A Declaration of Interdependence

Although independence from domination is important, it doesn't have much to do with freedom.

BY: Raphael Cushnir


Every year of my childhood, during my family's Passover seder, we recited the following line aloud: "None of us are truly free unless all of us are free." That idea never made much of an impression on me until recently.

Now I think about it constantly, and even more so with the arrival of July 4 and all the usual odes to independence and freedom that inevitably hit the airwaves. To me, although independence from the domination of any person, group or ideology is an important and vital goal, it doesn't have much to do with freedom at all.

True freedom comes to us when we fully grasp our interdependence, not just with our immediate surroundings but with all of existence, and when we joyfully assume the responsibilities that come with it. On this point Judaism, Buddhism and many other wisdom traditions agree. But my own thoughts are less about religious or ethical belief systems and more about the quality of our everyday lives, about the way we think, feel and act on a moment-by-moment basis. It's with this focus that I propose an alternate July 4 celebration, that of Interdependence Day, a time to reassert our dedication to liberty and justice, not just for some, but for all.

To explain the evolution of my understanding, allow me to share a little bit of personal history. About 10 years ago, I had what appeared to be the perfect life. After years of therapy and meditation I was finally reaping the fruits of all that internal exploration. I had become a successful writer and filmmaker in Hollywood, and was happily married to a wonderful woman.

Then, practically at once, all that fell apart. Professionally, I went from winning prestigious awards to losing out on assignments. Personally, my wife lapsed into a destructive affair with a drug dealer and eventually attempted suicide. (Although we're no longer together, she's fully healed and we're still great friends.) All this led to a classic dark night of the soul, full of the kind of pain for which my psycho-spiritual tools were no match. Every moment felt like a punch in the gut. I knew there was something I needed to do with my pain, but what? I asked a friend, an ex-Zen monk, who said, "Nothing. Do absolutely nothing to change how you feel. Every time your mind tries to figure this out, just reel it back in. Every time you're tempted by distraction, stay put and pay close attention."

My friend's advice sounded excruciating, but it also struck a chord. I decided to try it, to just sit in the soup of my suffering. I lived that way for six months. Then one day during my morning meditation, I had a mysterious flash of grace. I was filled with peace, joy, and a love beyond comprehension. My circumstances hadn't changed, yet everything felt completely different. I thought it might be a reaction to all the pain, like a pendulum swinging, but I never swung back the other way.

It's been nine years now, and whenever I tell this story, people ask, "Are you saying you live in a state of bliss all the time?" The answer, of course, is no. It's always available to me, but I'm not always available to it.

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