I realize this isn’t a political blog, nor do I want to write a political blog, but this past Fourth of July holiday with all the ubiquitous articles commenting on our country’s beginnings, the fireworks shows, the picnics, the music, and the gatherings of family and friends prompted me to give some good thought to what freedom actually means. Merriam-Webster has a generally accepted definition of freedom. The Future of Freedom Foundation takes the definition of freedom and created a political viewpoint. The National Endowment for Democracy charges itself to promote democratic freedoms globally. The U.S. Department of State has a branch that promotes global religious freedom. All of these groups, and all the varied groups in between, are populated with well-intentioned individuals attempting to live their values and promote freedom in grand, illustrious and outwardly-focused endeavors. But what of the rest of us? How can those of us with lives so full we can barely find time to sleep understand how to promote or live freedom in our daily lives? In our blessed American lives, does the question of freedom ever cross our minds?
The more I thought about freedom, the more I left the global/political view. Instead, I kept returning to the idea of The Wheel of Samsara (The Wheel of Suffering), or “The Cycle of Existence, or The Path of Transmigration”. Samsara, in a nutshell, is the concept that we continually act/react to the sensations and events of our world (micro and macro) in such a way that we also continually experience a lack of freedom from the suffering this “wheel” brings. Hinduism expresses samsara through the concept of karma. Hindu (and Buddhist) texts say we cannot avoid our fate, our karma, but instead we must strive to make changes to clear our karma in order to find release from suffering. We all seek peace. We all seek love. We all seek freedom from the dramas and traumas of our mundane lives — and we all habitually seek that freedom from outside sources. We look to our political leaders, our religious leaders, our Yoga classes, our cocktails, our fast-and-furious lifestyles, etc., etc. to carry us through and provide some insight, some satisfaction. But these things do not bring freedom from suffering. Instead, our dependence on these outside sources can very easily keep us in the cycle of suffering in which we’ve always resided.
Please don’t mistake me, these outside sources are often valuable and provide those necessary moments of surcease, or the paths and processes in which as a society or as an individual allows us to successfully navigate. But the individual moments pass swiftly, and the societal processes ebb and flow constantly. Where does that leave us? Well, we have a choice. We can either continue as we always have, or we stop, take a breath, gather some courage and decide to take responsibility for defining and finding freedom from our personal suffering. Essentially, we need to start our own personal revolutions.
So, how does one go about starting a personal revolution and finding freedom? There’s no one answer and there’s certainly no easy answer. (Sorry!) The Buddha spent his life seeking this freedom, and according to the Buddha, the path for us all to find this freedom, this enlightenment, lies within The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. And before you start thinking, “be like the Buddha? Are you nuts? I’ve got to get up at 5a.m., get in some Sun Salutations, then work all day, pick up the kids, cook dinner, help the kids with their homework, throw in some laundry, try to connect with my partner and somehow still sleep enough so I can get up and do it all again tomorrow! How the heck can I find time to follow the Buddha’s footsteps?!”, take a breath. Then take another breath and realize that you don’t have to be a Buddha to practice and learn. Realize the Buddha’s path/concepts are essentially being honed every time we mindfully step on our mat to move through asanas or sit on our meditation cushion to practice. We’re choosing to practice being present. Breath by breath we’re learning to be aware of sensation, without always needing to react. Breath by breath we’re constantly learning and relearning that the only thing that is ever constant is our true Self (Hindus refer to this as Atman). Everything else is continually changing. Always. We can’t change the world and we can’t release from the Wheel, until we learn to change ourselves. And THAT takes practice and a whole lot of compassion.
How do you find freedom in your daily life? Do you think about it? How does your Yoga practice help you define freedom?
Om, Shanti, Om.