The Awakening Moment – Choosing Freedom

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”
—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—
the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim,
that you’re suffering in paradise.”

~ Byron Katie

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The most popular game in the world is the Blame Game, where you choose between three roles: victim, persecutor, and rescuer. But there’s another option.

That’s our necessary starting point for discussing how to choose freedom. As Byron Katie said in the above quote, “As long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering, the situation is hopeless.”

So, is your situation hopeless or hopeful? An honest answer to that question will immediately alert you to your degree of personal investment in the Blame Game. Read on if you’re interested in playing a different game.

Anyone who identifies as a victim – and they can usually prove why they truly are a victim – is living in an illusion of separation. That illusion generates this formulaic result: separation = conflict = suffering.

Let’s take them one at a time but first establish the inconvenient truth that to relieve suffering one must address this chronic problem of separation. Working on conflict resolution is not enough, if the source problem remains unaddressed.

Separation from what? We can start a list with separation from God. Ironically, one technique we’ve perfected for that is called religion. Religion separates us from God by inserting a priest, rabbi, or guru between “me and Him.” Apparently we need that middleman.

Of course, religions are separate from another as well. In fact, true believers routinely go to war with each other, each claiming that God is on their side. That’s separation!

Nature. What about our separation from nature? For many millions of people, nature is no more than a vague backdrop. Consider the successful business man who rides an elevator to underground parking, drives to work, takes an elevator up to his office, goes to a restaurant for lunch, has cocktails after work, drives to the theater or home… day after day separated from nature. Of course, he or she may jog… but that’s about fitness, not simply enjoying a connection with the natural world.

Separation means that conflict is inevitable. The “other” is a problem. Wherever we have built a conceptual wall between ourselves and other people, other beliefs, other customs and practices, etc., conflict will follow and turf wars are not primarily geographical. Sports fans routinely fight each other, based on allegiance to their teams.

There’s no simple remedy for a chronic malady like the disease of separation and the conflict it produces, but nature can sure help. “Forest bathing is the practice of taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits. The practice originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku.” 1

The Wikipedia entry goes on to state: “Studies in Japan have measured changes in immune markers and stress hormones in people who regularly walked in specific forests in Japan. In addition, people with diabetes but not taking insulin found substantial benefits by lowering blood glucose levels.”

Of course, nature provides more than physical health benefits. Being in nature, where everything is so obviously connected, can restore our sense of being included, of belonging. And that’s what so much suffering is about. Regardless of our exploding global population, loneliness has become epidemic and, as a recent New York Times article stated, “Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.” 2

Separation = conflict = suffering. Inevitably.

But there is another option. We can choose freedom. We can embrace what I call “the awakening moment.” When is that moment? Right now.

This awakening is not necessarily about content. That is, we don’t need to have some sort of remarkable epiphany to experience waking up. Think about your experience this morning. You probably just… woke up!

The spiritual corollary is similar. It just happens, and it’s not usually that dramatic. It’s also easy to describe. The choice for freedom, embracing the awakening moment, exiting the Blame Game, happens when we take responsibility for authoring our own experience. Victims don’t do that.

BTW, we are where we are. It’s easy to judge ourselves and others but this is it… this moment is either the moment to be a victim or the moment to be free, including all our judgments, concepts, etc. Nothing needs to change in this moment except our choice. Everything else follows.

Either we will suffer in paradise, as Byron Katie warned, or we can enjoy this moment. Some choice!

That’s true freedom.



Freedom 2 – When Would Now Be a Good Time to Feel Free?

“The secret to happiness is freedom…
And the secret to freedom is courage.”

~ Thucydides

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It’s said by some that freedom isn’t free. That’s both true and misleading. Yes, we must pay attention to maintain our freedoms but we are all born free, without needing to do anything at all to earn it.

There’s an effective Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) motivational technique of inserting “now” into a statement, as I did in the subtitle of this blog. “When would now be a good time to feel free?” This is a perfect example of the technique and it raises an interesting question:

If we’re pursuing something, doesn’t it mean we don’t have it? The U.S. constitution guarantees us the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” This suggests that happiness is something to chase, something that we don’t already have. Similarly, the quest for freedom suggests the same limitation.

There is no doubt that slavery exists. Things may have changed legally but recent eruptions of racism have sadly revealed that many Americans do feel prejudiced against certain “others.” Ironically, this means that they are enslaved by their own beliefs, restricted to “us and them” conflict where security becomes an every day worry and gated communities become a symbol of what’s going on inside people.

What conditions would need to be put in place for you and I to feel free? It’s easy to think of the obvious. Having more money frees us to purchase what we need to keep ourselves and our families fed and sheltered. Good weather, loving friends, a friendly community… there are countless aspects of our lifestyle that can contribute to feeling free, and happy.

But let’s consider this on a deeper level. Without negating the necessity of developing those lifestyle components that ease the survival burdens of 21st century life, what gets in the way of feeling free? Because we all know that some people make the most of a lousy circumstance while others can feel enslaved midst enviable circumstances. A line from the Eagles song, Lying Eyes, comes to mind: “Late at night, the big old house gets lonely.”

In other words, having wealth does not guarantee happiness, freedom, or anything else. As I said in the last blog, freedom is an inside job. But it takes courage to be truly free, as Thucydides wrote hundreds of years ago.

So, what about that turn of phrase: “When would now be a good time to feel free?” Let’s get serious about answering that question. How about it? What’s limiting you from feeling free right now. Generate a list. See how many obstacles you can name.

Here’s some examples: I need a better job, want a different government, more money please, if only my husband would change, wait until my kids get through college, I’ve got to lose another ten pounds, etc.

And then, of course, there’s the big issues like climate change.

When we link our experience of freedom to external factors over which we have limited control we doom ourselves to slavery; it’s that simple. However, when we realize that freedom is an inside job and decide to bring freedom into our circumstances – rather than trying to extract freedom, or happiness, from our circumstances, things change instantly.


Breaking Chains

I call this self-empowerment. You make that choice to contribute. You choose to flip 180 degrees, from a taker to a giver and it happens in a split second. Of course, you need to keep doing it, over and over again, especially in situations where you have felt disempowered or overpowered by forces that seem to oppress you.

Some of them may. But what’s your reaction? What’s your habitual reaction? As I mentioned in the last blog, Nelson Mandela emerged from over twenty years of imprisonment with an attitude of forgiveness. He developed that while in prison!

What’s your prison? How long have you been in there? When would now be a good time to break out?

When we take this attitude, we learn that the door to whatever prison we have been languishing in, sometimes for years, was never locked. It was always up to us to claim freedom for ourselves. Isn’t that amazing?

I encourage you to take inventory of where you feel free and where you don’t. Certainly, there are environmental factors that play a large part in this and you can apply yourself to creating improvements there. But you can also work on the inside to examine your attitude and empower yourself, simply by deciding to follow Gandhi’s sage advice, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That’s true freedom.


Freedom 1 – Freedom is an Inside Job

“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.”

~ Nelson Mandela


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True freedom is an inside job. Regardless of circumstance, we can feel enslaved or liberated. It’s a personal choice.

Freedom is one of those values that means something different to everyone. Rather than staking out my own position on this, I’d rather explore aspects of freedom we can all easily agree with.

For starters, Mandela’s quote emphasizes that freedom is more than a value to enjoy for oneself. It must include others. He should know, having been imprisoned for over twenty years. What’s remarkable about his story is that, among many marvels, he developed a loving friendship with his personal guard. And when he was released, he expressed no bitterness towards those who had imprisoned him. He went on to become President of South Africa on a platform of forgiveness.

He demonstrated that it’s possible to feel free even in jail. Now, that puts our own challenges into perspective!

One online definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” That’s true but limited. True freedom includes enjoying life as part of the whole. Typically, we humans have excluded ourselves through our concept of exceptionalism, resulting in the epidemic of loneliness that has skyrocketed suicide rates in recent years.

Even with expensive toys to play with and conveniences to make life easier, thousands of people every year end their lives because they simply don’t want to live any more. They may or may not feel free to “act, speak, or think as (they) want without hindrance or restraint” but they are obviously not free within themselves. A friend just told me about an acquaintances daughter who was recently released from a rehab center where she paid $95,000 a month for treatment of her alcoholism. Not only did the treatments fail, she’s become psychotic.

Another friend told me a story about a doctor who was called to the hospital bedside of a patient who had tried suicide unsuccessfully. When he arrived, he found her surrounded by sympathetic family members. He took a different approach.

“What a loser,” he said. “You couldn’t even do this right.” Of course, family members were shocked and offended. But before they could protest, he added: “If you really feel you’re so worthless, then you should end your life. But all of us here love you. We know your value and we wish you did too. Why don’t you start loving yourself as much as we love you and get a real life?”

Apparently, this application of tough love worked. His patient was jolted to her senses and went on to recover and live a long life. Others in her situation are not as fortunate to have someone to help break the spell of disempowerment that propelled them to such a desperate precipice.

This case illustrates a phenomenon that some researchers are exploring, that many people are actually in a trance-like state much of the time. And, that identifying and understanding that state might be a step towards liberating them from their traumatic wounding. As one blog on hypnosis states, “Identifying the deep trance phenomena behind a problem points the way to a solution, as that trance state can be changed or broken. This raises the interesting possibility that hypnosis works by bringing people out of unhelpful trance states – unhypnotizing them, in effect!” 1

It’s illuminating to ponder our own condition of freedom or lack of freedom from this perspective. How free am I, how free are you, moment to moment, from trance-like conditions that limit a full experience of life?

Prejudice certainly comes to mind. We all have them but may not realize their influence on our day to day experience. For instance, presented with an unusual opportunity might provoke an unconscious defense. If it took shape as words we might say, “Sorry, I don’t do that.”

Why not?

Perhaps this is where the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” originated. For instance, some people might feel it’s too late to begin meditating. Why? Meditation has been proven effective in reducing stress and increasing enjoyment of the simple things in life. When would it ever be too late to do that? It certainly doesn’t require special skills, it doesn’t take much time, and it’s free!

We all want freedom in our lifestyle and liberation inside our minds. And we can easily achieve both: just treat every moment as an opportunity to express an attitude summed up by the words, “I’m free to be myself in this moment!” and learn mindfulness techniques like meditation to free yourself from the bombardment of negative thoughts, one of which might be “I’m not free.”


Progress – Crossing the Finish Line… Never

“The real meaning of enlightenment
is to gaze with undimmed eyes on darkness.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis

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We can be drawn to the light and ever remain a planet, or we can become the sun for our world.

There’s a story about a man in a mental institution who spent all night every night beside his window with a bucket, frantically scooping at the air and finally collapsing at sunrise with a relieved sigh: “I finally got all the darkness out of this room.”

Are we any less crazy? How much faith do we have in sunrise? So many of us object to the darkness – in whatever form it comes – and feel we must act to get rid of it. We can take issue with other’s sexual orientation, their politics, their lifestyles. And we can champion alternatives, sure that we know what’s best for them. Do we?

This reminds me of the story about a boy scout who retuned to headquarters battered and bruised, with his clothes torn. “What happened to you?” asked his scout master?

“I helped an old lady across the street,” he replied.

“But what happened?”

“She didn’t want to go!”

That’s what happens when we impose our will on others, even with the best of intentions. And why do we do that? Because we decide that something is wrong and we know how to fix it. In other words, the way things are right now needs to change. For spiritual seekers, it means that this could never be enlightenment.

Author and blogger Roy Biancalana writes, “… any practice, method or teacher that promises some future result, some future realization should be avoided. By holding out the “carrot of promise,” that one day you’ll go to heaven, they actually keep you from it. You are turned into a Greyhound dog chasing the rabbit at the dog track. You keep chasing the damn thing and you can never catch it. But if you stop chasing, if you stop seeking, the rabbit will come all the way around and hit you right in the ass! “It” finds you when you stop seeking “It.” 1

There is no finish line for enlightenment, regardless of what any religious program may promise. To conceive of enlightenment as a result is to fundamentally misunderstand what it is. True enlightenment is well described in the opening quote: “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on darkness.”

One is enlightened when one is shining. “Be the light!” could be the best spiritual advice available. Of course, to be the light we need to be lit up and no one can do that disconnected from the source of light. We are transmitters of light but the transmission doesn’t start with ourselves. Something gives us life, moment by moment, and that is what we can transmit.

Something is beating your heart. Something is steering the stars. Something is ensuring that billions of simultaneous activities everywhere in the cosmos somehow coordinate together to give us the stability we depend on to simply function. We can call it what we want to and disagree on words and beliefs but the reality remains. And we have faith in “it.” We don’t worry that we’ll wake up one morning and fall off the earth.

Since humans began to think we’ve wondered about our place in all this. Of course, the search for answers, the quest for personal meaning and a more understanding of the purpose of life will never end. The path is endless and it doesn’t proceed in a straight line. We can acknowledge our human birth and death as beginning and ending points for this human experience, but the deeper we explore the path of awakening the less constrained we feel between those two book ends. As we sense more of a kinship with life itself, the life that informs our bodies, we begin to transcend those limitations.

Our basic understanding of self begins to transform and it leads to this liberating realization: “I will never be enlightened.”

You may become “enlightening,” that is, you may develop into someone who brings light into the circumstances of your life. You may evolve your understanding and experience in ways that mark you as an advanced human but not through what you believe or think or say or even do, but because of the bright revelation of who you are, moment by moment.

And, darkness wouldn’t scare you. Think about it: where is light needed most? Where there’s lots of light already present or where there’s darkness to dispel? Not with a bucket, struggling to right a wrong, but with the natural rising of the sun, the arrival of one’s own shining presence.

During this series of blogs we’ve explored what is and what isn’t spiritual progress. Now, here in the last one, we can expose the big lie about enlightenment. Yes, there will be more “progress” to make – for the rest of our lives! But this is the moment to shine.

You are already “it.”