Do you find yourself saying “no” to offers of help from others, because you can handle it all on your own no matter what? Do you feel that you can’t ever ask for support even when you could really use some, because you don’t want to be a burden to others or appear weak or needy? Do you pride yourself on being strong and independent all the time? If so, I hate to break the news to you: There’s a good chance that you’re dysfunctionally independent and aren’t able to receive genuinely and graciously. Take heart, though, as you’re far from alone, and I know firsthand how you feel!
One of the books I’m reading and working with is Shift Happens! by Robert Holden. (Note: Don’t miss the “f” in “Shift”! :-)) The book is a compilation of short essays, with each brief, accessible chapter dealing with a specific aspect of consciousness to be shifted in order to live an inspired life. In the essay about independence, Dr. Holden lists a number of questions to help us assess whether we are what he coined “dysfunctionally independent.” He says (pg. 38):
Independence is not a strength, it is a wound. Independence is inspired not by love, but fear, and not by wholeness but aloneness. Independence is ego’s attempt to be its own god.
Ouch. For most of my life, I took pride in being independent, and have worked hard to remain so. But, when I read Dr. Holden’s description of independence and answered his questions about how I became independent, the revealed truth deeply stirred my soul. Here are the questions (pg. 40):
- When did you decide to become so independent?
- What are you afraid of?
- Who hurt you? Who let you down?
- When did you lose your faith?
- What are you defending against?
Receiving is the Key to Giving
Earlier this year, I wrote about recognizing that my true self is Pure Love, and how I embrace being an instrument of Love in service of others. At the same time, though, I knew that I wasn’t nearly as comfortable with receiving as giving. It’s so much easier to give than to receive, because to receive genuinely and graciously requires me to be vulnerable and to be open to the possibility of being hurt. Yet, I also knew that when I don’t receive, I cut off the circulation of love, which requires both giving and receiving. Besides, as Dr. Holden says (pg. 89):
Receiving is the key to giving. If you do not receive, all your giving eventually deteriorates into sacrifice. … and you play the victim.
Ouch again. I realized how dysfunctionally independent I had become, and how much I had inadvertently committed to being alone in all areas of my life—in the name of remaining strong and independent. Independence was the defense I had adopted and exercised most of my life to avoid feeling like a burden to others, and to protect myself from the pain of being unwanted and unloved.
With the above revelation, I went on a retreat in the redwoods last Thursday. The theme was “We are Love.” At the opening session of the retreat, I set the intention to be in the presence of Love. Almost as soon as I energetically released that intention, it was set in motion. Before that session was over, I felt a lifetime of trying to hold it together as a strong, independent woman crumbling. It felt as if a million lights were all at once shone on my humanness. There was no place to hide, as tears poured out uncontrollably.
In my emotional nakedness, I felt extremely vulnerable, and needed more than anything to be physically held by a loving pair of arms. Seated next to me at the time happened to be a spiritual counselor friend with whom I’ve taken classes for the past 2 years. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to hold me. Instead, I turned my need to be held over to my God, the Love within me, and fully succumbed to the experience of giving up the defenses I had built up inside against receiving love. Before I knew it, I felt my friend’s arms wrapped around me, pulling me gently toward him. I completely surrendered my need to be strong, and let him hold me as I sobbed next to his heartbeat. I ended up asking him to do the same for me again the next evening, as more tears fell while I continued to surrender decades of pent up control.
On the last day of the retreat, I walked the labyrinth at the retreat center. I entered the labyrinth with the intention of releasing the old agreement with myself to be alone, energetically releasing remnants of being hurt in the past that fueled my defensive independence. As I followed the same path in reverse out of the labyrinth, I did so with the intention of opening my heart to giving and receiving love, complete with corresponding yoga movements to facilitate the energy flow through my body and my consciousness.
That whole experience at the retreat was extremely powerful, healing and transformational. It reminds me of what one of my favorite mystics said:
Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi
With my spiritual study and practice over time, I have dismantled some of the barriers, especially those revolving around forgiveness of others and myself. The defensive need to be alone was a formidable barrier that came down last week. I’m excited about allowing myself to receive love more abundantly in all areas of my life—and letting receiving inspire a whole new level of giving, as per Dr. Holden!
I don’t know if you share my defensive need to be independent. Regardless, if you’re like most, receiving graciously doesn’t come naturally, but instead takes conscious willingness to be vulnerable. Being willing to receive is also a function of feeling worthy of receiving. Even though we were all born whole and complete, most of us ended up learning unworthiness—whether from emotional and/or physical abuse or some other difficult experiences that made us withdraw. This unworthiness became the rock on which internal barriers against love were inadvertently built, as depicted by Rumi.
If you indeed find yourself to be defensively independent, please know that this awareness is a great gift and a first step toward changing that. I strongly recommend that you read Shift Happens! At the minimum, give yourself the space and time to answer the questions he posed, which I listed above. Also, to pass on Dr. Holden’s gentle, loving advice, don’t answer the above questions on your own. Get together with a loved one or a group of like-minded others to be supported through it. I did, and I’m most grateful to my loving friends!
Here’s to our bidding farewell to dysfunctional independence and welcoming love of all forms!
Before you leave, please share your thoughts/feelings in the comment box below.
Photos of waterfall, labyrinth and statute: http://www.stillheart.org/index.php/facilities/the-grounds.
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