[Originally posted on Huffington Post]
Having just celebrated Independence Day in the U.S. with fireworks, picnics and time with family and friends, it is fitting and timely to also consider and reflect upon the wisdom of “interdependence.”
Is anything truly “independent” at all? Does anything exist separately — in and of itself — and outside of relationship, interconnectedness and interdependence with something — or everything — else? Or are we all connected at a very profound and mysterious dimension of being?
Life is relationships. Relationships between the many subtle fields and flows of energy and information that weave the fabric of our being. Relationships with other people and with other living beings. Relationships between ourselves and the rest of the universe. If you look deeply into any living being, a universe of intricate interrelationships will be revealed. Life is all about relationships.
Balance in relationships can mean many things: the balance of giving and receiving, of speaking and listening, of being alone and being together, the balance realized by resolving tensions or extending love and caring. And as paradoxical as it seems at times, the more deeply balanced we are within ourselves the more sensitive, objective and empathetically attuned we can be with others, and the more we can help others move toward, rather than away, from balance in their own lives.
In recent times, advances in science have helped to expand our collective understanding of what ensures the health, vitality, longevity and sustainability of an individual or a species. Our current understanding is that those most likely to survive and thrive are actually the ones who are the most cooperative, communicative, connected and mutually supportive in relationship to the world.
This brings to mind the image of a bridge that spans a great chasm. The heavier the load it must bear, the more supportive elements are required to keep it from crumbling under the weight. As each of us struggles to manage the heavy load of pressures upon us, those of us who are most supported by others stand a much better chance of holding up rather than caving in or suffering under the stress.
The bottom line is that to live a healthy, well-balanced life, it is essential to have a strong network of supportive relationships. Your network is made of all the people, places, or things that in some way nurture the quality of your life. It may include not only friends and family but people at work or those you know through community, sports or religious groups, professional associations or special support groups that you join for a variety of reasons.
A growing body of research in social neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology affirms the importance of developing a strong network of support. This vital work begins in the womb, develops through childhood and continues throughout our lives. Children who have had the consistent experience of being seen and of “feeling felt” by the caregiver are more likely to flourish in their emotional health, coherent thinking and attuned relationships. Research suggests these attuned, sensitive communications shape the healthy development of the brain in ways that support future optimal health and functioning later in life.
Numerous others studies suggest that social connection and support may slow the progression of certain cancers, while severed social stress may hasten it. Literature provides evidence that the presence of social support, via marriage, frequent daily contact with others or the presence of confidants reduces mortality risk from cancer, as well as other diseases.
One landmark study of 10,000 men indicated the love and emotional support of one’s spouse provide an important balancing factor, which apparently reduces the risk of angina pectoris chest pain even in the presence of high risk factors. Another study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, tells us seniors living independently on their own who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who lack the companionship of pets. They also cope better with the stresses of life, tend to be more active and have better overall health.
Especially as the pace and complexity of our life-work increases, the importance of support increases, though the time to develop and maintain it often seems to disappear.
That’s why it is crucial that you begin to understand the wisdom of interdependence and recognize the value of support as a vital component in the creation and maintenance of balance and health. We are all connected and are truly necessary to one another. We simply do not do well without nurturing networks of supportive relationships. So live well and celebrate, with gratitude, the living spirit of interdependence, expressing itself every day in your life, work and world.
In this spirit, we offer the following reflection to deepen your appreciation of interdependence:
Envision your life as a great flowing river fed by countless streams of energy, information and influence that flow from all those people and sources of information and influence that inspire your life. Mirror this by envisioning how your every thought, word and deed also flow out as streams of influence and inspiration into the lives of countless other beings, shaping and informing their world view, values and way of life. Just as all the impressions and experiences of our own lives have led us to take the action to write this blog now, in this moment, as you read these words, this stream of energy, information and inspiration flows into your mind and becomes part of you, then flows on as the great river of your life in ways that will influence all whose lives you will touch along the way.
Understood in this way, the act of speaking or sharing words is perhaps the most intimate of human acts, because in communicating with each other, our words enter each other’s minds and change our lives forever. As you flow on from here, be mindful of the infinite ripples of consequentiality that flow from your every word, thought and action.