Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Joe Omundson


I used to think that becoming "independent" was one of the main goals of my lifestyle experimentation. While I do still strive to have the freedom to do what I please, my perspective on the concept of dependence has changed.

Here is what I realized: independence is a myth.

Independence is defined as "freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others." ("Others" probably means "other humans", but I'll leave that open-ended.)

The thing is, life simply can't operate on independence. Dependence is the reality of how life exists. Everyone is dependent on the support of others. Most of us exist in an economic system where we depend on our employers to give us money. We depend on other people to create businesses which give us the things we need in exchange for that money. We depend on farmers to grow our food, factory workers to make our products, engineers to design clean water systems, etc. The more we earn and spend, the more our existence depends on the work of others.

But even someone who uses no money and survives as a hermit without any human contact is still dependent on countless organisms for their survival. They need plants and/or animals to become their food. Plants rely on nutrients that exist in the soil, and on water, and on energy which has traveled across space from the Sun to the Earth. Our climate maintains itself as a balance of many different variables and we depend on that system for a habitable planet. We need bacteria in our gut to extract the necessary nutrition from our food. Indeed, every person is deeply connected to many other life forms and nobody can survive independently.

Yet the word independence still makes us think of a certain idea. Supposedly, independence is the freedom to do what we want, when we want. The ability to make our own decisions without someone else's permission.

I prefer a different word to describe this idea. Autonomy: "freedom to determine one's own actions, behavior, etc."

The word autonomy comes from greek "auto" (self) + "nomos" (law or custom). Perhaps the etymology makes more literal sense on a national level, as an autonomous nation is a self-governing one; but I think it can also be applied on a personal level. If I have autonomy, then it is me who determines my customs, my rules. Autonomy describes freedom of action while independence describes a lack of connection to others. Autonomy is a mindset, a set of mental DNA that changes the way we interact with others.

The thing I realized is, autonomy doesn't actually imply an absence of dependence. Autonomy exists as one of many forms of interdependence. Independence is fictional, so interdependence is the only option; the only thing that changes is how we interact within interdependence.

Autonomy includes the freedom to depend on other people in any way we choose, in order to satisfy personal needs and contribute to the world in the best way we can. Since our personalities are so complex, it is helpful to realize that there are a wide variety of life paths that can be chosen.

Everyone has the same basic needs of food, water, shelter, love, community, accomplishment. Some of us have special needs beyond that which may be caused by health status or life situations. On top of that we have vastly different preferences for how we interact with others, how we spend our time, and how we meet our basic needs. A strong, experiential sense of self-knowledge enables the kind of autonomy where we are able to decide for ourselves what patterns will govern our lives most effectively; our individual life strategy. When we apply this strategy intentionally to our daily lives, we find forms of interdependence that boost us rather than hold us back or hurt us.

Perhaps what works best for one person is a stable life that is very closely tied to others -- a spouse, kids, family, a career, and a day-to-day experience where the activities chosen are based mostly on meeting other people's needs. If this is what someone knows works best for them, then choosing a married, settled lifestyle is in fact a wise use of their autonomy even though it is not very independent.

Perhaps someone else is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: they don't want to be bound to others at all, don't care to have a family or a job, and desire the freedom to travel anywhere at any time. This person would do well to learn street smarts, make friends with all kinds of people, and learn to give and accept freely. In order to move through society, they still need to depend on other people's effort and support. If done skillfully, this dependence is not limiting, but freeing; they will find support anywhere they go. This is also a wise use of autonomy.

However we depend on others, the important thing is to do it in a way that aligns with our individuality. When we delegate our mental autonomy to outside influences (country, religion, tradition, etc.), when we allow our life patterns to be governed by others, there is a higher risk of feeling trapped in a system that does not promote our own health and happiness. These other systems which can so easily dominate our lives do not necessarily have our best interests in mind.
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Joe Omundson

self love, self fear

Something I have said before: the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. If we truly fear something we will not be able to love it. When we live without fear we do not hesitate to connect with the people we are drawn to. Pure love dispels fear.

For a while now I've recognized this pattern in our interactions with the world around us, but more recently I've realized the same concept is true when applied to our internal lives. Self-fear and self-love are incompatible.

Fear of self, at least by one definition, is called autophobia.

We are often afraid of certain aspects of ourselves. Maybe it is a similarity to a negative role model, embarrassment over certain feelings, an undesired bodily trait, or a primal urge we wish we didn't have. Maybe it's an exceptional talent, a huge capacity for love, a strong sense of empathy, or passionate anger towards some injustice.

When we fear these parts of ourselves, being faced with them is uncomfortable so we self-distract in many different ways. We live in denial and project these traits onto other people. We isolate ourselves, or avoid isolation at all costs. We strive to fill our perceived emptiness in order to feel OK, with material gain, addictions, social status, or any number of other vices. We perceive life as a struggle, something inherently painful and confusing, and decide that this experience is what's normal. True fulfillment is a fantasy we don't expect to achieve. Many people develop mental illness and dysfunctional patterns.  These are coping mechanisms. Our fear is buried deep inside us and it feels like an inbuilt part of our personal topography, and the coping mechanisms come to feel natural too.

We don't know if other people are feeling the same way or if we are alone in our despair... because we are too afraid to talk about it in the first place. We hide our pain, our longing for connection, our hopelessness. These are taboo. Many of us don't know what we truly want or how to get it. We don't understand where we hurt or why. We feel trapped in what our lives have become, in what other people tell us should make us fulfilled, in the expectations others have of us.

But it doesn't always have to be that way. The root of all this is our autophobia. Fear is inhibiting love again, in this case self love; knowing, accepting, valuing, and caring for ourselves. It leads to a numbing internal blindness which skews all of our interactions.

What would happen if instead of fearing ourselves, we loved ourselves exactly how we are? If we smiled at our problems with the knowledge that everyone has them, and working through them is a normal part of life? If instead of fighting ourselves, we let whatever is inside come to light? If your answer to that question is that something terrible would happen -- notice that! That's the fear I'm talking about.

Here is what I think we can do: let's work towards not being afraid of any part of ourselves. Our unlimited potential for growth, our darkest thoughts, our most secret sexual urges, our out-of-control habits. Let's learn about ourselves and accept that we are who we are in this moment. It is what it is. If we live in constant hiding from our own reality, we are missing perhaps the most important part of being alive. We live with an illusion of who we are rather than a lucid understanding.

Let's allow this process to happen apart from any attempt to change ourselves. There's time for that later.

When we know and understand ourselves, we can start to untangle the ways we've been woven together. We recognize what is our true nature and what has been artificially adopted due to social pressure. We figure out which things in ourselves are necessary to part ways with, and which things we need to learn to embrace. Often, it's simply understanding ourselves which naturally leads to change. The change that happens is then in line with reality, it's organic and productive. When we try to change ourselves by forcing our external actions and the only motivation is to conform to society's expectations, it's never sustainable. Real change is more integral than that and even if it does require regimented action, it's motivated from within rather than by a desire to appear a certain way for others; and that gives us the energy that is required to follow through.

Getting to know ourselves is a great goal, but how can we do this practically? I have some thoughts on that but I'll save them for a future post. (EDIT: that post is here)
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