Road to Enlightenment

I want to be free.
Free from the judgment of others.
Free from society’s ideals and expectations.
But mostly, free from myself.

The above series of brief thoughts is profoundly meaningful in my life’s journey, and I imagine in many others’. The last line, however, is perhaps not only the most consequential of all, but also the most complex and challenging freedom to achieve.

I am harder on myself than anyone else is. This is probably true of most of us. I set high expectations and lofty goals for myself and I think that usually this serves me well in the kind of life I choose to live. Sometimes, this can cause disappointment or self-deprecation.

But beyond my desire for self-acceptance, there is an intricate and almost contradictory truth: there are elements of myself that I don’t particularly like and which don’t serve me and my relationships well – those aspects mainly relate to attitudes, reactions and emotions. In short, I want to continue to learn to love and accept myself as the person I am, but in order to be content with my existence and to feel I am living a progressive, blissful and healthy life, I need to continue to change and grow in the ways that I can. I know that there is a very natural and constructive way to strike this balance, which involves being content in who you are in the moment while seeing the need for change and working steadily towards those changes with patience and focus.

Some of my attributes and tendencies are innate in my personality and some of them are a product of the environment in which I’ve lived my life to this point: both macro and micro. Furthermore, certain of those attributes have developed over the period in my life in which I began to explore more complex, mature relationships with the people around me. It is in those relationships – with family, friends, colleagues, lovers, partners – that we experience the greatest highs and lows and perhaps our deepest disappointments and injuries. For me, this is certainly true.

I’m not quite ready to explore some of those aspects of me here, just yet – to a degree because they are not easy to articulate, but chiefly because this process means laying myself a little barer and holding myself more accountable to the changes I want to see in myself.

So, for now, I’ll simply reiterate my philosophy of responsibility for self. I know that only I can choose to change and grow, and this includes recognizing my opportunities for growth; big and small, easy and difficult. It means listening openly yet discerningly to those who care about me and who are willing to constructively share perspectives as well as to my own internal voice. This discernment involves wisely sifting through information for pure truth, which is sometimes obscured by fear, pain, alternative purpose. Moreover, it requires more objective observation of the world, other people, myself and the interaction between them all. Ultimately, I know that I must take full responsibility for myself – my choices, attitudes, reactions, actions. While “shit happens” and people will hurt me, it’s ultimately up to me how I move forward. If there are two facts I am certain of in all of this, it is these:

1. There is much in life I cannot control.
2. I can control my state of mind and what results from that.

I do see this lifelong journey of freedom, discovery and focused change to be one of spiritual and emotional enlightenment and I have to say, I’m pretty excited because I can already see the benefits that some of these changes will beget.

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Let Us be Still

Let us be still, now.
No deliberations or constructions.
Even a few brief moments
Without the requisite evaluation.

Let us be quiet, now.
Words convey silent messages,
While actions dutifully communicate
The truth of a moment.

Let us be free, now.
Choosing to relish today:
Enchanted by the present,
Unimpeded by ourselves.

Freedom

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Freedom is a state of mind, not ordinarily an actual reality. We can feel free rather than exist freely. Our current world, which we have created for ourselves and others, intentionally or inadvertently but mostly as a result of irresponsibility, makes true freedom impossible. In some parts of the world, people fight for physical freedom: from slavery, forced prostitution, oppression and abuse of various kinds. In North America, we also subsist tied to society’s ideals and anchors: our phones, televisions, magazines and computers. We live by the news, our neighbours’ judgments, the size of our houses and genitalia. I would argue that I’m not the worst of offenders and generally carry around a positive attitude and only healthy concern for others’ opinions of me. But, am I free?

I find joy in freedom (who doesn’t), but I also enjoy responsibility; in my career, my family, my education. I am conscientious, reliable and typically loyal, and I thrive on accountability. I respect authority and hierarchy where necessary. I excel, given deadlines. Perhaps this makes me seem like an inherent dichotomy, and so be it.

So, during a two week vacation to BC and the Yukon, I had lofty goals of completing unreasonable amounts of work in the “off-hours”, and while I did do some good work, I found myself with a strong desire to just BE. Excuse me if that sounds like a cliché, but it’s as accurate a description of what I was pining for as I can come up with.

The drive from Whitehorse, Yukon to Atlin, British Columbia is idyllic. The evergreen trees are densely packed, a sea of deep shades of green, as dark and healthy as I’ve ever seen. The road meanders endlessly, taking you further and further from civilization. Atlin Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in BC, extends on the right, glassy and calm. Mountain after mountain reaches into the sapphire sky, steadfast and determined to dwarf everything surrounding it. It is there that you feel the world slip away, leaving you isolated and solitary. It is precisely that feeling which I was eager for.

Visiting family, I sat alone, perched on the edge of a rail-less upper deck, overlooking Atlin Lake and the Coastal Mountains. I felt free. For a few minutes, there was nothing else in the world but me, the placid water, the astounding mountains and the warm sun gilding the entire picture. For a few moments, freedom felt like a reality, inchoate. And then, it was interrupted by children shouting and playing, and lighthearted adults enjoying the esprit de corps and a grand meal. Those sounds bring joy in and of themselves, but a different feeling altogether. I felt disappointed not to have enjoyed that freedom a little longer, and for a moment was even irritated. I returned to the large group and enjoyed the rest of the evening immensely. I watched my son play with his “new-to-him” cousins and again, felt a different kind of delight and ease.

This trip brought much time for fun, and also contemplation and quiet. I thought I would write all about each place we visited but I didn’t feel the draw. I felt rather inspired to quiet my mind and in that, I found freedom. I realized that I seek and acquire freedom in many ways, by choice alone. The reality of life is that freedom, at least the way I define it, is impossible as a corporeal, daily existence. There is a big difference between outer and inner freedom and these are not interdependent. With the right attitude and a choice to be present in those miraculous and ecstatic moments, I can maximize the experience of wonderful liberty.

I write (at times) to set free pent-up feelings and desires. I am quiet in order to abandon the bustle of everyday life. I find ease and purity in the laughter of my son. I take risks to pursue liberation from routine. I lose myself in the writing of others. I’m taken to far-off places in savouring decadent foods. I push myself professionally and academically in a self-determined avoidance of mediocrity. I discover freedom in my intellectual pursuits, in pleasure, in pain and in innovation. Freedom blooms inside as I nurture my imagination, my spirituality, my sensuality, my femininity, my style, my uniqueness. I am liberated in seizing opportunities to show kindness, sincerity, and hospitality. I feel released in being a source of pleasure to those I care for. Most of all, I’m free when, with attention to morality, I act authentically and put aside any concerns separate from the current experience. Inner freedom, for me, comes too with letting go of fear. This inner freedom, detached from circumstance, is something I’ll continually strive for, fail at acquiring, and attempt again and again.

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