It's Independence Day weekend here in the U.S., and I've been reflecting a lot these last few days on both the beauty and the limitations of our culture's fierce, deep-rooted independence.
The call to independence is in its essence a call to freedom, and it's been responsible for profound cultural advances -- from the ending of publicly condoned slavery to the steady advancement of human rights.
Where our spirituality is concerned, however, our attachment to independence may be one of the greatest obstacles on our path.
As a spiritual guide and teacher, I've worked with thousands of people aspiring to realize their deepest potential. And if I've learned anything in the process, it's that for us to evolve -- as individuals and as a society -- we need each other.
To truly realize our highest potentials, our individual work is often not quite enough. Ultimately, we need to engage in transformative interactions with other people who share our aspiration to evolve.
It's a simple idea. But its implications run deep.
And for many of us, it raises some conflicting feelings. Perhaps you can see this in your own experience.
For instance, this notion that we can't walk the spiritual path alone may resonate with part of you -- the part that longs for connection and support on your journey.
Yet you might also be aware of some resistance to this suggestion.
In our modern world, in which independence has become almost a religion, the notion that we need other people foranything can seem almost like heresy. If we were to embrace such an idea, wouldn't we be giving away our power and our freedom?
When we think about traditional depictions of the spiritual path, the picture that often comes to mind is also of a solitary, independent journey. The lone sage on the mountaintop. The yogi alone in the cave. The hermit in a hut. The wandering pilgrim.
Even if we attend church services or classes or meditation groups, most of us still tend to think of our spiritual path as a private, internal, solo quest in which we are the sole determining factor of our own spiritual destiny.
But how independent are we, really?
If you've ever attended a personal growth workshop or spiritual retreat, you've probably noticed that in an environment where everyone is focused on our higher evolutionary potentials, it's relatively easy to experience a spiritual "high" or break through to new ground within ourselves.
But what happens when you come home from such an event -- and find yourself again surrounded by people who don't share your higher values and commitments?
For most of us, in the absence of a supportive social container for our awakening, we find ourselves quickly losing touch with the new potentials that seemed so accessible in the retreat or workshop environment.
Although we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, the reality is that we are social creatures. Our ability to co-exist with one another depends on our willingness to abide within a matrix of shared values, assumptions, and agreements about what is real, what is important, and what is acceptable behavior.
So unless we surround ourselves with others who share our deepest spiritual values and aspirations, we almost inevitably find ourselves fighting against a kind of invisible but powerful "social gravity." And it pulls us back into the unenlightened, unevolved "world mind" we're trying to break free from.
It's not impossible to generate "escape velocity" on one's own. But, for most of us, a sustained context of partnership with kindred spirits becomes essential.
Not only is shared spiritual inquiry a potent accelerator of our own evolution, I've also come to believe that we stand a much better chance of moving the mountains many of us dream of moving if we do it together.
After years of work facilitating spiritual work in community, and seeing tremendous results, I'm convinced of this: The greatest challenges of our time will not be solved merely by separate individuals, but by an enlightened collective. There's infinite potential in how we can cooperate, collaborate and unite to solve problems.
Ultimately, insistence upon pure "independence" is an obstacle -- to our radical evolution beyond ego, and into the truly enlightened relationship to life that will yield the world we yearn to create. To be an effective evolutionary is to embrace and cultivate the support of other evolutionaries.
So the question is, where and how do we begin to create an environment that cultivates this kind of evolutionary support and partnership?
Founder, Integral Enlightenment