American history might leave many of us with the idea that Freedom is something that one has to earn and acquire. On one side, there are those that believe that sinking billions of dollars into national defense is a solution to “holding onto hard-fought” freedoms; on the other side, there are those who rightfully advocate for freedom through the elimination of institutionalized oppression.
And yet, the Founding Fathers’ perspective on Freedom is what made them so revolutionary. Freedom is self-evident. It is a right endowed to us by virtue of walking on this earth.
When we fight for Freedom, it is not to get something we didn’t have, but rather to restore something that has always been ours.
Freedom, therefore, starts with us. Of what do we need to let go … What do we need to surrender in order for us to restore our Freedom?
Surrender is a paradox. When we surrender, we actually achieve real and authentic power. How is it possible that we are more powerful in surrendering?
The Buddha discovered that the mind enslaves us in conditioning that is reinforced through the repetition of habits. Jesus was a revolutionary precisely because he represented a break from the rigid and repetitive ways of thinking that dictated his society. Krishna counsels Arjuna on the battlefield that it is in the present moment that we must master our minds, which keep us trapped in the vicious cycle of samsara, of the past repeating itself in our present and future. Two days ago, our Muslim brethren began Ramadan, which involves fasting, a ritual break from those things that keep us apart from God in each and every moment.
We are slaves to our conditioning. Our habits define us. We don’t even realize the ways in which we are gripped by them: Our friend says something, and we already know what they are going to say. We make the same commute in traffic, and next thing we know, we have somehow guided ourselves back home without even remembering how we got there. Our partner says something with a bit of a tone, and the next thing we know, we’re fighting the same argument we’ve fought a hundred times before.
Surrender offers us freedom from this conditioning. It is a recognition that we are trapped in our conditioned ways of thinking, speaking, and doing, and saying, “I know where this is going to take me, and I don’t want to go there anymore. I choose to give up, trusting that I will be led to a place I’ve never been before.”
It is a surrender to every possibility made available by the unknown. It is in this infinitude of possibilities that we derive power, a power that can only be accessed through surrender.
In my last meditation session, a truth came bubbling up to the surface: Freedom is about letting go. It’s not the first time that I had considered this idea. In fact, it is one of the central ideas in Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith‘s Spiritual Liberation. This time, though, it was a truth that I got to experience.
Freedom is not about getting something. It’s not getting more money, more social capital, more security. It’s about surrender. It’s about allowing the lies we tell to ourselves about ourselves to fall away. It is about who we essentially are when we strip away all those staunchly-defended aspects of our identity. It is about release, about the answer to “Who am I?” when we’ve run out of answers.
We are not free when we have more breath; rather, we feel free when we are able to exhale deeply into the truth. …
One of the bodhisattvas that I most love is Quan Yin. Buddhist mythology holds that Quan Yin had an opportunity to achieve full enlightenment. Instead, she forwent enlightenment, saying that she would only cross that threshold when all beings have been freed from suffering. I’ve always seen this as the ultimate act of compassion. Yet, last night, I realized that for her to have achieved that level of compassion for others, she had to have shown the deepest compassion towards herself first.
In an age where we are attempting to do more, and therefore, have more things that we don’t get done, there are more opportunities for us to beat ourselves up. That’s when we need to show ourselves compassion.
The more I love about myself, the more of myself that I make available to others.
In my last entry, I wrote about the self-acceptance I must show myself, especially when I am coming from a place of “I’m not good enough for a romantic relationship.” It is so easy to feel a sense of lack and limitation in oneself, especially when you are with someone you feel is so confident and strong.
Feeling undeserving … of love, prosperity, success, etc. … comes easy in a world dominated by the collective myth of scarcity. More difficult is unlearning this conditioning to remember the truth: That we come into this world deserving of everything Life has to offer, AND that that is still true despite whatever failings or sins we might have felt we committed.
Self-acceptance isn’t about just loving all of ourselves, both the parts we like and those we don’t. It’s also about believing ourselves to be worthy of everything available to human being.
In five days, I’ll be going on a much-needed retreat, and sharing that experience with someone for whom I care very deeply. The entire situation is set up to deliver a memorable four days that could leave me walking on air.
Yet, as I shared with Noah, my intention for the weekend is not the feel-good feeling of having done some good work. The feel-good eventually wears off, and I look for the next feel-good “fix.” Rather, my intention is for Clarity, for being completely and fully in the present in such a way that I am free from the conditioned, unconscious ways of the ego.
This is where water as a metaphor for emotions is an apropos one. The waters of the surface churn or remain calm depending on the weather, or current circumstances, of our lives. Yet, when the water is still, and the mud and silt of living settle, we can see straight down the clear waters to the very depths of our being.
So it is that true Bliss is not about the short-lived feeling of euphoria; rather, it is about Clarity that elevates us above our human being to the truth of who we are.
As I wade through and finish reading The Velvet Rage – in which psychotherapist, Alan Downs, PhD, explores gay male sexual development and its implications for how we look at ourselves and our relationships – I am definitely feeling uncomfortable and confronted by all the ways in which I have become conscious of my own inauthenticity. It’s not that I have been intentionally dishonest nor malicious with myself or others. Rather, like most human beings, gay or straight, there is a certain way in which who I am being and how I am acting in the world is unconsciously informed and driven by conditioned responses. For example, if a current lover says something that feels critical of me, and in the past how I’ve reacted is to get angry, then it is likely that my conditioned response with the current lover will be to get angry. Another example: If, in the past, my experience has been to pull away from someone if it starts getting serious, then it is likely that, in a current relationship, I may do the same thing, because that is how I learned to deal with (read: survive) that situation. … And the insidious part of this is that it is self-reinforcing: The more the situation arises, the more likely I am to respond with my conditioned response, and the more entrenched that conditioning becomes.
Dr. Downs offers a prescription that could have been just as easily been offered by someone from the Buddhist or yogic wisdom traditions: The path to Freedom from conditioned/unconscious response begins with authenticity. It begins with consciously choosing from who we are, rather than reacting to our circumstances and environments. It begins with me reconnecting with and coming from the authentic Self, the one underneath the masks and facades, … the one who knows who I really am … and bringing that Self out of the closet and into the world.