I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately. I guess that’s not surprising given it’s the 4th of July – the day we’ve been taught to celebrate freedom. But recent events have made this year different, with so many examples of freedom — and its counterparts of oppression, intolerance, and discrimination — in the news. The Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage; California forcing parents to vaccinate their children or be banned from public schools; Caitlyn Jenner facing the world; innocent men and women gunned down in a church because of their race; President Obama calling for peace and leading us in a moving rendition of Amazing Grace; our young men and women engaged increasingly in tragic wars around the world … It seems, as a nation, that every loudly celebrated step we take toward “freedom for all” is greeted with a reminder that we aren’t quite as free as the slogans might suggest.
This is the inherent hurdle of a country that believes freedom was declared by its founding fathers, is decided by judges in black robes, and is defended daily by soldiers and bombs. That definition of freedom — the kind wars or courts decide and politicians and glossy magazine covers declare — is fleeting, slippery, and impossible to hang onto … like grabbing a handful of wet noodles. This is the challenge we face in viewing freedom as an object to be acquired. How can we ever be free if freedom requires the leverage of a rifle or a lawyer for us to experience it?
Freedom, like love and joy and so many other core human experiences, must be objectless and beyond condition to be real. The moment we attach a “to,” a “how,” or a “why” to it, the experience loses its essence, becomes hollow and subject to the endless chasing that defines so much of our existence. “I’m loved or happy or free if …” Thus we can never truly be. Or perhaps better stated, we never fully experience ourselves as what we already are because we’re so busy chasing a symbol of the experience outside ourselves.
This is the basis of the marketing behind consumerism disguised as patriotism. First we’re convinced into believing that we’re broken, lacking, and in need of fixing. Then we’re told we can experience wholeness if we buy a product or buy into an ideology, and then we’re upsold a never-ending supply of stuff as we desperately crave our fix. Just as we’re sold hamburgers to feed our hunger for food or prescription drugs to feed our hunger for health, we’re fed global war to feed our hunger for freedom. And behind it all are institutions claiming to defend our rights and freedoms.
But these institutions don’t really represent freedom. In fact, they’re little more than life rafts — supports we cling to out of fear of drowning in the complex oceans of our chaotic lives. As children learning to swim, we were taught the lesson that true freedom came only when the raft was removed and our fingers were pried from the edge of the pool, allowing us to swim freely on our own. Likewise we are now called to do the same in a world of rules, institutions, and theologies — to let go of our limiting beliefs and experience the true freedom that is our birthright. This kind of freedom requires no army, only a deep breath … and a deep knowing that freedom is ours.
The journey of realization of our innate freedom can be lonely. Like the freedom fighters romanticized throughout history, we set out on our own, misunderstood and disenfranchised. Alone, we explore the uncharted parts of ourselves and confront the demons of our past. We find ourselves naked, unmasked, and shivering in the offices of our therapists, on the mat of our yoga studios, and often in our own beds at night as we slowly unwind a lifetime of programming, memories, and stories of who we thought we were. What emerges on the other side is the culmination of every hero’s journey … a lighter, more authentic version of ourselves that is a little freer from the chains that bound us before we began.
While this journey starts with a declaration of independence, it often culminates in a declaration of another kind. Through the realization that none of this matters without each other we make a declaration of interdependence. We proclaim our life to be more than ourselves and our personal ambitions. We begin to understand that we can care for ourselves while caring for others. Our life slowly becomes dedicated to the service of not just ourselves, or others, but of us all. In this realization we free the spirit trapped inside … and we soar.
Today I invite you to lay down your weapons, both real and imagined. Let go of the stories, myths, and memories that have numbed your mind and tethered your soul. I invite you to join me in a declaration of independence from the rules, programming, and marketing that have bound us to wars, politics, and symbols in lieu of true freedom. I invite you to make a new declaration of interdependence with the realization that we’re not alone, that we’re in this together, and that, only by walking hand in hand, can we unlock the freedom that is our birthright. And then I invite us all to breathe together … to breathe again … and to breathe some more. This is what freedom feels like. May it flow silently from you to me, from me to you, and endlessly through us all.
Big hugs of love,