What is freedom? If you asked 100 people what freedom is, you may very well get 100 different answers. The reason for this is that no two people are exactly alike and each has his or her own set of past experiences, perceptions and belief systems. Also, if you believe in karma and reincarnation — more than one billion people do — it brings another level of complexity to this simple question.
For those who were born into this current age — or Yuga — with certain colors of skin, their idea of freedom may be “freedom from racism.” For those who were born into a particular religion, they may have been persecuted for this belief system and may wish for “freedom from religious oppression.” For those who may have grown up in a poor or broken household, they may wish for “freedom from poverty or abuse.” For those who may have come into this world with physical abnormalities, they may wish for “freedom from pain.” As we can see, this question is much deeper than originally thought.
The reality is that all of us have shackles of some sort — and each person wants to be free from the cradle to the grave. This impulse for freedom is part of our divine DNA, as God intended for all of us to be happy, joyous and free.
So, where did we go wrong and how do we go about freeing ourselves from all the little and big karmic entanglements we have made of our lives? Well, first we need to be honest with ourselves. This is a key component for our foundation of freedom and happiness. Without honestly looking at our self through the calm mirror of introspection, we can’t see what works and what needs to be changed. Denial and delusion are tricky things to deal with and they thrive like an unwelcome virus when left to their own devices.
So many people live in a state of denial and keep their lives so outwardly busy that they don’t have any free time to honestly look within. Frankly, it scares the heck out of most people to even consider stopping everything they are doing and to ponder oneself in quiet solitude. It takes a courageous individual to look closely at one’s thoughts, words and deeds and to weigh them accordingly. Many would rather take the inventory of others but not of themselves. This writer can humbly admit he felt the same way when he was 19 years old while spending a month at a spiritual retreat in Val-Morin in Quebec, Canada. To be directed to look into the old dungeon of the past was very scary, as the ego likes to live and work undetected.
When we shine the light of truth upon it, it knows not what to do and wants to run away. The ego and its pettiness can be wrapped in so many layers of denial. I heard a saying years ago that stuck with me. Ego means “Easing God Out.” It’s the unchecked and unbridled ego with its army of little minions, “bad habits,” that cause us untold grief and suffering. Those various ego character traits are numerous: false pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, anger, manipulation, rationalization, justification, blame, self-pity, dishonesty, guilt and self-rejection, to name a few.
After the intense 30-day retreat of identifying and acknowledging my ego traits with the group, I felt as if I was freed from so many different kinds of ego-related shackles. I had received a wonderful taste of freedom and a newfound confidence in my true self. Looking back, it was just the beginning; many more steps awaited me on this journey to self-awareness.
When doing self-analysis, we want to do so in a dispassionate way if possible, much like the store owner who takes inventory of his stock to see what’s working versus what’s not. When the store owner detects something that is not working, he doesn’t take the broom and start beating himself or herself over the head. He simply addresses the issue, removes the stuff that’s not selling and replaces it with something that will be beneficial to growth.
Self-awareness is the first key to changing ourselves. Without it, it’s like walking around with blinders on and not being able to see ourselves or the world around us in a true light. Willingness is the other key to freedom from bondage. A willing person can move a mountain. Without willingness, the motor of our mind and heart can’t engage, much like a car without a transmission can’t move forward. In taking stock of our mind and heart, we can learn to separate truth from the fiction of the ego.
To do this, we need to learn to still our minds and emotions so we can have deep contemplation of the real self and not the imagined self, which likes to view things through rose-colored glasses. One of the best ways to do this is by yoga meditation.
Meditation is a scientific process that was created over the millennia by the great saints and sages of India. I recall my great guru sharing an analogy. Paraphrasing, he said, “If you have a glass of water with dirt in it and shake it, one can’t see anything but the dirt. Our restless thoughts and emotions act like the dirt in stirring up the mind so we can’t see correctly. If we just set the glass down and watch it, with time the water will calm itself and the dirt will settle to the bottom, giving us a clear view.”
We can do the same thing with our mind through proper yogic training. As we calm the mind through proper breathing, concentration and meditation, the dirt (our thoughts and emotions) will settle. Then, we will be able to see our true self and the world with newfound clarity.
Do your soul the highest honor of going within by letting go of all the clutter, worries and past delusions of the ego and the world — and discover your real Self, which has been, is and always will be pure and perfect as a reflection of Spirit or God. Then, you will know and feel the truth in these words: “When the little I (ego) dies, the real I (soul) will know who I AM.”
My friends, may you seek freedom each day from the dreams and delusions of the ego and world and know yourself as joyous Spirit!