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The Meaning of Freed-OM

American flag

It’s a Holiday weekend for those of us in the US and Canada. Canada celebrates its National Holiday on July 1. I’ve been celebrating US re-birth since June 19th and the inception of the Junteenth holiday. If you have a day off from work, congratulations. May your celebration be one of re-birth and renewal of your spirit and your connection to community.

I was traveling cross country by bike during this time years ago (1998, to be specific!). I got to celebrate both holidays with locals just over the Montana/Alberta, Canada border in Glacier National (US)/ Waterton (Canada) Park. I was a month in to a 4-month self-contained ride (that means I carried all my gear and made all my meals) and personal transformation retreat. Freedom was being celebrated on both sides of the border with fireworks and barbecues, socializing and playing. It seems, I wasn’t the only one who need a break from the daily toil of work and life. To be clear, that was 23 years ago and a lot has changed. Or has it?

As a young professional, I was disheartened by what “adulting” looked like and disillusioned by the work of my chosen profession in Higher Education. Mostly I was frustrated in my ability to manage life and work in a way that felt inspiring and joy-filled. After decades of study and disciplined effort, I was disappointed that life could feel so overwhelming, uninspiring and such the antithesis to the Freedom I expected with adulthood, education and well, a paycheck. As such, I took a leave of absence with no real re-entry date determined.

I feel it NOW, too, that deep need for play and rest. I am grateful for this Holiday. I especially love a holiday Monday… it’s like the “system” knows we need a day to recuperate, digest, and rest… and maybe a chance to pause and reflect.

We can begin again tomorrow… or maybe right now.

What does Freedom mean to you?

This past year has been challenging on so many levels. And although “re-opening” contains promises of freedom from social distancing, freedom from masks, and freedom from fear, I can’t help but notice that Freedom has an interesting interpretation depending on WHO you ask.

In preparing for this month’s discussion and writing, I wanted to test my understanding of freedom. That’s why I asked for your input on this idea.

Here’s what the internet (and YOU) had to teach about “Freedom:

  • the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint
  • something is “free” if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state.
  • the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint
  • Synonyms: independence, democracy, sovereignty, autonomy

 

What I discovered was not contrary to the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… however, I do think there are some weaknesses in how we (as a nation and individuals) might be using “Freedom” to justify behavior that really is just a pretty way of disguising power and privilege. Here’s what I mean:

  • Freedom from something you do not want means not being affected by it
  • Synonyms: exemption, release, relief, privilege

Freedom FROM or Freedom TO?

I’d like to practice a more accessible, socially responsible version of freedom… one that includes ALL of us. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like. But I’m still looking, and by that I mean, I’m practicing.

What I most appreciate about liberty, justice, and freedom is the invitation for authenticity, community, transformation and growth? As we celebrate the birth of our Nation, let us also celebrate the opportunity for re-birth.

To be free, to be liberated is a practice… liberated from what? Free from what? Perhaps it’s time to revisit our expectations for what Freedom and Liberation look like, in all stages of their development.

With all that we’ve experienced (and endured) these last 15 months, freedom has a new meaning to me. I think it’s a richer, deeper and more authentic understanding. I understand freedom to be about accountability and responsibility as much as it is about rights and liberty.

I pray that we find our way to deeper understanding and appreciation of freedom AND accountability; liberty AND social justice; independence AND community, rights AND responsibility.

What does Yoga teach about Freed-OM?

I’m not a huge fan of fireworks but I do love the idea of sparkle and SOUND, especially when it relates to celebration! As we all know, not all sounds are created equal. Some of my favorite sounds include laughter, waves on the rocky shores of Maine, gentle breeze in the trees of mountain forests, neighborhood garden equipment AFTER 9:00am in the summer AND the sound of OM.

As we celebrate and redefine freed-OM, it seems the perfect time to connect the chanting of OM and the practice of living freely. Over time my practice of chanting OM has deepened my understanding and acceptance of myself.

OM is said to clear energy, to open channels for prana, and reflect the universal sound of life. As a Yogi, OM is a sound that calls me to attention and into deeper intimacy with the present moment. Not everything is as I want it to be in our current world, and yet today I am grateful for the opportunity to be with this feeling of celebration within the journey of more work to be done.

Maybe you’ve heard me share my practice blessing. As savasana concludes, I recite a silent Om and then share these words:

“May you breathe deeply, move freely, labor lovingly and live vibrantly. May you be well.”

I recite this when I close public practice, when I conclude my personal practice and when I complete a yoga therapy session and periodically through out my day. To me it’s both an intention and a blessing, a closing and an opening. It’s how I understand the living practice of Yoga.

Can you see how freedom is contained within this blessing? It’s a practice of integrating the body, mind and breath. It’s an alignment of Intention, Attention and Action. It’s a balance of individual responsibility and community accountability.

I recently read an argument for moving away from using Namaste in practice as it is not an accurate appropriation of the word and contains a bitter after-taste of privilege and power. This blessing is one way I attempt to honor the tradition of the student-teacher relationship and modernize the practice to reflect my practice and fit my community. Finding new ways to celebrate and new ways of connecting is a unique opportunity that comes as a direct result of the last year of staying apart. As we reconnect and reconvene, maybe it’s time we reconsider the manner in which we share and occupy space.

Freedom to be me

Meditation, as a component of Yoga AND a separate and distinct practice, is a powerful practice. It offers a technique for deep contemplation, introspection and reflection. Meditation is a practice that, like no other, has facilitated a clearer and deeper understanding of what it means to be me. Meditation is the practice that has supported me in the most difficult of seasons, challenged me to my core and equipped AND enabled me the freedom to be me.

Meditation has been so widely adopted, it is being prescribed to help with dis-ease and disease with fantastic results. Could it be that we would ALL benefit from a consistent and regular practice time for mental and emotional digestion? I think you know my answer, “ABSOLUTELY!!!”

“Most beginners start with the idea that meditation is supposed to be peaceful. If they feel peaceful, they conclude that they are doing things right.” Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche shares in his book, In Love With the World (this is a Book Club read for the new season of Guru Circle starting in September!).

Maybe you can relate?

For anyone who has stuck with the practice of meditation, you know that soon enough disturbance happens: emotions, unrest, turbulence. Sure, we expect such disturbance in life, perhaps as evidence that the world is not well, but to also make space for disturbance and unrest in my meditation!?! That’s not supposed to happen!

Or is it?

Yoga says, it is part of the process. In fact, I think we could argue that that disturbance is critical to the process of purification and pursuit of bliss. Where the world might say that this dis-ease is perhaps evidence of failure, personal or ideological (depending on who’s arguing), this dissonance IS NOT failure but rather evolution and maturation.

Let me say that again… it is this dissonance that both facilitates and demonstrates the maturity, the growth and the purification of our minds and hearts. This dissonance is essential to the process of learning and becoming, what I like to call Yoga Living.

Yoga Living is a process of learning how to be in the world and with circumstances as they are while cultivating confidence, competence and clarity for how we show up and contribute to our community. In other words, Yoga Living is the journey of becoming free from suffering in order to live intimately with Inspiration to be our true best self. Yoga Living is a strategy for living in freedom!

I say, “Let freed-OM ring!”