It’s well known in Yoga circles that one of the possible outcomes of dedicated practice, study and meditation is that we may potentially experience some sort of freedom from the more unsavoury aspects of being human, namely the six poisons of greed, envy, anger, desire, delusion and sloth and the five klesas of not seeing reality, attachment, aversion, ego and fear of letting go of ego. To cease to become dependent on the human condition and to become independent, free spirits.
So ahead of July 4th, American Independence Day, I started thinking about my own dependences. I wrote a list of things that my human self is dependent on, to see whether or not there is some work to do there, a battle to be fought perhaps, in the struggle for my own independence. In general the list covered air, water, food, shelter, clothes, loved ones, health, finance, connection to nature and personal freedom. It was this final point on the list, this acknowledgement of my dependence on the permission to say and do as I please within the bounds of the very reasonable laws of the land, that suddenly begged the question ‘what is reasonable?’ and led me to a potentially more interesting line of enquiry. Namely, ‘has society taken independence and personal freedom too far?’
Taking the American firearms debate as a case in point. Why do some people feel dependent on the right to bear arms, when most of the rest of the world is quite happy to accept that carrying a gun is probably not of huge benefit to society as a whole and can live without that particular ‘freedom’?
The question then is when does independence become generally harmful? This is what the law is for. Striking a balance between the ‘rights’ of the individual with the ‘needs’ of society. Where do personal freedom and social responsibility begin and end? And what about our responsibility to the wider society, AKA the planet?
Which then brought me back to the second-to-last dependence on my list, ‘connection to nature’. I personally find it hard to live a happy life without spending some time outdoors, feeling the wind on my face, the soil between my fingers, the water on my skin and enjoying the myriad creatures and plants and rocks and mountains and oceans and so on. I feel like I have a connection to all the elements that exist alongside the human population on the planet. I am delighted to be sharing space with all of them (even the mosquitos). And because I feel a connection with them, I feel a responsibility to them too. At the expense of my personal rights and freedoms if necessary.
Let’s take farming as an example. I could set up a business farming crops and spraying them with chemicals to kills pests, to ensure maximum yield for the human population to eat and maximum profit for me. But that ignores the rights of the soil, air and local water courses to stay unpolluted and the rights of insects and fish and mammals around the fields to stay alive. That puts the rights of one species ahead of the rights of several hundred other species in the area.
Previous societies like the Native Americans and Australian indigenous population of Aborigines seem to have had a much more balanced relationship with the earth and their impact on it. They walked the tightrope between freedom/independence and connection/responsibility, accepting that you win some (you survive a winter), you lose some (sometimes the wolves take a child). [“What! They wolves took a child and that was OK!? Pass me my gun, get a posse together, we’re going to kill all the wolves because one human life is more important than all of the wolf lives.”]
Honestly, I only started writing a little list of personal enquiry to see whether I was too dependent on Jasmine green tea and I’ve ended up a tub-thumping Friend of the Earth in the space of one blog post. It’s dangerous this thinking lark!
So I wonder, at what point will our human independences, so drastically affect the dependences of all the other elements and life forms on the planet, that it becomes a case of them or us? I’m pretty sure we can’t live without most of them, so it’s probably going to be us. The next question is, ‘will we wake up and change our expectations of freedom in time to become responsible again?’
I hope so, I hope that at some point (soon) the remaining (probably much smaller) human population celebrates ‘Too much Independence Day’ instead. The day that every human on the planet respected the rights of some other life-forms to live here too and agreed to take from the earth only what they needed, rather than what they mistakenly believed was rightfully theirs.
Wow, err, happy giant firework display day everyone.