Song of Freedom

What does existing freely mean? What makes it so difficult to live unencumbered, without restriction and utterly at ease?

Freedom is our right. Living, in its most illumined sense, is the pure evocation of this right. Yet our day-to-day lives have become so mired, so overwhelmed by our messy, controlling, shamed, angry, muddled, and frantic small minds. What’s lost is our ability to live freely.

Last month, I spent the eve of my birthday writing and meditating on how I would spend my special day. The pervasive message was to let myself be profoundly free for those 24 hours, to permit myself to be totally released—without attachment to anxiety or concern, without holding onto trauma or drama—just to live. I could taste how it would feel, such bursting freedom, like the sensation of blissfully diving off a high cliff and soaring with abandon through the air, or floating, peaceful and unburdened, on the most benevolent wave. What I also realized was that needing an occasion to so wholly let go was ridiculous. But it also gave me focus, a mantra and deep intention. This week I’m planting the seed with you.

From when I was a teenager, I have loved Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. Now, 20 years later, I sing it to my son at bedtime. I can’t imagine a more soulful plea for inner freedom than when Bob urges “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” While I sing, my heart brims at the look in the clear pools of my son’s eyes, open as he is to the stark beauty of the words, but not understanding, at least not yet, why they are so important. Sadly, our adult lives seem to be made up of ever more restricted encounters with freedom, and with the incessancy of putting ourselves in and taking ourselves out of jail.

Still, freedom is available at every turn. Sometimes emancipation happens spontaneously, say for instance, at the sight of the full moon through wispy clouds from an airplane window. The mind magically gives way, the heart springs open, and whatever has been pent up becomes un-pent. Sometimes it happens when we are despaired and broken down, on the brink of assumed insanity, and boom, a release. Sometimes it happens when we get intensely quiet, and begin to see through our self-imposed chains.

The Zen priest Norman Fischer explains that this latter quieting, this practice of seeing is actually the manifestation of our freedom. He says, “Basically what [freedom] comes down to is just being ready on all occasions to find out something new. To be totally surprised, totally willing to start all over again.” Isn’t this just it? We spend so much time pushing, wanting, grabbing, competing, and agonizing, when all there really is for us is to go back to go, to peel back to the limitlessness of a child’s broad gaze.

Our life’s arc is a matter of uncovering this freedom that is already right here, regardless of how caged we have grown over the years. Even in the most trying, heartbreaking, terrifying, hideous moments, we are free. We really can move gracefully through our mystifying lives, one breath at a time, liberated in mind and buoyant in heart. If Bob Marley doesn’t do it for you, find a different song of freedom. Just find something, and let go.

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