You’ve got to be free in order to be 

How can we be the person we want to be; how can we realize our potential; how can we express ourselves; how can we know happiness unless we are free? What can be more frustrating than to be hampered and hemmed in, unable to act freely? What can be more agonizing than to have one’s progress blocked, one’s aspirations squelched, and one’s dreams turn into nightmares? Where are we to find the autonomy, independence, liberation, and personal freedom we seek?

Because many people blame their suffering on others and on the circumstances they have to cope with, they look outward for relief. They search in vain for others to set them free. Yet, they are held captive by their own insecurity, self-doubt, and fears. The oppressor is not the world, or others, but their own inner turmoil and torment. Claiming to want freedom, they cling to the very things that enslave them. They need to learn how to let go, for freedom is releasing everything that holds you back.

But how can one be free if as a child they were ridiculed by their parents, scorned by their teachers, and mistreated by their peers? Is it any wonder that they lack confidence and feel so helpless? Before considering ways of letting go of our inner demons, I’d like to tell you about Harvey, who is now in his seventy’s.

He has fond memories of childhood friends and the first apartment he lived in. He remembers how disappointed he was when his parents told him at age seven that they were moving to another city. Before departing, he took his last lingering look at the tall apartment building that he used to call home. They had lived at the top floor, but oddly enough the building didn’t have an elevator. Harvey remembers how long it would take him to climb all the way to the top. Nevertheless, after school, he was always happy to be greeted by the huge wooden door and wide staircase that led to his apartment.

Many, many years later, when Harvey and his wife were visiting his parents, he asked them for the address of the apartment building he loved as a child. A month later, he was on the street he played on in his childhood. He looked for the building he lived in. At first he couldn’t recognize it because it wasn’t tall at all. It was just four stories high! He did recognize the front door, but was shocked to see how it shrunk. Likewise, the wide stairway that he remembered was now narrow. And it hardly took any time at all to reach the top floor (the building still didn’t have an elevator). No, the building wasn’t renovated. It was just that in the eyes of a young child the building APPEARED large.

Are you scarred today and living in pain because of the horrible way you were treated as a child? The first step in letting go of your anger, resentment, and hostility is to understand that the memories that haunt you ARE THE MEMORIES OF A CHILD. Like Harvey, you see everything out of proportion. If you could magically be transported back in time, you’d be amazed to learn the comments and actions of others weren’t nearly as bad as you now imagine them to be. Now that you are an adult, you have the power to understand that the demon guarding your prison cell is really a weakling, disguised as a monster. What’s more, if you look carefully, you will discover the door to your prison cell is unlocked. You are free to leave! So, let go of those paper tigers that are holding you back.

Even if you refuse to believe that things were not as bad as you imagine, you can still let them go by forgiving those who have hurt you. Why not do so? If I asked you to place your arm in a drum of toxic waste, would you do so? It may sound like a silly question, but many willingly jump into the drum! They do so by holding on to anger and resentment, allowing it to fester and fill their body and spirit with toxins. When you forgive yourself and others, you are stepping out of the drum of toxic waste and discovering a newfound freedom and healing. When you learn how to step into the shoes of others, to see things as they did, to understand their problems and weaknesses, you’ll find forgiveness comes naturally.

Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose. Choose what? Choose how we look at things. Our eyes look outward. They do not face inward. We were not meant to see our own suffering, but to see only the suffering of others. Buddhists have a saying, “No self, no problem.” When we stop thinking about ourselves, our problems will disappear. And when we start thinking about the suffering of others, we will discover opportunities to serve.

Many are in servitude to fear. When in its grip, they become immobilized, incapable of doing what is necessary to reach their potential. What are our greatest fears? They say that after the fear of death, our greatest fear is speaking before an audience. Actually, however, it is not public speaking that is so terrifying, but the opinions of others. If I speak before the group, what will they think of me? Will I appear as a fool? These thoughts run through the minds of those who are overly concerned with themselves. When we look outward, rather than inward, we concern ourselves with the audience. What would they like? How can I help? How can I bring pleasure into their lives? How can I serve them? With thoughts like these all fear dissolves. Whatever our fear, we need to face it and overcome it. We should welcome fear, for it is a golden moment, it is the only way we can develop courage. And when we tread on the path of courage, we walk as free men and women, unimpeded by obstacles in our path.

Another way of achieving personal freedom is to let go of demands, to let go of the victim mentality that says, “Whenever things don’t go my way, I am a sufferer.” When we elevate our own importance and place ourselves in the center of the universe, we mistakenly believe that things ‘happen’ to us. In reality, things don’t happen TO us, they just happen WITH us. We’re part of the changing universe; we’re just another event. To let go of demands and accept the gift of life for what it is, without complaint, is to walk in the shoes of one who has experienced the joys of liberation. Such a person seeks not to be free FROM hardship, but seeks to be free FOR making a contribution, no matter how small, to the world.