In the heat of the summer we hear much about "freedom." We explosively celebrate our freedoms: to say what we want, to hang out with whom we want, to live where we want, to eat what we want, to buy want we want, to work at what we want, to read what we want, to go to the movie we want, to own and carry the gun we want, to choose the government we want (or at least to choose from what feels like the lesser of two evils, sometimes!), and so on.
The whole trend of modern civilization is toward the freedom to pursue our happiness in the external world. And while that can at times lead to a very materially comforting lifestyle, it often also leads to a burdensome sense of needing to be in perpetual motion: acquiring the newest, best things or experiences, working harder and harder to pay for it all, and feeling intense anxiety when the overall societal material "pie" seems to be getting smaller.
On another level, this belief in the notion that something external is critical to our happiness also serves to reinforce the patterns of our ego, which strengthens itself when we identify with the "little me" struggling in this constant pursuit against the big old world.
Is this what our founding fathers had in mind? Perhaps. But listen to what Thomas Jefferson, he of the "pursuit of happiness" fame, had to say on the subject:
"Happiness is not being pained in the body or troubled in the mind."
He seems to be suggesting that the pursuit of happiness is not about something "out there," the external "things" that so much advertising tells us we need to feel better; rather, in order to be truly free, perhaps we must liberate ourselves from the internal things that blind and bind us from the happiness that is our birthright.
We all inevitably experience the "tyranny of the body" as it falls ill, ages, and eventually stops. That is why moving the body and paying nurturing attention to it are so critical. Of course, this does not need to be a violent, forceful, revolutionary overthrow of the body, but a peaceful evolution, degree by degree.
TJ also points to the tyranny of our minds, and how mental thoughts and behavioral habits function, often beneath the radar of our consciousness, on auto-pilot. These individual energetic patterns -- known in Sanskrit as "samskaras" -- function like deeply-cut grooves in our psychological energy field, both driving our behavior into repeated acts while also limiting the (in)sight of imagined possibilities beyond their steeply ingrained sides.
If we can find moments to slow down, and to practice concentrating the mind, we become more aware of these samskaras; in becoming aware of them, paying conscious attention to when we fall into them, we gain, over time, an ability to stop ourselves as we hover on their edge. And if we don't fall deep into that well-worn groove, then we aren't so compelled to chase down those same corridors over and over. We also gain a broader perspective on our lives, opening to a greater range of options and actions through a clearer connection to the source of our highest potential.
The true tyrant from which we all must ultimately find our freedom is this sharp, internal energetic hook of those samskaras.
And once we do, a lot of the other "stuff," the stuff we initially wanted so much, the stuff to which we were so drawn, the stuff that we thought proved to ourselves that we were free... well, that stuff might not matter so much anymore. Being free from the limits of our internal world, we might even find ourselves free to enjoy this moment, exactly as it is, without needing to "pursue" anything else.
May the rest of your summer be filled with such moments of independence!
For more by Doug Binzak, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.