Sounds crazy, right? Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop and drinking a latte thinking, “I’m fine, great even! I got up this beautiful morning, took a shower, played my guitar, got my hair cut, and to top it off the haircut looks great!” Life is great, right? That was actually my morning, full of activity and carefree.
Then why do I feel so empty inside?
It’s been another perfect day so far, but my energy feels mediocre at best. There’s a guy eating a chocolate bar to the right of me and every time I hear him suck the last bits of melted chocolate off his three fingers, I want to snap! Not only that, but every person I pass on the streets of downtown Boulder feels like a threat to me. Just a bunch of competition, a massive dog eat dog pack of hounds trying to get their piece of the pie before I get anywhere near it myself. I’m talking about a mother and father pushing their kid in a stroller down the street, “You think you and your kid are going to get the next table at snooze before I do, think again buddy!” I suck down some pancakes and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in the corner of the coffee shop by myself, not looking at anyone and feeling alone.
There’s a reason I don’t feel lit up and glowing with energy.
Why am I surprised by this?! Check out my view of the people around me. My mental state is in complete opposition to one of the fundamental principles of life.
It’s at the heart of our being. From the moment you were born into this world as a child, you were in deep connection with your parents and your well-being was dependent on their well-being. Healthy/happy parents meant a baby smothered in love, food, and shelter. The interdependence in this example is profound, because your life has taken its shape from these early transformative experiences.
Take music as a metaphor for the importance of relationship and connection. In music, each individual note is little more than an arbitrary sound when played by it self. Only when these notes exist in relationship to other notes do they take shape into harmony, rhythm, and build into the beauty of a melodic line. That’s music! That’s also life, or at least part of how I see the world. In the same way an infant is connected to his or her parents for survival and love, I too am profoundly entwined in my communal relationships. Relationships are where life happens, and our individual gifts as people stand out against the gifts others have to offer.
Give the concept of interdependence some consideration. Interdependence suggests that it is impossible to live isolated in a bubble, and that by simply being alive we have impact on everyone around us. For example, imagine someone is driving to work and becoming increasingly frustrated by traffic. Another driver cuts them off and then they start snapping out expletives to relieve the anger they feel from being cut off. Instead of relief, this ends up adding fuel to the fires and anger becomes the emotional undertone for everyone involved. Driver one continues to work where nobody wants to speak to him because of the underlying tension they sense. Driver two goes home to her kids who become confused because they think they might have done something to make their mother this angry.
Our lives are like a small pebble cast into a still pond over and over again; all the moments we are alive, we create ripples that move through everyone and everything.
We can learn a lot from our time as children and the co-dependence/deep need for connection we experienced with our parents (whether our parents met that need or not). As adults we are not so different from children, we still have deep needs for connection and the way we reach out for that connection (or don't reach out for it) affects everyone around us.
An orchestra can't function with just one musician, and the way each individual musician plays influences the entire sound of what is being played.
For our western culture this is an extremely radical idea (we are a very individualistic bunch), and I'm saying you should try it on for size anyway! And I mean lets really take a radical stance for the sake of broadening the horizon of our worldview.
What if every time someone else fell down and scraped their knee bloody, my knee also became scraped bloody? Remember we are taking a radical view to expand the boundaries of our current state of mind, even if the view is ridiculous (and it is ridiculous!). Ask yourself, “How would this affect my interactions with people on a day-to-day basis?”
Personally, I would be worried or considerate of the injuries other people incur. My consideration of others would increase drastically, because an injury to them would be an injury to myself. Seems far-fetched? Well I would like to propose that the truth is somewhere in-between this general view of our culture and my extreme example. Consider the spectrum of aggressive to compassionate interactions people have. It never feels good to be harshly spoken to, or to say something negative to another person. This generally negative attitude toward others is what left me feeling lonely, isolated, and turning my focus inward at the coffee shop. To the contrary, the warm sensations people get from helping others tend to be lasting and penetrate even the roughest hearts. Paradoxically, when we switch the focus from a gaining self-centered attitude to an attitude of consideration for others it creates a positive shift in our own internal world. You are "giving away to gain." There is a vast and rich portion of life we gain access to by the consideration of others.
So, what if the reason for that is because when we hurt others we are actually hurting ourselves?
Are you beginning to see what I’m getting at?
How do you feel sitting alone in the coffee shop working on your computer and passing the time while generally avoiding any eye contact with the other thirty people in the room (they are doing the same thing with you)?
What’s your view of others when walking down the busy sidewalks of the city (do you see yourself in them)?
What’s your level of aggression, judgment, mistrust, and vigilance (what’s your level of compassion)?
Let’s both you and I rewrite the story.
Here’s the experiment you can try any day of the week. The next time you’re driving and someone puts on their turn signal to move in front of you, put on the brakes just a bit and let them in with a good amount of room. Make sure they get in that lane safely and with some welcome! Then just check out how you feel inside, maybe they will even give you a little wave of thanks. It’s quite the contrast to yelling and raising your fists. Also, don’t forget to remind yourself after the fact, by helping this person I have helped myself.
Just something for you to snack on this beautiful rainy Colorado week,
Or if you’re anything like me… it's the main course.
Let me know how it goes,