This idea has been front and center in my mind these past few days. I’m in the midst of preparing for my final exam in my Yoga Teacher Training and also preparing for holidays as well as watching weather crises wind down in the south and the slow roll of Covid vaccine rollout in my state.
And in the midst of all of it, I keep coming back to this idea of interconnectedness.
We have this blind spot in American culture where we tend to like to look at things as belonging in separate containers. In school, subjects are neatly divided, with science keeping a safe distance from history and history not interacting much with english and so on. Anyone who has ever had a medical issue that falls between two specialties knows acutely how our medical system divides up the body into different systems, each with specialists focusing on just one part. We ran into this figuring out which insurance applied to my daughter’s oral surgery…on the one hand, it’s teeth, so maybe dental? On the other hand, it’s surgery in her jaw…so maybe medical? It turns out the answer is…it all depends.
Over and over this pattern is repeated. We are a people who like things to sit in very neat, well-defined containers.
We divide up our land similarly into discrete states. This past year, a problem cropped up when states realized that with employees working from home, many people were working in a different state than their company was in…and then scrambled to figure out how that impacted state taxes. We try to easily categorize people as well, trying to simplify complex ideas of identity into simpler containers.
And yet…all of this is absolutely an illusion and that illusion breaks down pretty quickly when catastrophe strikes.
In my Yoga Teacher Training, we talk a LOT about anatomy and physiology. Now, I’ll always refer you to your doctor or physical therapist or chiropractor if you suspect you might have some kind of issue with a joint or muscle or connective tissue. Where I come in is after you’ve seen that professional, they’ve cleared you to practice yoga, and you come to me to learn which poses will help your issue and which ones you should avoid or modify. What I’ve learned in my training is a lot about how the body really isn’t so easily divided into discrete parts. Pain in the knee can actually be caused by a muscle imbalance or problem in the lower back. Stretching your chest can sometimes help relieve a headache or pain in your neck. Our bodies are amazing, intricate structures and each part is connected and dependent on others. A weakness or tightness in one place can show up as a problem far along down the line and the key to a healthy body is understanding this interconnectedness and keeping the parts in balance so nothing is doing more work than it’s meant to because another muscle group is slacking and weak or pulling on other joints or groups of muscles.
Think of an orchestra, with each instrument performing its part in harmony to create the whole.
Zooming back out, it’s easy to see how a lot of things are not in balance around us and how often we try to treat each part of a complex system as if its separate. This year taught us SO viscerally that what happens in one state or even one nation…ripples to others. A tiny virus that jumped to humans on the other side of the world has changed everything here where I live. The storm in Texas showed that no state, even the Lone Star state, should try to stand completely on their own, that being connected to others can be a reservoir of strength to draw on when our own energy is threatened. Texans reached out to their northern friends and family for tips on how to handle the cold and power outages and I’m betting that they will be better prepared if anything like this comes their way.
If there’s anything I’ve really learned this year, it is just how interconnected we all really are. In America, we have this fairy tale of rugged individualism with a mental picture of a frontiersman living out on his own, completely self-sufficient. The reality then and now doesn’t quite fit that fairy tale. We’ve always needed each other and worked together to face challenges from extreme weather to bad harvests to other threats. When we lived in Alaska, in the last frontier, even there, most people had others they were connected to and practiced a form of interdependence with. Neighbors would share the costs of a plane flying to Anchorage for supplies or would divide up a moose kill to share in exchange for help packaging the meat.
We’ve seen that independence can make us brittle and much more vulnerable when circumstances change and that being connected to others, while it carries risk, is also a source of strength.
I hope that as we slowly emerge from this extraordinary time that we’ll each find a better balance between independence and interconnectedness. I hope we’ll keep working together to help our neighbors and community members. I hope we’ll also understand that connection does take effort after having to work through social distancing rules and having to find new ways to connect. I hope that we’ll each begin to let go of the fairy tale of every man for himself and instead embrace the idea that we are all in this together and that we’re stronger when we work together.
I hope we find our balance again, so we have the same ease as a well-balanced body after a good stretch rather than limping along hunched and in survival mode.