Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Freedom

freedom haiku

The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first. Jim Morrison

Sitting down to write this post, I have two songs playing in my mind: Rozalla’s Everybody’s Free and The Soup Dragons’ I’m Free. Of the two I’m more inclined towards the message in Rozalla’s song, as I believe that we are free to feel good; I’m not sure that being free to do whatever you want is either desirable or advisable.

Rozalla sings about inner liberation, which is what is referred to in the Jim Morrison quote above. This type of freedom is often missing because of conditioning; families, societies and cultures can create invisible barriers in some people that are as imprisoning as a maximum security jail.

Conditioning, along with the inability to cope with unpleasant life experiences, contributes to the formation of a wounded/fragile ego, which is itself extremely restricting. The unhealthy ego is so concerned with looking good and caring about what others think that it keeps us locked in fear.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that Freedom is what we do with what is done to us; if we’re ill-equipped to handle life’s trials and tribulations then we become knotted up by anxiety and bitterness.

When my son was at primary school, he had friends whose mums were so protective of their children (perhaps projecting their own frail-ego fears onto them?) that they interfered in the slightest disagreement between their children and their friends. This is not empowering for the child as it restricts his or her ability to deal with conflict.

Then there are the parents who impose their wishes and dreams onto their children; some through desire to secure their child’s future, and others to live vicariously through their offspring. My son played football from an early age and several fathers stood on the sidelines, pushing their sons to perform to their satisfaction. I know of one father who wasted his own opportunity to play professionally; it was as though he was trying to make up for it by putting pressure on his son to fulfil his dream.

It’s hardly surprising that people grow up confused, unsure of who they are and what they want from life.

Signs that you are a prisoner in your own life include:

  • Intolerance: other people irritate you. Why are they so inefficient/slow/stupid etc?
  • Exhaustion: everything is such an effort.
  • Self-righteousness: I wouldn’t say/do that.
  • Overwhelm: it’s all too much for me.

It is possible to liberate yourself from the man-made restraints that curl around your feet and ankles, tethering you to your post. It takes fearless, scrupulously honest self-examination to determine who you really are. Then you are in a position to identify what inspires you and are able embody Aristotle’s maxim that: He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.

Some questions for reflection:

  • Are your thoughts and actions always your own? Or are they informed by opinions and beliefs that others imposed on you?
  • What does freedom look, smell, sound, taste and feel like for you?
  • How can you free yourself from the limits and restrictions that bind you?

You will know you are on the freedom footpath when you feel:

  • Engaged: you’re interested in what you are doing, it excites you.
  • Energised: you’re enlivened by whatever you are engaged in.
  • Motivated: the engagement and energy you feel spurs you on.
  • In the flow of life: things fall effortlessly into place.

Voltaire said that Man is free at the moment he wishes to be. What do you wish for yourself?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Empowerment

empowerment haiku

How would your life be different if…You could control the outcome of your day, your week, your year? Let today be the day…You embrace the truth that you DO have such control to label every event in your life, and create an agreement with reality that empowers you and propels you to greatness. Steve Maraboli

An empowered life is a life lived on your own terms, one in which you don’t have to pussy-foot around others in an effort to please them. Taking charge of your own life doesn’t, however, mean disregarding the important people in your life; it’s about finding balance between doing what’s good for you and your commitments to others.

How empowered do you feel regarding your own life? Would you say that you set the agenda, or are you following someone else’s?

Even though their intentions are good, parents can disempower their children through fear; it’s natural for a parent to want the best for their kids, but what if what’s best for them is to let them find their own way, even if it means them making mistakes (and dealing with the consequences of making those mistakes)?

What is more empowering for a child – to do their best with their homework and learn from the teacher’s feedback, or for you to ‘help’ (i.e. do) the homework? I’ve known of parents taking schools to task because they are in denial of their child’s shortcomings (and we all have those); blaming the school for their child’s poor behaviour is the easier option, I suppose, than playing their part in addressing the problem. But then perhaps the parents themselves are disempowered.

Fear for our children, and their futures, can result in us trying to control their lives, which is certainly my experience (as a child and as a parent); sadly, it doesn’t work, in fact it can have disastrous consequences (as I know only too well). When you’re empowered you don’t feel the need to control others.

I’ve heard lots of criticism of Gwyneth Paltrow, but one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard any parent say came from her; in an interview with Amanda de Cadenet, Gwyneth said that she looked forward to seeing who her daughter becomes.

How empowering would it be for all children if their parents provided the love, food, shelter and nurturing they need, allowing them to blossom into the unique individuals they are? To be there to catch their children when they fall – as they surely must – but to help them get back on their feet without having to be a crutch for them? To wholeheartedly accept the choices their children make, even if they would much rather Diana be a lawyer than an electrician, Freddie a doctor than a nursery nurse?

I once knew a counsellor who would say of my attitudes towards life: In an ideal world… But we live in the real world which, paradoxically, imposes impossible ideals on us via the media. Images of surgically ‘enhanced’, airbrushed (yet largely talentless) ‘celebs’ are ubiquitous; they are illusory and mock those who aspire to imitate their idols.

Is the desire to attain a celebrity lifestyle what drives folk to spend vast sums of money on the National Lottery and its offshoots? I’ve seen people leave shops (on more than one occasion) and immediately fish for a coin with which they can start scraping at the multiple scratch cards they have bought and that they hope will change their lives. This seems like quite desperate behaviour to me; it’s certainly disempowering.

We give our power away because we’re not made aware of our inner strength – and I have no doubt that it is something we all possess. You ARE capable – all you have to do is connect with your essence, your innate spiritual force; it gives you unparalleled personal power. So, too, does taking full responsibility for your life; thus, there comes a time when we have to take the decision to empower ourselves – unless we want to remain enslaved .

You are the writer, actor and director of your own life story. Is yours a tale of achievement of potential? It can be.

Essential Principles, A – Z: Detachment

detachment haiku

To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be non-possessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to. Henri Nouwen

Do you consider yourself possessive with regard to the material things in your life?

Do you ever find yourself obsessing or worrying about people, or circumstances, that you have little power over?

How many times have you tried, unsuccessfully, to influence situations that are beyond your control?

How did that make you feel?

I’m guessing it wasn’t a satisfactory experience.

Detachment is related to acceptance, in that it means you have to practice letting things be as they are. Detaching from whatever is beyond your control has nothing to do with being uncaring or unhelpful; it is about releasing ourselves from any stress brought on by undue concern over outcomes that we cannot influence. It’s about disentangling yourself, rather than disengaging, from affairs.

I was brought up in a family that I now know was codependent (in an unhealthy way). Psychological boundaries were weak, unenforceable, particularly where my mum, my sisters and me were concerned. Under the mistaken assumption that we were ‘close’, it was as though we were one and the same person – if my mum could have had her way, she’d have dressed us in the same clothes not just when we were children, but also when we became adults!

Fearful that we might make the same mistake she did (unmarried and pregnant at seventeen, a shameful state in the 1950s), mum constantly worried about what we did, where we went, who we were with… you get the picture. Of course, her concern didn’t stop my sisters and I from doing exactly as we pleased and there were frequent rows about our behaviour (which wasn’t that bad, although mum didn’t actually know the half of it).

If only my mum had been able to detach from her need to control her daughters; we could all have saved an awful lot of time and energy had we not been constantly engaged in power struggles. And no doubt our relationships would have been the better for it.

If you’re overly attached to an outcome then you probably have idealistic expectations which, if unmet, more often than not result in dissatisfaction. For example, at the women’s refuge where I volunteer, residents on the list for social housing have to bid weekly for suitable properties. Unless they’re number one on the list it is unlikely they will be successful, but this hasn’t stopped certain residents from visualising themselves moving in – they’ve decorated and furnished the place before bidding has even stopped. When they fail to win the bid they are devastated.

An ability to detach helps you to view people and situations objectively; this leads to a more realistic perspective and greater peace of mind.

I’ve wondered about fans’ attachment to outcomes of football matches – do we project our frustrations at our own (perceived) failure to achieve onto our favourite teams when they play badly and/or lose; similarly, do we feel a vicarious sense of accomplishment when they play well and/or win?

I love football and feel passionate when watching my beloved Manchester City; dodgy referees’ decisions make me swear and I’m always disappointed when the result doesn’t go City’s way. Once upon a time a bad performance or result would have ruined my day (or longer); however the score doesn’t have the same power over me that it once had. Nowadays, once the beautiful game is over I can let go of the result, be it good or bad, and turn my attention to what I can actually influence.

To detach from conditions you don’t have much say over isn’t about doing nothing, rather it’s about doing what you can appropriate to the situation, then mentally, emotionally and spiritually letting go of any attachment to the outcome. This is incredibly difficult when the unhealthy/neurotic/wounded ego is in charge, but not when acting in accordance with your essence.

If you can’t quite get your head around the idea of detaching then don’t worry. Allow awareness of the concept to sink into your subconscious where it can take root and then flower when you are ready to embrace it.

The ability to detach brings relief; however, even when you totally ‘get’ it, i.e. you can embody it, there is still a need for conscious practice (unless/until it becomes automatic).

Practising detachment is a habit that’s worth cultivating – it is ultimately freeing as it releases you from burdens that don’t belong to you. Relax!

It is essential to take responsibility for the story of your life.

The lifestyle of a victim or martyr does not allow for the serene enjoyment of well-being. 

David Richo, Shadow Dance.

 

You may not consider yourself a victim, or a martyr, but if you find that you:

  • Consistently focus on what is wrong in the world
  • Move from one drama or crisis to another
  • Blame, complain and criticise more often than not
  • Are a passive observer rather than an active participant in your life
  • Believe that you have little to feel grateful for
  • Look to other people for validation of your self

it’s likely that your psyche’s been hijacked, to some extent, by victim mentality. If you can honestly say that you’re happy, or at least contented, with your life then you need read no further.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself constantly envying others, or wishing ‘If only…’ then it’s probable that you’re stuck in a victim story. I know quite a bit about those, having been the archetypal victim for most of my life.

Of course, when we’re children we don’t have much say about what happens to us; most of us endure unpleasant experiences. If we’ve had adequate nurturing, we might mature sufficiently to process those experiences so that they don’t impact negatively on our adult lives. But what if, as was certainly the case for me, our emotional development is thwarted by the circumstances we are forced to endure as children? We then grow up to look like adults, but the wounded-child part of our psyche loiters in our subconscious, slyly directing our actions so that things never quite work out as we wish. Even if, on the face of it, our lives appear to be satisfactory, constantly comparing our lot unfavourably with that of others suggests that there’s room for improvement.

As Karen Casey, in Timeless Wisdom, points out: When we were young, our parents and siblings served as our teachers, but they weren’t always good ones. We may have learned habits that haunt us still… We can come to believe those teachers did their best. They passed on to us what they had been taught… [we can] discard behaviours that serve us no more and cultivate ones that do.

A good place to start is with some honest, neutral self-reflection (impartiality is essential – beating yourself up will get you nowhere). Socrates claimed that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’: it’s safe to say that after suffering what my local Women’s Refuge deemed to be ‘dangerous’ levels of abuse during six weeks on the run with a psychopath, I needed to take a long, enquiring look at my life. I’d been desperate to be rescued during those six weeks, but ultimately I had to save myself. The story of my ordeal and recovery is too vast to fit into one blog post; it’s been an epic quest for which I’m still writing the ending.

Personal (and post-traumatic) growth has been instrumental in helping me reclaim my life. I’ve learned to recognise when I’m sliding back into victim consciousness and can now take steps to empower myself when that happens.

Caroline Myss, in Sacred Contracts, claims that we all possess a ‘Victim archetype’. It is triggered when we are in situations where we feel inferior and its role is to help us to develop self-worth. A question Myss suggests asking when your victim archetype is triggered is: ‘I am committed to my own empowerment. What choices can I make here that will serve my own empowerment?’

Another way of challenging victim mentality is put forward by life coach Martha Beck. If you find yourself asking ‘Why is this happening to me?’ an objective, inquiring approach is more constructive than a self-pitying one. Because the effects of the challenges in our lives are largely determined by how we respond to them.

In Unexpected Miracles: The Gift of Synchronicity and How to Open It, David Richo asserts that asking what you did to deserve misfortune is less effective than telling yourself ‘This is not about what I did. This is about what I am called to be’. I’m inclined to agree with him. I’m called to be all that I’m capable of being; how about you?