Today is Independence Day in the United States, and across the country speakers will be paying tribute to the ideal of freedom. Most will understand this in a social or political sense: as a reference to the freedom of the nation as an independent state; or to the individual freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. It’s worthwhile also, however, to reflect on the greatest freedom of all, which is the freedom of the spirit. This is a freedom that, while sustained and protected by political freedoms, can flourish and grow even in their absence. Indeed, there are many inspiring stories of the power of Spirit to achieve freedom even while enduring oppression, persecution, and torture.
My purpose today is not to pay tribute to those heroic examples, but to examine the ways in which spiritual freedom is accessible to each of us in everyday life. Before discussing the many ways in which spiritual freedom manifests, I want to say a few words about the tools we use to achieve it.
Tools of Spiritual Freedom
Meditation is the doorway through which anyone seeking spiritual freedom must pass. There are many forms of meditation, but all have in common the goal of calming the small mind of the small self and allowing the Big Mind or the Higher Self to come forward. In other words, it allows the individual to become aware of his or her oneness with all that is.
Mindfulness is, in a sense, a way of carrying your meditation practice with you at all times. It means being aware. Specifically, it means being aware of what is happening in your mind and body. It is essential to the ability to express the attitudes and qualities of the Higher Self in your daily activities. Mindfulness also means being aware of those attitudes and qualities to which you dedicate yourself during meditation, but which tend to slip out of your attention under the pressure of ordinary life. Your mind is always reacting to stimuli from the environment. Between stimulus and response, there is always a fraction of a second in which you have the ability to choose the response you will express. The mindful person will always be on the lookout for the opportunity to guide his responses into the path set before him by the Higher Self. As Rabbi David Cooper said, "there are few, if any, fully enlightened people, . . . but there are untold numbers of enlightened acts."
Love is the pervasive presence of God in the Universe. Through meditation, you become aware that Love is available to you at all times and in all places. By incorporating Love as the fundamental value of your own life, you become a manifestation of God’s Love and evidence of the oneness of all things. The knowledge that Love is everywhere, that you are never without Love, becomes the bedrock on which your spiritual freedom is built. Knowing you have Love, you know you have everything.
Forgiveness is inseparable from Love and is its inevitable consequence. However, Forgiveness is also one of the steps to becoming aware that Love is everything. It is such a powerful tool for achieving spiritual freedom that it must be included here. Forgiveness cuts through many obstacles to the attainment of spiritual freedom, including anger, jealousy, and resentment. Developing the ability to forgive anyone or anything -- including especially yourself -- is literally the equivalent of growing angel’s wings to fly above the barriers to freedom that the ego erects for itself. By practicing Forgiveness, you internalize the principle that all beings deserve Love.
It seems paradoxical to say that surrender is a tool for the attainment of freedom. Yet the ability to practice surrender is essential to that end. The Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr asks for "grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed." Surrender means the acceptance of what is. Not in the sense of passively accepting the dictation of an impersonal Fate, but in the sense of being mindful. Many people spend far too much energy in denial. Even if we intend to work to change our conditions, we cannot do so effectively until we recognize what those conditions are. Surrender is therefore a practical tool for establishing a baseline against which our progress toward spiritual freedom can be measured.
Surrender also means the acceptance that everything in the Universe proceeds according to God’s Law. How could it be otherwise, when God is all that is? This is not fatalism or belief in predestination, because the Law dictates consequences, not actions. The Law presents us with choices at every step. Because each of us is an individual manifestation of God’s Love for itself, we also are a part of the Law and are able to use our knowledge of it to attain spiritual freedom.
Aspects of Spiritual Freedom
What then does spiritual freedom consist of? If freedom means the ability to act, what actions evidence the presence of spiritual freedom in your life?
Freedom From Attachments
Great spiritual teachers have always taught that we must release our attachments to worldly things in order to become free. As long as you believe a particular person or thing is essential to your happiness – or even to your existence -- you are a slave to that person or thing. This does not mean you should not enjoy the people you are close to, your favorite pastimes or your personal belongings; it means only that you should recognize that your happiness is independent of these things. Since all things and all beings are one in God, you cannot own them anyway. Clinging to the illusion that you can possess a person or thing only guarantees eventual unhappiness when it is lost. Surrendering that illusion sets both of you free. Meditation on oneness is a way to empower yourself to release attachments.
Freedom From Desire
Desire is an attachment to something you don’t have. Or perhaps you have it, but you don’t believe you have enough. Either way, desire enslaves your mind and prevents you from being free. Desire is inconsistent with surrender, and so impairs your ability to see the world as it is. Desire prevents happiness, because it implies that you need something you don’t already have in order to be happy. Meditation on the presence of God’s Love at all times and in all places loosens the grip of desire and allows you to release it.
Freedom Of Choice
When you banish attachments and desires from your Universe, then you are free to choose the path you will follow, or to follow no path. You can be happy as you are, particularly if you practice the tools of Love and Surrender. Or you can use those tools and others to break down any barriers that stand between yourself and your happiness. You can choose your surroundings and your companions. You can choose the ethical rules that you will follow in living an upright life. Most importantly, you can choose your attitudes and the ways that you react to the things that happen around you. You can choose to be happy knowing that Love abounds and Love is sufficient to your joy.
Freedom To Trust
The ability to trust is a great freedom. It frees you from fear and anxiety. Trust is the knowledge that you will not be hurt by the actions of others, or of the Universe. By sending out vibrations of trust you increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. Knowing they are trusted makes those around you want to deserve that trust. Trust instructs the Law to bring you outcomes that support your happiness. Trust also describes the knowledge that, whatever the outcome, you will emerge free and happy. Trusting that Love is the foundation of all that is enables you to see the positive elements in any outcome. Trust in yourself as a perfect manifestation of Spirit gives you the understanding that nothing can harm you in your essence.
Freedom To Be Well
Illness of body, or mind can be a prison. Pain and discomfort can block out the realization that you are living in the midst of Love and Joy at every moment. It is easy to become attached to one’s illness, since it seems to make your own needs the most important things in the Universe. Illness can also be attractive as an excuse for indulging in behaviors we would otherwise consider unworthy. It is one of the main tools used by the egoic mind and body to try to reclaim the attention we have taken away from them in our focus on Spirit. By directing our attention to themselves, they seek to distract us from Oneness.
The antidote for the negative effects of illness is, first, to practice Surrender, and recognize it for what it is: a temporary condition of body or mind that does not affect your essence that abides in Spirit. Forgiveness can then be brought to bear in order to sweep away any underlying causes in the form of fear, attachment, or guilt. Practicing self-Love enables you to see that the illness is not a part of you, but rather a stain that can be cleansed by shining the Light of Spirit upon it. Mindfulness assists in each of these practices.
Great teachers instruct us that illness is not an attribute of Self. This is evident once you realize that the body and mind are not the Self; it is attaining this realization that is difficult. Meditation on Oneness leads eventually to the understanding that the Self is perfect, eternal, and united through Spirit with the Love that is all that is. It is this awareness that finally releases us from all limitations and brings perfect Freedom.
And so it is.