Autonomy Vs. Dependence

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I saw two movies this weekend:  1) Horton Hears a Who  2) Predators.  You would think there would be nothing similar between them but surprisingly, I discovered a connection.  I woke up at 3:45 this morning, my mind whirling, weaving thoughts and ideas together.  I thought about my marriage, I remembered parts of the book ‘Passionate Marriage’ and I recalled the movies I had just seen.  Then, like a lightning bolt, I saw the truth.  The truth is something I see and feel with every atom of my body.  The truth I saw was this–The balance between autonomy and dependence is something that all humans struggle with.   We are all alone and yet connected.  This idea becomes especially evident in the context of a marriage.  There comes a time when one must achieve this balance between being separate and being together within the relationship.  In the language of David Schnarch–How do I hold onto myself and my own integrity while at the same time develop an intimate connection with my partner?

I believe that men and women have different instincts and tendencies.  Men generally have a strong instinct for autonomy.  They strive to be strong and independent.  Their innate desire is to be self-reliant; to able to survive alone.  Women, on the other hand, have the instinct to connect with others;  their desire is to develop interdependency.  In the modern world, humans need both of these in a healthy balance in order to live happy, fulfilling, successful lives.  The biggest challenge in a marriage is mastering this balance between separateness and togetherness.

I know I have been struggling with building a stronger sense of myself–I am here and this is who I am.  I know what I need and what I want.  I am a capable, independent woman.–In the past, I have bent over backwards trying to please people.  (I have the image of Kenichi Ebina doing the move from Matrix in my mind.)  I think if I had had a more solid self-esteem going into my relationship, I wouldn’t have bent so far as to lose my footing.  It’s essential to be flexible in a relationship but you have to know yourself well enough to know when you have to stand your ground.

Women don’t fear depending on others because they know, instinctively, that interdependency is necessary for our survival.  Picture a mother breast-feeding her baby.  Women know that we depend on these connections.  What some women fear is being disconnected, being alone, having to be completely self-sufficient.  I was controlled by this fear which led me to lose pieces of myself since I so desperately wanted to keep the peace and keep my relationship.  Men, in contrast, fear being too dependent on others and if they are faced with this fear, they may do anything to maintain their separateness and freedom, thinking that it is their only source of power.  Take a look a how many wars in the world are about preserving autonomy.

In the movie “Horton Hears a Who”, an elephant, named Horton, discovers there is a whole community living on a speck on a clover.  As he carries the clover around, keeping it safe, Whoville is unknowingly completely dependent on the elephant.  In the end, all the Whos in Whoville make as much noise as they can so they can be heard and save their tiny world.  ‘WE ARE HERE!!’ they shout.  It’s a beautiful movie that shows just how much strength we can have together and how much we really depend on each other.  In my opinion, Dr. Seuss is a total genius.

In Predators, the two main characters are a man (Royce) and a woman (Isabelle).  They are being hunted by the alien predators on an unknown planet and fight to stay alive.  In one scene, another man is hurt and Royce and Isabelle talk about what to do.  Royce decides to leave, opting for his own survival while Isabelle chooses to stay, unable to deny their human connection.  At the end, both learn how much they need each other, even though both are skilled, powerful soldiers.

The truth is we ALL need to find our own inner strength and personal power.  We all need to have confidence in our abilities; especially our ability to survive by ourselves independently as a separate human being.  At the same time, we ALL need to recognize that no one is an island.  We are dependent on each other and in order to give and receive and live in harmony we need to be adaptable and sometimes allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

What I imagine is a tree and water:  The tree is solid, strong and stable, standing by itself and the water is flexible, fluid, flowing, merging.  To survive well in this world we need to have the qualities of the tree and the water, man and woman.

Follow Your Heart

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I had a dream that I had breast cancer and I told someone I was going to die.  I woke up, heart pounding, feeling horrified.  It was the wake up call I needed.  It became instantly clear to me that I WOULD die if I didn’t follow my heart and speak my truth.  I can’t be afraid to express my true thoughts and feelings anymore.  I can’t let emotions eat away at me.

I keep thinking that if I’m nice that problems will disappear and everything will be okay.  If I’m nice, people will like me and people won’t leave me.  But often I’m too nice to the point where I’m letting someone stomp all over my boundaries and then a piece of me dies inside.  I must change this belief and habitual way of thinking so that I stop breaking my own heart and betraying my own soul.  This change must start NOW– today, this minute, this second.  I cannot be a doormat any longer!  NO MORE!  NO! NO!! NO!!!

Perhaps the most profound thing I have learned in the last year is that the body doesn’t lie.  We can deny the truth and avoid the truth but eventually our body will let us know when we are out of synch.  When I am not following my heart, my body will tell me (over and over, if it has to) until I listen.  Following my heart doesn’t just mean chasing desires.  It includes standing up for myself.  Recently, because I have become so sensitive to any changes in my body, I can physically tell when I there is something I need to say.  My heart pounds in anticipation of how the other person will react.

I think my anxiety is based in the fear that if I speak up, people won’t listen or will laugh at me or will think I’m stupid.  All my life I have sat quietly, keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself.  I guess I never thought I was worthy of being heard or that I had something important to say.  I didn’t want to be rejected.  I didn’t want to scare people away.  I desperately wanted to be liked and accepted.  I wanted people to think I was smart and capable.

In my career, I think I’ve usually followed my heart pretty closely.  I listened to my intuition when I yearned to work with children.  I listened to that voice when I decided to go back to school to get my Bachelor of Education.  Every step of the way, I have found work that has been enjoyable and fulfilling for me–I have no regrets.  But in terms of relationships, I have sometimes ignored what my heart was trying to say.  I now realized how often I have held back words that I wanted to say, feelings that I wanted to express.  I now fully realize that continuing this pattern of holding back and repressing true thoughts and emotions would be seriously detrimental to my health in the future and could potentially kill me.

Emotions are not just some abstract things–they are REAL and have ENERGY.  This energy can affect the body positively or negatively.  This is evident in our lives everyday:  When we feel angry, our face turns red and we notice tension in our jaw, neck or shoulders.  When we feel nervous, we have butterflies in our stomach, our heart rate increases and we perspire.  When we feel calm, our breathing is slow and steady and our body is supple.

The body doesn’t lie and the heart knows what it knows.  This is above and beyond any logical or rational thinking.  When I woke up in the morning with this inspiration for writing, I wasn’t trying to draw conclusions from the dream I had.  My mind automatically made connections for me–stringing together my dream, my feelings, my experiences;  like a spider spins its web.  For me I know it’s my truth when, all of a sudden, the answer just appears–an idea, an inspiration, a message, a revelation–this is the truth, my truth, pure and simple, without a doubt.  There is no reasoning whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong;  it simply IS.

Before the sun rises, all is clear.  It’s when everything makes perfect sense to me and I feel I know exactly who I am and what I need.  Now my challenge is to keep that clarity throughout the day, every day, and to keep my words and actions in line with my truth.  I know that if I stay open and receptive, I will get to the place I want to be–a place where my mind, body, heart and soul are in complete synchronicity.  I know this place already exists within me and I can go there anytime to find love, joy and peace.

Lying to ourselves and ignoring our inner voice produces imbalance, illness and disease.  I’m sure when we follow our hearts, every cell in our body is resonating with happiness and health and all our systems are working together to maintain balance and harmony.  Our heart is the messenger for our soul–communicating to us what our essence truly is.  All we need to do to live a peaceful, happy and healthy life is follow our hearts–listen to the message and be true to it.