I’ve been observing a lot of interdependence this week. While Jim was in the hospital, I saw how the nursing staff depended on each other to make sure that each of them had up-to-date information and resources in order to give Jim the best of care. The primary nurse depended on the tech to monitor Jim’s blood pressure and heart rate in order to know how Jim’s meds were working. The care coordinator consulted with the primary care nurse to determine what Jim’s home care plan should include. When nursing shifts changed, the departing nurse would review each patient’s chart with the arriving nurse. The way in which they operated – with efficiency, confidence, and compassion, was awesome to watch – and very much appreciated. On the other hand, Jim’s doctors, including the hospitalists, specialists, and surgeons, seemed to continually contradict, override, and disagree with each other. Certainly, the nurses worked effectively as a team while the doctors, not so much. When I was doing management consulting, we would frame these team dynamics in terms of systems thinking. Systems thinking is a way of examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of a defined system. Systems are the architecture of everything around us, including such well-known systems as the environment, information, and the human body. When we begin to look at the interdependence of components within and across systems, it quickly becomes clear that we as individuals cannot differentiate ourselves. Everything in the world is connected at a fundamental level.
Sharon Salzberg, a teacher of meditation and the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, explores interdependence in her blog post, The Kindness Rebellion (www.onbeing.org). She says that we are conditioned to value independence over interdependence. We instinctively guard ourselves against threats around us, instead of “relishing in our commonality.” (Salzberg, July 11, 2016) When we experience negative feelings or thoughts, recognizing our fundamental interdependence reminds us that everyone else experiences those same negative feelings or thoughts. Salzberg states, “We may operate independently, but we are interdependent above it all.”
Salzberg goes on to say that recognizing our interdependence doesn’t mean we have to agree with everybody. In fact, she says that our recognition of connections doesn’t need to be expressed to anyone but ourselves. When I first read this, I wondered if Salzberg was letting us off the hook a little too easily. I mean, in this bizarre election year, there is one presidential candidate that I have nothing but negative feelings for! I don’t feel connected to this individual at all. Shouldn’t I try to change those feelings if I’m truly trying to lead a more mindful life?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, states, “We should treat our anxiety, our pain, our hatred and passion gently, respectfully, not resisting it, but living with it, making peace with it, penetrating into its nature by meditation on interdependence.” (The Miracle of Mindfulness, ch. 6) So, I can acknowledge my negative feelings toward a politician, while also acknowledging that we are not different and meditating on our interdependence and connection. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We must learn to see that the person in front of us is ourself and that we are that person.” ( ch. 5) Through meditation, I am less likely to give in to the impulse to hate or judge another person. For me, there is a subtle, yet profound difference between trying to change my feelings and letting acknowledgement of those feelings penetrate to my real nature in an interdependent universe. I look forward to hearing from others how they recognize and deal with their own interdependent natures.