Updated: Dec 3, 2020
As we experience freedom growing within us through meditation, we naturally start to relate to others differently. Our awareness expands to see more ways to act, and we start new chain reactions that ripple through our family, friends and community. We start to move beyond old patterns of thought and action that trapped us and others within their grasp. Meditation allows us to choose freedom for ourselves and all those we touch. Later, we’ll look at how these ripple effects can transform entire communities. For now, let’s focus on what it means for your closest relationships.
First, we have to recognize the typical ways we treat others. Many of these perpetuate the same sorts of negative thoughts and actions that meditation helps us see and change. These thoughts and actions do not simply arise within us on their own. They are linked to patterns of behavior we’ve inherited or learned from our environment and the ways people act towards us.
We come into the world in the midst of a historical context that includes the default ways we relate to each other. We model the behaviors of our parents, siblings and friends. We also learn to respond to others in ways that protect us or strengthen the bonds between us. If trauma has impacted those around us, and it always has, their behavior is shaped by that trauma and in turn, shapes our behavior. Trauma is self-perpetuating because it influences us to act in ways that continue to traumatize ourselves and others.
For those who’ve experienced the severe trauma of emotional or physical abuse, deep healing is needed to recognize and unlearn patterns of defensive behavior. All of us, because we live in a world and even bodies and minds we can’t fully control, experience the trauma of fundamental uncertainty. We all develop defensive patterns to seek certainty, security and control. We see these patterns in the ways we lash out at those we love, when their behavior disrupts the comfortable order we try to protect. We see them in the ways we dominate each other, using force to prevent others from disturbing our sense of control.
The price we pay for undermining each other is our own freedom. Beneath all these patterns of domination and control is a denial of an essential truth: we are fundamentally dependent upon each other.
Our inescapable nature as living beings, and as humans, is that we depend for our very existence on the world and people around us. Of course this is a terrifying thought. We all want to be fully self-sufficient, invulnerable to harmful external forces. So we construct within ourselves and project outwards powerful myths of self-sufficiency to deny how deeply our lives are interdependent. Put more simply, it’s as though we are continually, forcibly forgetting that we were all babies once, completely dependent on the nurturing care of others. We must accept the scary truth that we never outgrew that dependence.
The reward for accepting this truth is our own freedom. When we recognize our fates are intertwined and that we only survive and flourish because of the support of others, we begin to understand that creating the conditions for others to thrive is how we thrive individually. We free ourselves by freeing others. Unfortunately, this is easily disregarded as nothing more than a bumper sticker statement until we experience its truth in our own lives. This is why we need to start with those closest to us, those we love, who often receive our most destructive patterns of behavior.
We treat the ones we love the worst partly because we know how deeply we depend on them and that drives us to deny it more forcefully. Meditation expands awareness to see the roots of our actions in our fear of lack of control. At first, this remains hidden to us because it is painful to confront our own limitations. The more we sit with those painful feelings, however, we naturally learn that we are strong enough to endure them. We then can accept that same lack of control over those we love, feel the fear it creates, and nonetheless choose to support their freedom rather than control them.
The power of this cannot be overstated. True love begins when we start to relinquish our control. Only from a place of perfect freedom can a person choose to love us, to be with us for who we are, rather than submitting to us from a place of fear or obligation. Freeing others allows us to experience perhaps the greatest joy of life: authentic love. And this is only one of the benefits. When we fully embrace our interdependence, we see that supporting others in their independent goals enables them to support us in whatever we seek. They then support us not because they are forced or afraid, but because they naturally want to strengthen the bonds of mutual support and love that enrich their own lives. This is the security — the “self-sufficiency”— that we always wanted.
Through interdependence we achieve the freedom and self-sufficiency we can never create by dominating and controlling others. We free ourselves from the self-perpetuation of trauma in our families and communities. Others become vessels of freedom to support and nourish, who then support and expand our freedom in return. The freedom we experience in meditation we now create in the dynamics of our relationships. It comes alive outside us and begins to expand as we nourish it, feeding back into our inner lives. We feel deeper joy, satisfaction, and love as we engage with others in more positive ways.
The interdependent world is ours to create and it holds a greater freedom than we’ve ever known. It is already our fundamental truth. We must fully accept and embrace it, so that we can begin to actively live it. It won’t be easy. It is the work of a lifetime, and it requires our deep commitment to moving beyond our default patterns of thought and action. Yet it provides the greatest reward of all: a life, and a world, of ever-increasing freedom.
drawing by isabel gryschka