“We must always bear in mind that we are not going to be free, but are free already. Every idea that we are bound is a delusion.” —Swami Vivekananada
In the United States of America, July Fourth is meant to celebrate the day when Congress approved the final text that became known as The Declaration of Independence from England.
Rather than wax poetic and proudly patriotic about American democratic values or share my distress at how these values are currently compromised, this month’s essay will not explore Freedom as a political concept. Rather, the July 4th essay explores Freedom from a spiritual perspective and offers some practices that may deepen your own experience of Freedom. Thank you for reading, sharing and commenting on these essays!
“We’ve got the gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard, or just think it’s gonna get on with itself. You gotta keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it...and nurture it.”—JOHN LENNON
Christmas 1998, Naperville, Illinois
My mom notices my new license plate.. She asks me, the teatotaller, “GinFree? Honey, are you trying to tell me something?” I tell her to read the license plate as “Gettin’ Free.” After we stop laughing hysterically, we have a great conversation about our notions of freedom and specifically what I want to get free of. (More recently, I have also laughed when people read the GTNFREE license plate and politely affirm my choice to go “Gluten Free!”)
MY UNDERSTANDING OF FREEDOM EVOLVES…
“Everything can be taken from a man but… the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Victor Frankl
Before marriage and motherhood at age 19, my child-self felt Freedom meant trusting my own mystical thoughts and intuitions, despite how my super-rational parents classified them as “unproven speculation.” My dad often said, “Well now, we don’t know, do we, Martha?” Even though I adored my father and cringed at his disapproval, I secretly resisted this invalidation of my own direct experience of life.
In my twenties, as a college dropout married to a brilliant grad student, I yearned to be free of the narrow elitist confines of academia and the provincial social roles of wife and mother. The same yearning continued when we lived with a group of community organizers in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. Somehow, no matter how smart, most women were assigned to run the behind the scenes kitchen, bill-paying and childcare systems.
In my thirties, as a single working mother and college student who struggled to support and educate my teenage sons, Freedom looked like trying to fulfill my needs outside of the confining box of “Mom.” It was an ongoing challenge to find support, privacy, quiet time, and space to be an independent female human.
In my early forties, one winter day my Beloved kindly suggests, “Maybe you’ll want to wear a warmer coat.“ When I react with irritation, he observes, “You really don’t like anyone telling you what to do, do you?” It was one of those truth-bombs that our intimate partners are so skilled at hoisting. I was shocked to realize how fiercely and perhaps unhelpfully self-reliant I’d become. Clinging to my hard-won personal autonomy, I was unable to hear Harry’s positive intention for me.
Thus began our thirty+ year dance of interdependence as we entered our second marriage. After ten years on my own, Freedom meant sorting out my confusion about being an equal contributing feminist partner in our blended family. At first, we danced the cha-cha, stepping carefully in a back and forth dance of compromise. We learned to see the other’s positive intention as we built enough trust to negotiate the big differences in our personalities, family backgrounds, plus attitudes about religion and spirituality, politics, dish towels, and money. Today the dance continues but it’s more like a waltz with fewer bruised toes, grudge-holding and hurt feelings.
In my fifties, I chose a new license plate. GTNFREE came from a deeply intuitive commitment to keep defining for myself, “What is Freedom now? How do I get there? Who can help me learn to become more free? How can I be free and intimately involved with others?”
“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupery
In my sixties, thanks to a sudden life-death-life experience, I realized Freedom is all about a state of mind, not external circumstances. What a revelation! What a joy to be in charge of my own life at long last! Freedom was also about cleaning up my relationships and giving up being a victim. I made a list of my inharmonious relationships and conducted fierce soul-searching inventories about the disharmony created by my thoughts, words and actions. Miraculous reconciliations have followed…
“He who has no enemy, and is friendly and compassionate towards all, who is free from the feelings of ‘me and mine’, even-minded in pain and pleasure, and forbearing—these and other epithets of like nature are for him whose one goal in life is Moksha.” —Swami Vivekananda
Now in my seventies, I honor the long-ago magical child who trusted her own direct experiences in spite of how others discounted them. I define Freedom as being liberated from my attachment to my ego’s multiple and passionate preferences. Of course, liberation is a moment-to-moment practice of disciplining the mind. Some days are harmonious and other days not so much! Freedom means standing on my own two feet, and learning how to release the painful emotions that come with life’s heartaches and losses. The skillful means of Freedom is about bringing wisdom and compassion to myself and others. My courageous friend Marie talks about this skill as “putting on my big girl pants and dealing with the awful day ahead.”
Above all, Freedom also means letting go of my intense need for the approval and positive opinions of others. Gradually, I have accepted my reputation as the family weirdo, the only one who’s never watched Game of Thrones and who avoids ingesting violent images and loud superhero movies. Plus the purple hair…
Recently, new thoughts arose when my spiritual teacher shed more light on Freedom and answered: “How does one be free without harming another?”
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
PRACTICE FOR CONTEMPLATING FREEDOM
Take up your journal and pen. Begin by brainstorming memories from each decade of your life.
How did you experience Freedom?
How did you experience UnFreedom?
Has your understanding of Freedom changed over the years?
Do you have other words or images to describe being free?
Recall the past month…
What were times when you experienced UnFreedom?
What were you thinking, saying and doing in those moments?
What were times when you experienced Freedom?
What were you thinking, saying and doing in those moments?
Who do you know that you consider to be free?
How do they think, speak and act?
How do you want others to respect your freedom? How do you want them to behave?
How does your mind react when observing people behaving differently than you, in ways your disapprove of?
How hard is it for you to accept their right to be free in their own way? Be honest with yourself!
What is a phrase (mantra) you might repeat that helps you allow others to be free?
What is one small step you might take to enhance your experience of Freedom?
Find an image or symbol to remind you of this step and then take it!
POLITICS: WHAT’S SPIRITUALITY GOT TO DO WITH IT?
It has been so interesting to observe the twittersphere’s aversion to Marianne Williamson daring to get out of her ‘lane’ and enter the political lane on the second night of Democratic “debates”. Late-night comedians were merciless and the mobs on the Left and the Right told her to shut up and sit down: “How dare she take the place of a “qualified politician” on the debate stage? Another California hippie, bah! What kind of a flake suggests Love will overcome fear? Let’s appoint her Ambassador to Narnia.” blah, blah, blah…
What is behind this outraged highly emotional reaction? Is it misogyny? Is it religious beliefs? Is it intellectual skepticism whenever spiritual concepts are mentioned? Is it simply pragmatism? Are we so stuck in our own personal tribal echo chambers that we reject anyone who says something outside of that chamber? Is it indeed Fear of the Other standing up and speaking?
Please understand I am not making a political statement here. I heard and value the meta-messages contained in Ms. Williamson’s comments. She was calling Americans to wake up from the feverish nightmare brought on by our uncivil politics. She reframed the conversation on that stage. No DARVO for her! She deviated from the hate-filled, buck-passing, blaming and shaming discourse that modern political speech has devolved into. I applaud her freedom to speak Truth to Power and to do the hard work to expand and elevate the conversation about the future of our democracy.
I hope that more of us stand up and express our spirituality today—in all arenas including politics. On behalf of the next Seven Generations, we need to become fierce Guardians of Freedom, Equality, and Unity.
Wherever you are on July Fourth, enjoy the Beauty of Freedom. Love who you love and celebrate your capacity to create the life you choose, beginning with your attitude, your respect for the Other, and how you think!
May you walk in Beauty today and all the days of your life.