Good day, team.
Every year around the Fourth of July, I’m compelled to write about freedom. When I think about all the people in the world who are enslaved in one way or another, I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be imprisoned or in forced servitude to another. We are so fortunate for the basic freedoms we enjoy. However, despite our many personal freedoms, many of us are still imprisoned in our internal worlds — which can be scary in its own way.
I have the greatest sense of freedom when I’m not bogged down by negative thoughts and fears. It’s not always easy, but sometimes when I’m obsessed with this or that, a calm voice inside my head will step in and advise me that the story I’m telling myself isn’t true. When thoughts awaken me in the night, the same voice tells me to go back to sleep or to just let go. When I’m able to observe my thoughts in this way and not get caught in their net, I am truly free.
Many of my coaching clients have heard me say, “The part of you that can see the thoughts and feelings is not of them.” This idea may sound strange, but I’ve found true freedom in this perspective. For example, when I took my first Vipassana meditation course (10 days of complete silence and meditation), I began to notice that thoughts would come up, seemingly out of nowhere. They arrived and if I focused on them, they would become louder and louder until eventually they would take up all of my attention.
Sometimes, my pulse would speed up, and I would become angry or sad or happy. Before long, I would realize I was no longer meditating because my thoughts and emotions had overtaken me.
But if I just observed the thoughts as they came up and didn’t give them any energy, they kept right on going. What a surprise this was! Thoughts can rise up and then actually pass away, as if they never happened. What a revelation it was for me to see that there was a way out of the prison of my own thoughts. I eventually learned to just watch the whole show of thoughts and feelings rise up and pass away.
This psychological freedom has literally saved me. At one point in my life I was experiencing tremendous jealousy and rage. I felt like I could bear it no longer, so I went to the ocean with every intention of ending my life. As I walked into the warm salt water, it embraced me, and I felt even more convinced that this was the only way to end my suffering.
Then I stepped on something sharp — a broken shell or rock — and as I raised my foot out of the water to see if my toe had been cut, I saw myself clearly. I was suddenly aware that I was worried about a cut on my toe while I was in the process of trying to end it all. In that moment of absurdity, everything became quiet. The terrorizing thoughts stopped, and I was just there with my foot in my hand, looking out at the horizon on a gorgeous South Florida summer day, with the sun glistening on the magnificent blue-green water.
This week, try experiencing your freedom by not succumbing to thoughts and feelings that do not serve you. Sure, they will rise up, but if you don’t fuel them, they will pass away. I’m not saying to ignore them or force them away, but with your gentle presence, just observe them and allow the observer to be your focus. They may be loud or soft, resentful or boastful, angry or sad. You may find there’s quite a drama going on in your mind once you start witnessing it. It’s like when you are sitting on the couch watching TV — just watch. Try not to become the character you’re watching or get embroiled in the play. Be the observer of the drama, not the drama itself. Give yourself the gift of freedom by choosing not to let your inner state enslave you. Instead, try watching it all with a sense of equanimity and peace.
After 20 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. About that day, he wrote,
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Have a good week!
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