsibility for her reactions as an opportunity to grow and stretch in an area of pain. This doesn't mean she won't have pain. It only means that when the pain arises she can choose to own it and be with it rather than attempt to manage it by asking Simon to be or do something different.
This is a deep practice, and one that I imagine can be very liberating for Nina. It's about pulling back, again and again, from blaming and judging and trying to make things different from what they are. It’s about cultivating acceptance of life, Simon, and herself, and stretching and stretching to embrace at one and the same time the reality of love and care between the two of them alongside the radical uncertainty of the future.
This practice is one of several core spiritual challenges that we face as human beings. When someone else’s actions, especially someone close to us, don’t line up with what we most want, we tend to hold that person accountable for our pain. We have been trained to believe that whenever we are in pain someone else is responsible, even at fault. When we then attempt to talk with that person about our pain, they become defensive in response to our blame, and we effectively ensure they can’t hear us.
When we are able to take full responsibility for our pain, to see it as our own, as arising from what we tell ourselves and not from someone else’s actions, the other person often has much more space to hear our reactions. Simon would be able to hear Nina when she takes responsibility, because her reactions will then be about her and her process of learning and stretching rather than veiled accusations and attempts to make things different. As I pointed out to Nina, the reality is that Simon is choosing her, and choosing her, and choosing her, again and again. I saw more solidity in the relationship than she experienced, despite Simon’s continued connection with his ex.
I supported Nina in seeing that her pain in relation to the way he maintains relationships with former lovers is likely to continue. The stretch I invited her to make, and that I invite all of us to make, repeatedly, any time we experience tremendous pain in relation to another’s actions, is to resist the temptation to go into right/wrong thinking about the pain. Instead, I suggested that she could surrender to being with the tenderness of the pain. This is not to say that she was going to like Simon’s actions. It only means not blaming him.
To my delight, Nina accepted my invitation wholeheartedly. She understood that being able to maintain inner peace when her needs are not satisfied is a source of tremendous freedom. She connected deeply with her longing for security, for the kind of love she wanted as a child, for the comfort of knowing she is wanted. She allowed herself to grieve what had happened to her in the past, and felt stronger as she approached a weekend away with Simon.
A few days later I received an email from her. She and Simon weathered another storm with much more grace. One more time Simon acted in ways that clearly indicated that his ex-girlfriend was still on his mind. Nina was able to stay very present with herself.  As in the past, she experienced a lot of hurt. This time, however, she didn’t skip over the pain into anger or separation. Instead, she was able to open her heart and stay present with herself until the pain eventually dissolved. As we had both anticipated, Simon was then able to offer his full presence and very deep empathy. Nina was celebrating that she felt no blame and Simon didn’t get defensive.
Over time, as they continue in this more open approach, Nina will likely come to the present moment and its meaning rather than reacting to residual hurt from her past. She will likely become more resilient on account of finding ways to express, fully, what’s important to her without blaming. Simon, on the other hand, will likely develop more and more capacity to hear from Nina without disappearing or getting angry. He can then find his own opportunities to learn and grow. He can make deeper sense of his choices, increase his ability to see the effect of his actions, and find freedom to show up as he wants. Just as much as we can interlock our pain with other people, we can also intertwine our freedom.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Redefining Independence

by Miki Kashtan

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, a national holiday of independence in the USA. I am drawn to reflecting on the topic, and especially how it plays out in the North American culture within which I live and work. Independence is one of the highest values in this culture. Its two interweaving strands of meaning appear as a rejection of dependence, of being in need of others, at their mercy. Both interfere with conscious interdependence, the practice of collaborating with others to create outcomes that work for more and more people.

Moving toward Inner Freedom
One strand of meaning is about the freedom to make choices without having to consult with others. I often see this showing up as a somewhat rebellious stance: “You can’t tell me what to do.” I have had this particular experience enough to recognize that it comes with some kind of satisfaction, some sense that I am standing up for myself. I can so understand the appeal of this response.

This widespread experience has far-reaching consequences for our ability to create a livable future. For a prime example, our material possessions are a sacrosanct institution. We are given the right to dispose of the resources we own as we see fit. This idea is part of the core allure of the modern commodity-based economy, despite all the hardships so many of us experience. We have the carrot of believing that if we accumulate enough resources than no one can tell us what to do. This is the consolation prize for the separation, scarcity, and powerlessness that we experience so often.

This makes it exceedingly difficult to engage with others and make collaborative decisions. When we have few resources, we struggle to imagine that we have a say. We either give up without even trying and feel defeated, or we stand up defiant and forget about the humanity of others and lose our capacity to engage with them productively. When we do have access to resources, we hold on to the option of making all the decisions about our own actions, and struggle to maintain a sense of care for and interest in others who may not have as many resources.

Most of us were mostly told what to do when we were growing up. It’s still an exceptionally rare family in which children are seen as partners. As adults we still lack models for how we can engage with others in ways that completely honor our autonomy. Including others in our decisions appears more like asking for permission than anything that could possibly benefit us. Our sense of freedom is guarded tightly against infringement.

True inner freedom is closer to the original meaning of autonomy – living by one’s own laws. There is nothing reactive, defiant, resistant, or defensive about it. Instead, it comes calmly and softly from within, giving us more resilience when engaging with others. The word for independence in Hebrew, my first and beloved language, speaks to this kind of freedom. Its root is the same as the root for self.

Questioning Self-Sufficiency
Independence is also understood as the idea of living without being in need of others. So many people go to great lengths, even to harming themselves (e.g. by carrying weight that’s too heavy for their bodies) just to ensure they don’t ask for help. Countless times I have been in situations where I offered help to people, especially parents of small children who were struggling to get their shopping done, and have invariably been politely declined. This message is internalized deeply and passed on even when questioned. Its persistence interferes with opening up to receiving support, to reaching out, to knowing that we matter enough to get our needs met.

Ironically, our way of living has actually made us less and less self-reliant, less able to create the resources we need to survive and thrive, as individuals and communities, even as we strive for more and more self-sufficiency. Fewer and fewer of us know how to grow the food we eat, make the clothes we wear, build the houses we live in, or find water anywhere other than in the pipe.

On the material plane we render our dependence invisible through the medium of money. Collectively, we uphold the illusion that if we have enough money we don’t depend on anyone, when in fact we use money to pay for what we don’t do on our own, and irreducibly relying on others, not just ourselves, for surviving. We also pretend that we don’t have an effect on others, with the collective result of operating, in the US, without any sense that we matter, and living reckless lives without much concern for the cost to others and nature.

On the emotional plane we pretend to be OK even when we are not, and maintain a stiff upper lip. The result is living in profound isolation which results in stress, illness, and high rates of depression.

When we can recognize and acknowledge our dependence we can become truly self-responsible. On the material plane this would mean finding self-reliance by recognizing the cost to others and the planet and finding ways to live within our local means. On the emotional plane this would mean learning to understand and accept our needs and asking for what we want while being in dialogue with others to get our needs met in ways that work for them, too.

Cultivating Interdependence
It is no wonder, given these persistent versions of independence, that cultivating awareness of our interdependence is one of the biggest challenges that we could present to the modern sensibility of industrialized countries.

For as long as our sense of freedom and choice depends on rejecting what comes from the outside, the delicate negotiations necessary for making things work for more and more people remain beyond reach. For as long as dependence on others is seen as weakness and failure, the necessary learning about sharing resources appears as taking something away from us rather than providing us access to more.

What is needed is nothing short of embracing our individual and collective capacity to make choice in tandem with others and the willingness to own our fundamental dependence on others. We need enormous strength and perseverance as we work to transcend the insidious message of separation we have inherited. Then we can finally band together, reach out for support, form communities, and create the conditions for all of our thriving.