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Hippie (noun): a person, typically young, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, who believed in peace, was opposed to many of the accepted ideas about how to live, had long hair, and often lived in groups and took drugs.

My daughter’s tween friends recently labeled her “the hippie” of their group. While part of me cringed at the act of assigning a label, part of me cheered inside. I suspect they weren’t referring to the long hair or the drugs. I suspect, rather, that they connected my almost-twelve-year-old with the idea that hippies don’t conform to societal norms. This, I think, can be a good thing.

What it Looks Like

My daughter exemplifies non-conformity in ways that surprise and inspire me. Somehow, during this most challenging tween time, she is often solidly OK not doing what everyone else is doing. If her friends do something she’s not into, like running a race, she doesn’t join in, and she doesn’t seem to fear missing out or being judged for it. She isn’t (yet) overly concerned about how she’s perceived by others—she doesn’t typically smile or agree just to please. She has a healthy level of skepticism for and a reliance on her own internal compass that I did not have at twelve-years-old. And she’s in the care of my husband and I who raise her with, what some might call, an alternative lifestyle with respect to food, healthcare, and spirituality. This doesn’t go unnoticed by her friends.

Maybe our daughter has internalized our repeated messaging to be true to herself and to carefully consider whether or not something she hears, sees, or is told by others is true for her. We’re often reminding her that there are many possibilities, perspectives, and beliefs in any given situation. While we provide boundaries on behavior, we want her to learn how to connect with and trust her intuition, cultivate her curious and critical mind, ask questions that expand thinking and open possibilities, and bring a certain level of self-awareness to her inner and outer experiences. This, I think, makes a free thinker. (If it sounds too good to be true, know that my husband and I don’t always live this in our parenting, as we’re still learning it ourselves).

It’s Not Easy

When we commit to these “free thinking” practices, it’s possible, maybe even probable, that we’ll be perceived as non-conformists, because we’re more likely to be thinking, believing, or acting according to our own internal compass. Not conforming can feel scary, I know. Free thinking hasn’t come easily for me. I’ve been on a long journey of reclaiming my inner compass because, for much of my life, I couldn’t separate my experience from that of another. I struggled to accept my truth when it conflicted with the truth of another, especially another with authority. People-pleasing kept me small, starving, and disconnected from myself. This was a product of nature, nurture, and a culture that teaches women, in particular to ignore, or even vilify, our bodies and our intuition.

More and more, I’m learning to honor my intuition, to ask the hard questions, to think out of the proverbial box, and to stand in my truth and power. The bigger challenge for me right now is expressing that truth, because part of me still believes that taking up space, or speaking a truth that’s not popular, is unsafe. But our collective health is too important. Staying small won’t work.

Why it’s Important

I believe, now more than ever, the world needs “free thinkers,” especially when it comes to our individual and collective health. We must get to know our minds, hearts, and bodies and trust their innate intelligence. We must get curious, do our own research, and seek information beyond what’s handed to us. We must ask ourselves and others difficult questions. And we must bring increasing levels of self-awareness to our inner and outer worlds.

We must do these things for our individual and collective wellness. In the United States, the rates of chronic physical and mental illness are remarkable and rising. Six in ten adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and four in ten have two or more. One in five adults lives with mental illness. Our children are increasingly plagued by chronic illness as well. Our healthcare system is, quite literally, a sick-care system that spends 3.3 trillion dollars annually on managing heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, and more. The numbers for our underprivileged populations are even more alarming. We’re seeing the disparities even more clearly as Coronavirus disproportionately impacts our African-American communities. Coronavirus isn’t breaking our healthcare system. It’s showing us how broken it already is.

What If…

It seems that our current approach to cultivating health in the U.S. mayn’t actually be working. I’m not suggesting there’s one way to remedy our healthcare woes. I’m suggesting that we all, especially the privileged among us, step up our free thinking so that we can work to create a healthier world for us all. As we reconnect with our innate healing capacity and our intuition, as we explore and research below the surface, as we critically think for ourselves and open our minds, we may find ourselves reconsidering what we think we know, what we believe, and in whom we place our trust.

We may find that our “what ifs” look very different than they do now:

What if…

we no longer feared and ignored our bodies?

pharmaceutical companies couldn’t promote their drugs to the public?

we all (including our systems) honored the interdependence of our mental and physical health and safety?

fifteen minutes with your doctor a few times per year doesn’t render him or her the best expert or authority on your health and wellness?

we trusted the wisdom of the body and stopped seeing it as something that needs to be fixed?

we don’t accept medications without informed consent and consideration of all the alternatives?

individualized medicine is good for public health?

the health of our internal and external environments are equally, if not more, important for our health than avoiding germs or pathogens?

if our bodies know how to heal themselves given the right conditions?

a diagnosis is not forever?

all vaccines are not good for all bodies?

we supported systems that make health promoting behaviors, childcare, complimentary and alternative medicine, whole foods, elder care, and mental health support more affordable and stopped supporting systems that make processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs, and alcohol the cheapest options?

we can be our own best experts?

One Last Thing

If you feel uneasy reading this blog, that’s normal. Humans tend to interpret information in ways that support our desired conclusions. We seek information and research that supports our current worldview, beliefs, and ideals, AND when we’re presented with research or information that contradicts our beliefs, we find ways to discount that research. This is called biased assimilation, and we all do it. When we’re presented with information that doesn’t support the picture we’ve created in our minds, we experience cognitive dissonance; that is, we experience psychological distress when we try to hold these two (or more) seemingly contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. Humans attempt to “fix” this inconsistency and minimize the discomfort. So, if the questions I’ve offered challenge your worldview, you might be feeling uncomfortable, and you’ll probably be inclined to disregard it. I invite you to stay with the discomfort, because that’s where the magic happens. That’s where we move forward and build new frameworks for health and healing.

I was mostly unaware that I was on this “free thinking” journey when I was younger, but I was on it nonetheless. And it intensified with the development of chronic illness and the birth of my children, because my intuition, endless research, and critical thinking led me down non-conventional paths for managing our health challenges. The discomfort of this cannot be overstated. I have made so many difficult choices that are outside of the norm, and for me, even now, that can feel like an assault to a healing nervous system. But the stretches into free thinking have been so worth it as my healing flourishes more and more. And I know our collective health depends on it.