Happy Independence Day!

eagleI love July 4th! I love the celebration, the fireworks, the idea of freedom and independence. There are many shades and nuances to freedom, I think. Of course, there are very literal interpretations in the case of a slave or a prisoner. It is unfortunate that even now literal slavery still exists in the world. And the prison population in the US is nothing to be happy about. But if you are reading this, chances are you are well removed from those two instances.

The question then is, “Are you free?” My favorite teacher always closed her yoga classes with the following blessing, that I also use:

May you be happy as I wish to be happy.

May you be healthy as I wish to be healthy.

May you be full of joy as I wish to be joyful.

May you be free from suffering, as I wish to be free.

The last line always made me unsettled. My thoughts would dart to slaves or prisoners and I would feel rather uncomfortable saying that I wish to be free. “I AM free!”, I thought, “What suffering?” Given that I had a comfortable middle-class income at that time and practiced with my all-white middle class colleagues made it all the more silly. But yoga and repeating things over and over have a funny way of sticking with you. Eventually, I had a light bulb moment as I was endlessly going over and over of what to do with my life. Do I leave said comfortable, but numbing job and do what I really feel can help others and be fulfilling, or do I write that dream off and stick with my career. The indecision and going back and forth was just painful. And that’s when I got it, that’s suffering! Yes, different kind, the one that we create ourselves, but suffering nonetheless!

Since then I have begun to view the superfluous mental activity as suffering. The kind where you keep worrying about things that are out of your control, where you think up all the different possible scenarios and not good ones either. And in that light the freedom looks a bit different too. Am I free from other people’s expectations of me? Am I free to do what my heart desires? Are you?

I hope as you are drinking some beer this weekend (make it a local one) and munching on some food (local?), you’ll have a minute to think of both physical and emotional freedom and toast to that.