Independence Day always catches me… it’s a day of celebration that often rings both of the blast of fireworks and the very real American reality that we have arrived in current moment by way of oppression, extraction and good old fashioned capitalism – all three as USA as apple pie. I often find myself tangled in a love for the beautiful land I get to call home, the often tragic history that had to unfold in order for me to do so, and the strange mixed emotion of gratitude and near humiliation that comes along with it. When I take time to witness the troubles of the world, I am always reminded of the trouble that had to come to pass for my ancestors to find one another so that I could come into being. It’s a confusing holiday to me – to say the least.
Yesterday (July 4th), I took time in the morning to go for a rather long hike – 11.5 miles in Mt. Tamalpias State Park starting at about 5:30AM. Hitting the trail long before most folks even consider it morning, I found myself in the very privileged place of being the only human out in the forest listening to it rise with the sun. This hike held so many incredible lessons for my mind, body and soul – the kind of lessons you continue to learn long after the moment has come and passed. But as I wandered, I was really struck by this whole idea of independence and spent a good amount of time clarifying it for myself. As I sauntered around the mountain, I deeply enjoyed my sense of singledom. Of being just my body in relationship to the natural world without help of a companion to bounce ideas off of or confirm turns on the path with. It was a long enough hike that I knew I was going to have to rely on myself and trust that I could carry myself around the loop. That I could keep myself safe. This exploration of ability really became about testing myself and my independent capacity to move across an expanse of land unattended. It always feels empowering to take yourself out and get yourself home and creates a sense of what I would call independence. What’s more, I also became aware that I could not have been there on that hike without the support and offerings of a network of people far beyond what I could even imagine. The friends that watched my dog who wouldn’t have made the full 11.5 miles, the sweet sister that lent me the use of her car for the next few weeks, those who walked the trail before me and put it on the internet so I could easily access it, the folks that manage the park and open the gate for eager early morning adventurers, and then of course all those people that encountered one another in the past to create my present body that could then carry me through the loop. I began to really see how interdependent independence is. I began to really see all the past and present generations of people whose stories impacted and fed into mine. I thought of my beloved partner who has been patiently stoking and mid-wifing this fire in me to take the time to connect with the planet. I thought of the indigenous people of this land that carefully tended to it across millennia. I witnessed the beauty of the place that surrounded me and acknowledged that my experience of the woods required every single living being to be a member of the forest; busily living out their own lives. I thought about my ancestors and about my place in that lineage. I recalled a hiking trip with my mother when I was probably 8 years old and felt how potent that trip was for me – just her and I on top of the world. I imagined how important that hike would be to my future children and wondered how I would introduce them to the woods. I remembered that this web of people and place remains connected forward in time, not just in the past or present.
As I went through and attempted to acknowledge all those that I could think of that helped to make that very “independent” hike possible, I realized how interdependent it truly was and far beyond what I can even think to list now. That my independence is only made possible when I’m connected to and can rely upon others in my life that are willing to support that independence. That I cannot exist in a vacuum, but am a part of a large wildly connected web of movers, shakers, doers and be-ers. What’s more, my body along the hike revealed itself as an interdependent organism that cannot function without total presence. That my muscles, breath, bones, tendons, skin, water and mind must all be on the same page – working in lock step with one another – in order for me to continue forward; especially when the only way forward is up. It is only through this connection of all these seen and unseen moving parts that I can get to know my own strength as an independent being. As this all washed over me, I was suddenly not alone on that mountainside. I was in deep communion with a community of beings that were present for the same moment as I was. I was supported by a place that had taken its own shape which further supported my being in the woods. I could take in the moment as the incredible gift it was – marveling at all the steps that had to come to pass.
If this whole independence thing relies on connection, as a nation we’ve maybe lost the plot. It’s as if we of Western capitalist societies truly believe that we can function without anything or anybody. We have separated food and people from the land of which we all rise and return. We exercise our bodies without connecting in with our minds and hearts, or worse, we feel our minds are separate from our bodies completely. We live in such a way that disconnection is standard and a striving for connection is seen strange, on the fringe or as some kind of weakness. I’ve personally succumbed to this ideology more than a few times; convincing myself that I don’t need anything, that I am here to support others and therefore should be able to meet my own needs without asking for help or relying on anyone to support my journey. We have touted individualism as a sign of mental health and freedom which are both measured by financial success… Money; a construct of our times that often breeds more of a “gotta get me mine” kind of attitude toward life rather than “let’s do this”. This leads to isolation for the fiercely independent…seems like a bad deal to me.
All of this is to say we need one another. Even to disappear into the woods by ourselves, we need the support of others in our lives that are willing to see us in our independence and offer up any support they can to ensure that independence is honored. This sense of connection feeds a form of independence that is not separate from others, but wisely and deeply interconnected with all that is. This lesson spans across time to impact everything we do. I see this lesson as a major obstacle of our culture, but one we can overcome when we start asking for help. We reach out not because we are insufficient, but because we are aware enough of what we need and are willing to connect to make space for it. We see family, friends, lovers, pyschotherapists, yoga teachers, massage therapists, hair stylists, plants, pets…you name it for a sense of connection and now more than ever, we ought to start honoring those connections as the integral part of our independence that they are. Independence is not separate from interdependence, just as we are not separate from the world around us – no matter how hard we try.
Give to yourself your connections, because the truth of the matter is that you’re already connected. There’s no getting away from it…there is no ‘away’. It’s all right here – in this interconnected and interdependent web of beauty and chaos that we call life. The road is windy, but never empty.