When I consider each of these qualities by themselves, my heart leaps. They are each so precious. Who wouldn’t want safety for yourself and all beings? Who wouldn’t want full freedom to choose? Who wouldn’t want to trust that we receive care from others?
I encourage you to settle into this art meditation straight away, to see what emerges for you.
Artwork is by Edouard Vuillard, ‘Child Wearing a Red Scarf’, courtesy National Gallery of Art Washington.
You might also enjoy reading a bit more context below.
To try to put those qualities into words, I’ll define them as something like:
Safety: the sense that I can trust myself and others to act with care
How does that feel in my body though? To what extent has my experience through childhood and until now contributed to how readily I can feel safe within myself, as well as being discerning about whether particular individuals are in a given moment concerned about my wellbeing as well as theirs?
In this given moment, with the sun pouring onto my arms as I sit in a city cafe at lunchtime, there’s a human part of me that knows my mortality and vulnerability. And there’s a part that would love to be able fully absorb and appreciate this present instance of safety and joy.
I celebrate the relief of accepting that those two parts of myself are existing together – joy and also caution. I do not need to judge or reject either one. Only enjoy the awareness of their presence, and find my lungs expanding to make natural room for their existence within me … which means I relax a little more.
Autonomy: the freedom to choose my own actions to align with my hopes, needs and values
On a recent webcast, I heard Miki Kashtan say that autonomy and interdependence are facts of life as well as needs. Wow. I’ve noticed that insight running through my head at least a dozen times since. It brings wonder and relief.
To me, it seems pretty apparent that we all do make our own choices. I also acknowledge with great tenderness and some fear that we’re not always conscious of how much choice we may have, nor are we always fully able to exercise choice in a given moment. There sees to be a complex play between our biology, neurological history, nervous system experiences, access to resources, cultural conditioning etc. I won’t go further into that. I just hope it helps you stay with it being an area of ongoing inquiry. I think it helps us to have more compassion as well as more wisdom, respecting that there are limitations in the capacity of ourselves and others in any given moment.
So, I do accept autonomy as a fact – and also that we long for more of it. That longing I would say is the beauty of the need – the treasuring and drive towards protecting and expanding the amount of freedom we have.
If you have been fortunate to watch an utterly dependent infant continue to drive towards fuller self-reliance … well, I reckon you’ve seen the power, beauty and awe of autonomy as a fact and a need. This is why we turn our heads, yowl with indignation when we’re constrained from following something that’s caught our interest, crawl, get up and walk, dress ourselves, wriggle our hand out of an adult’s … if we possibly can.
Interdependence: the reality that we are sustained by life beyond our being
This is where it seems we often feel tension and even terror. To acknowledge that we rely on others … can affect our sense of safety and autonomy. Yet, it is a sheer fact. Someone grew the food I ate. Someone made the seat that gives me comfort. The air I breathe is provided by nature and I thrive on the care of others beyond myself to make choices that protect that air. Other people often help meet my children’s needs for learning, belonging, care. Even if I lived in a supposedly self-sufficient farm … I would be interdependent on others to help with labour and care in times when I wasn’t well or was wanting to borrow tools or resources.
How does it feel to acknowlege that in your body? I see that our own health and wellbeing – and that of the people we deeply love – is interdependent. When I heard Miki Kashtan express a point about “the myth of self-sufficiency”, it was ironically a great relief. To accept that reality. I can find deeper care for myself and others with full respect for the fact that we are interdependent … and need it in abundance to thrive.
Being led, or leading?
Rather than try to explore this in written words, I found meditating on this artwork helped me find a sense of peace and even excitement. I discovered my initial interpretation of the image could shift in a way I’ve found so freeing and exciting.
I’d love you to listen to the meditation and let me know if it also contributes to your sense of peace, self-compassion and inspiration: that safety, autonomy and interdependence might seem to be in competition. In fact, they are coexisting facts, and when we open our heart to that … what creative and compassionate solutions will emerge today?
If you’re responding to the daily prompt, you might enjoy exploring how you cultivate your inner centre of safety. How does inner safety help you to enjoy more autonomy and interdependence in life? Can you describe a situation where all three needs were very alive in you – met or unmet?
Thank you for taking the time to attend to your inner world with gentleness and curiousity. I believe that is our greatest contribution to reducing suffering in the world and bringing more of what we want to our world.
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