As some celebrated “independence” this week, I couldn’t help but think about my own evolution around that word. I have had the opportunity, over the course of my career as a psychotherapist, to work with many individuals who were struggling with their own loss of independence. They struggled with adjusting to the reality of their own inability to go where they wanted to go, do what they wanted to do, and the reliance on the care of others for their own wellbeing. Independence is a cherished idea that we so often forget until we are faced with the loss of it. Independence is also a concept that has given birth to rugged individualism and the “I should be able to do it myself with no one’s help” mentality. This is the angle I want to highlight. What if instead of holding independence as the pinnacle, we exalted the transformative and revolutionary idea of interdependence? The understanding that we are connected to one another, and that connection is woven into the very fabric of the Universe. We witness this reality in everything we see, the interconnectedness and reciprocal nature of everything.
Reciprocal nature, inter-being, interconnectedness, symbiotic, give and take….regardless of the language this concept is the foundation of everything, not the glorified idea of independence we have all been sold. (I know, it was quite a shock to me too.) Without this universal principle, we would not exist. The reciprocal nature of the Universe is the living and breathing movement of the creative process. We know that we are always creating, and when I say we I mean all living things, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This creation sets in motion all that we see, and yes, even those things we can’t see. We are connected to one another through this very process.
The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn called this connection inter-being. I can’t get the implication of that word out of my head. It cuts to the very core of what it means to be human, and so vividly explains how we are intertwined with one another. The very foundation of the universe is wrapped in the principle of reciprocity, this idea of interdependence and interbeing. This is more than an idea of give and take. It speaks to the power that I possess to create, and the power you possess to create. Our beliefs, thoughts, actions have power and are created in all that we see. But this creation does not occur in a vacuum. I do not create separate from you, or separate from all of life. Instead my creation is intertwined with everything. To understand the truth of this at its most basic level is to realize our responsibility to all things. Notice I didn’t say for all things, but to all things.
Understanding our inter-being creates an awareness that what I give to the universe impacts not only me, not only you, but all of us. Wow! When we can fully grasp this, not just in our brains, but our whole being, we can begin to understand the magnitude of our connection. We can begin to understand the power of creating a world where empathy, belonging and connection are the norm. Where the decisions in my life support justice, peace, love, equality in the lives of others. Reciprocity does not say “I am going to give so I can get….I am going to take because there may not be enough….you get to have this but only if you can prove your worth”. Instead the principle of reciprocity says when we all bring what we have to the table, everyone is fed.