Why you need to declare independence

We observed Independence Day all over America yesterday, celebrating our freedom as a country. Yet, as individuals, we still put ourselves in chains a lot of the time. We imprison ourselves with judgment, and with the dreaded “should, ought and must.”

As often happens, I started thinking about this in a yoga class. One day last week, a teacher said, “Allow your eyes to close,” which is typical language in yoga class. But the use of the word “allow” got me thinking. Then I heard a teacher say, “Give yourself permission to….” Hmm – I was starting to see a pattern. It didn’t seem like the words were meant just to let us know that we had a choice; it seemed more like the words were an acknowledgment that we don’t often let ourselves relax, or choose to do less than we are capable of.Woman Closing Eye

At another point, the teacher asked us to do tree pose, which involves resting one foot against the opposite leg while balancing on the other foot. Usually people will use a hand to assist them in getting the foot high up on the inner thigh of the other leg; but this time the teacher asked us not to use our hands, even if that meant that we wouldn’t be able to get the foot as high. It was interesting to me to watch as some in the class couldn’t seem to bring themselves to “settle” for the foot just resting against the ankle or calf — they had to use their hands to bring the foot as high as possible. They just couldn’t allow themselves to do less than their max.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes that the two parts of Buddhist meditation are stopping, and looking deeply. It’s the stopping that’s the hurdle, because once we can do that, the looking deeply will naturally follow. But as he says, “If you’re like most of us, since you’ve been born, you’ve been running. Now it’s a strong habit that many generations of your ancestors also had before you and transmitted to you — the habit of running, being tense, and being carried away by many things, so that your mind is not totally, deeply, peacefully in the present moment.”

The constant running can lead to “wrong perceptions,” including the self-judgment that results in constant striving.  For some of us, the constant striving comes from the mistaken belief that we have to be the best at everything we do — the best in our professional lives, the best parent, the best athlete, the best host, and yes, the best in yoga class. But why? If there is one, or maybe two or three, area of life where we really give 110% to be our best, why can’t we just let ourselves be…okay at some of the other things?

In their book, “Five Good Minutes,” Jeff Brantley and Wendy Millstine have a practice called, “Retire the judges in your mind.” It’s all about letting go of the self-judgment and self-criticism. They suggest that while you are sitting quietly, and with that intention, that you notice the judgmental thoughts and say, “Thank you, you may or  may not be true, but thank you anyway.”Brisbane_85

If you stop striving for a moment, and let that foot rest a little lower on the leg in tree pose, maybe you’ll notice something about tree that you couldn’t see when you were using so much effort. Maybe stopping and looking deeply for a moment allows you to grow your tree differently the next time you do it. Thich Nhat Hanh compares the release of tension that comes from letting go with soaking mung beans: “You don’t need to force the water to enter the mung bean. You let the mung bean be in the water, and slowly, slowly it goes in….The same is true for you.”

Here’s a radical thought — sometimes maybe we should do less in order to do more. So declare your independence from the tyranny of “I must,” “I should” and “I have to.” Allow your eyes to close, give yourself permission to stop, take whatever it is you need.


People who need people

Everyone wants independence – to have the freedom to make choices about values, goals and lifestyles. But as Henry Van Dyke once said, “In the progress of personality, first comes a declaration of independence, then a recognition of interdependence.”

Amir Levine, author of the book Attached., says that independence means having someone reliable to depend on so that you can “walk the path of independence together”. To be truly free and independent we must put faith in the strength of others.IMG_0086 r

Sheryl Sandberg has made a similar point during interviews about her controversial new book, Lean In. She believes that one of the biggest [career] mistakes women make is not making their partners real partners – in other words, not relying on them enough. Success is hard-won, and especially so without a trusted partner in life.

Buddhism teaches the practice of non-attachment, based on the idea that suffering is the result of your ego being too wrapped up in a certain idea, outcome, or possession. The true self becomes obscured when we grasp or cling to something or someone as if our life depended on it. That kind of clinging attachment would be comparable to what Levine calls “anxious” attachment – when we worry excessively about losing the object of our attachment, or worry that the other person won’t love us enough.

Buddhist non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring, however. That could lead to the other end of the spectrum — those who avoid attachment to other people altogether, because they have the belief that attachment means losing independence. In avoiding all attachment, they give up intimacy and all of the richness that can be gained from sharing their innermost feelings with someone they trust.

As in the Goldilocks story, there is a middle ground – what Levine refers to as secure attachment. In a securely attached relationship, the partners don’t spend time worrying about how much one loves the other, or about separation. They trust in themselves and each other enough to know that the relationship is strong enough to allow independence on both sides, without keeping score. Soren Gordhamer thinks of this non-grasping feeling as spaciousness. He writes that “in those moments, we have gratitude. We appreciate a given moment without needing to control or hold it indefinitely. We relate to these moments with trust instead of fear, with openness instead of greed, with letting go instead of holding.”

I like to think of secure attachment as being like Velcro (and not in the negative way some people do). When stuck together, it holds together tightly; but when it’s time to separate, it does so without damaging either side. And it can be put back together again just as snugly whenever we want. It separates and re-joins many times over without effort. I hope that my relationships — with my children, my spouse, my friends, and my mother – have that effortless Velcro quality. Can we allow uncertainty, but know without a doubt that we can rely on each other? Can we walk the path of independence together?