- TWIL (This Week I Learned)
This week I learned about independence. We sometimes hear about how “independence” is a “western” value. I think, after careful reflection, that I would like to call bullshit on that.
Here’s my logic: “Western” people are human. Humans are not, by nature, independent. Ergo, “western” people are not independent. At least, not by choice, not by nature.
Also, here’s a simple (thought) experiment that would be unethical to carry out in real life: Try to imagine what might happen if you forced communities of people to isolate from each other for, say, around 18 months. I know, I know, lots of research has gone into solitary confinement and how unethical and immoral that is. But what if you didn’t go that far but simply took away the social structures of a community for a time: the places where we go to form bonds and friendships and ties between each other? If you wanted to be really cruel but also get good data on how important those social ties really are, and how not independent we are, you could use variable-ratio reinforcement, so that the parameters changed in a non-fixed way (announce new types of reward/punishment at random times, not on any kind of predictable schedule).
So: How did your thought experiment go? Do you feel that “westerners” are more independent than the rest of the world? Or would we all suffer tremendously if we did finally chuck out that idea that we are, actually, highly interdependent and need to work those muscles — admit that they exist, and then lean in deeply to those traits in us that are part of our biology. We are mammals, after all.
I know that after this week, I feel more committed than ever to championing this quality in us — certainly, we can and should revamp old traditions that no longer work for us. We can and should advocate for each other. We can and should do better. But “independent”? No. We are not.
“Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.”
Chances are, you may have noticed that I sprinkle in a “loving-kindness” practice every so often in here (like last week).
That is not for sentimental reasons, or because I think we should all be “nice”. Loving-Kindness practice is pretty subversive, pretty anti-individualism, anti “independence” — It’s also a dangerous practice for a community that tries to keep certain people “othered”.
So. Prepare yourself. Get quiet, take a few deep breaths. Imagine walking down your main street, or somewhere you will encounter lots of different people. Imagine sending love, compassion, adoration to each person you encounter. Do this until you run into someone where you say, “Hell no” — And maybe it’s you…it’s not selfish if it’s you, it’s just information.
So. Who is this person that you cannot adore? Try this: Try describing this person in a detailed way — all the senses, little details that you notice.
I am finding myself preparing myself for a contemplative journey of sorts and I am inviting you along. I did that thought experiment this past week and it was jarring.
I have a person I feel I cannot adore. As I realized that God adores this person, I felt shaken. I invite you to consider that we need the whole gang. Each of us is equally adored.
None of us is a “good guy”. None of us is the “bad guy” We are all humans, and we all make mistakes.
Find at least one person each day that you feel cannot should not be adored and at least mentally, try to adore that person.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
You guessed it: Do something in secret for a person you feel cannot be adored.