Freedom and Love

Dear ones,

a gate in Capri by JoshTomorrow the Jewish holiday of Passover begins, so I’ve been thinking about freedom and about love.

Passover commemorates the time when Jews were enslaved in Egypt and then Gd, through Moses, led them to forge a path toward freedom. Moses didn’t want the job — he felt unqualified, incapable… uncertain and hopeless, but he chose to say yes.

It was a terrible journey — both the journey of enslavement, the journey of release, and then the period of cleansing in the desert. At Passover we do not celebrate a defeat of Pharaoh and his people, instead we express our sorrow at the suffering and our gratitude that so many before us have accepted the struggle for freedom.

Freedom does not mean getting to do whatever you want. Patty and I were talking about what our kids would say — they seem to think freedom would be growing up so no one would tell you what to do. And we might imagine freedom as being eight and getting to come home from school and play ’till dinner. But neither is true or possible.

Freedom means taking responsibility to walk in the path of what is right. It a process of ongoing effort and care. It is a terrible burden, but also a joyful one. It is terrible because when you accept freedom, you can no longer take the easy path of blame. You can not ride along and then be mad when someone takes you to a destination that isn’t what you wanted!

There are so many ways to give up freedom. Being on “autopilot” and blindly following patterns. Being a victim. Being a dictator. Deluding yourself. Breaking your own integrity. Letting yourself be seduced by superficial wants — or maybe confusing “wants” and “needs.” Compromising your values, or devaluing yourself to seek approval, status, affirmation, or power from the outside.

But at the same time there are so many gifts. Not just gifts of freedom itself, but gifts from the struggle to be free. Perhaps without the struggle there is no real freedom — or at least none of the heady bliss of finding it. In the struggle we have the opportunity to confront ourselves and one another. To question what truly matters. To challenge assumptions and the status quo, not changing for change’s sake, but changing for the sake of liberating our highest and best selves.

stairs in Montreal by JoshIn the struggles there are an abundance of difficult feelings. My dad (stepfather) is struggling w cancer and it’s brutal. On one hand I am feeling so sad and afraid and hopeless — and on the other hand these terrible emotions feel good. They feel “right-but-hard” and are reminding me of our love and the gifts he’s given me and our whole family. So the pain is really love in disguise.

Recently Max was in struggle because he left his “best Pokemon cards” in his pocket then put his jeans in the laundry — they did not fare well. On the one hand he was helpless, a victim of bad fortune. On the other it was an opportunity to receive loving support from us, and to take action, to take ownership of the future. To be free.

While I was in the midst of struggle post-emergency-knee-surgery I was feeling pretty low. I felt helpless, powerless, dependent, stuck. But at the same time I was able to receive so much love and care. I thought a lot then about what it meant to be free. Did it mean being able to put socks on myself? (that felt like great liberation!) Or did it mean being able to choose to be grateful for the care? Even grateful for the pain? (because it was a sign of the process of recovery)

I’m struck that freedom is so much about feeling. About feeling despair versus hope. About feeling unworthy of and unable to love versus abundant in it. So many people are afraid to love and to be loved. They are so hurt that the hurt itself becomes a kind of shelter. They make walls of rage to barricade their fear, they keep their hurt close at hand in a desperate attempt to prevent it from overwhelming them. Maybe this is the ultimate slavery, the self-imposed slavery of denying that we are worthy and capable of love.

This is a prison whose wall grow thicker each day. The more we see ourselves as unworthy of and unable to love, the more depleted we become. We become more and more closed to love from all around, and less and less able to love others. Paradoxically the door opens by giving; it swings open outward from self acceptance.

The good news is that no matter how thick we make these walls, freedom can come in the blink of an eye. So impossible, then so simple. It can feel like betrayal of a promise, though, because we do not stay free.

Max in ItalyWe must choose again. Each time it feels impossibly hard, then suddenly, miraculously, easy. Then we find another challenge; this is the journey of freedom. Without the opposition we go back to autopilot, back to coasting. So the walk toward freedom is embedded in struggle — we find jewels among life’s travails. While there will be struggle, there is also choice — a balance that is a process.

Freedom, then, is decision made over an over; a string of choices. Not choices of circumstance and power, but choices of heart and will. Love and effort. Made over and over, strung together on a necklace, each bead buffed to luster by the challenge inherent in the decision to be free.

Does this perpetual struggle sound grim and dark? I don’t see life that way. I see it as beautiful, part of the abundance and wonder of our world. Each time we choose freedom we become stronger, deeper, and brighter — contributing, as have so many before us, to the vast pool of liberation.

With love,
– Josh

8 Replies to “Freedom and Love”

  1. Well said Josh!!!
    As we all traverse through lifes “plagues” let us not forget to “listen” for the inner guidance that will lead us all to ultimate freedom. May all of our paths to freedom be divinely guided, embraced by Spirit, received with gratitude and protected from all of humanity’s “plagues”!
    With blessings and love
    Pat

  2. Someone very dear to me once said that our journey — including all the pain and struggle — is simply there to reveal our true character and our soul. Those words have brought me a lot of comfort over the years. Recently, I had to draw strength from those words again. My mother has been very sick since last June. Even though she was only 70, we all knew that she was dying. In March of this year, from what I can piece together, two of my sisters worked to get Mom to stop speaking to me. (I know that this will sound incredible to some; however, our family is very dysfunctional and this is part of a long-standing pattern.) Some very mean and nasty things were said both to me and about me. It was incredibly painful and shocking. It also hurt to know that my mother was so close to death and she had cut me out ( my Mother had a history of doing this to various people in her life). On April 3rd, my youngest sister called me to tell me that Mom was in the hospital and was very, very ill. I jumped in the car and started driving. As I drove the 600 or so miles to get to the hospital, I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew is that I needed to be there. When I walked into my mom’s hospital room, I could see that she was dying. I could also see how happy she was that I was there. I held her hand through the night and listened to her struggle to breathe. I held her hand the next morning as she slipped from this earth. As she was passing, I could see the struggle that had followed her through life, pass before her, leaving her – finally – at peace. It was extremely difficult watching someone that you love die. But, there was also a strange beauty to it. I finally got to see my mother at peace and all that was left was the love and the goodness. I will always consider it a blessing that I was there holding her hand as she died. I had a choice as to whether or not I drove down there. It wasn’t about whether or not she deserved it. It was about what was right for me. If she had thrown me out of her hospital room that would have been okay, too (I am very happy that she didn’t!). My choice was separate from the result (which, of course, I don’t get to control). My choice was to be who I am and to be true to that. That’s what I have to live with – my choices. Every time I make a choice that is congruent with who I am, I feel a little more free, a little more at peace.

  3. Josh
    I remember your stepfather in our training in Portugal. What a presence ! A strong man , lots empathy and joy of living. Please tell him we have him in our thoughts. I am 100% with you… the question is not adversity and loss in itself, but how you integrate that experience, and the margin of freedom to decide to give the meaning to that experience. Quoting Ken Wilber I remember how he decribe the way a Spiritual Inteligent person face suffering: “Hurts more…. bothers less”.
    Thanks for your fantastic writing..

  4. Hi Josh,

    I observe that your writing that comes from deep and sometimes painful feelings seems to resonate deeply with everyone. It is some of your most brilliant writing and takes me to a deeper understanding of how I view my own happiness. Thank you Josh.

    When my father was dying there were moments when the beauty of the love that was palpable from all of us towards him seemed to ease the pain of his passing. They are some of my best memories of my family remembering how we came together to laugh and love in his final days. I felt something that I would describe as serenity…

    I recognized that for me the pain of bringing my children in the world and the pain of being with my Dad when he left the world felt somehow familiar. In both moments there was excruciating pain and joy and gratitude for being part of it.

  5. Dear Josh – Each time I see an incoming email from you, I bookmark with eager anticipation of finding a quiet space and time to read it. This time I am sitting in a small park with my dog on a glorious spring day. And, once again your words, thoughts and feelings have inspired, informed and encouraged me. I echo the replies of both Pat and Lea when I say a profound thank you. As always, my thoughts and prayers are with you for a continued recovery of your knee, and a peaceful, loving strength for your dad. Hugs from the sand hills of NC. Lynda

  6. Hello Josh,

    Beautifully written.

    I am trying to get to the core of your message. Freedom does not mean getting to do whatever you want. Freedom is decision made over an over, made by the heart and not influenced by the outer world.

    Happiness and freedom of choice seem to be connected ( http://www2.eur.nl/fsw/research/veenhoven/Pub2000s/2000a-full.pdf ) and you are talking about the courage to choose, what doesn’t yet have any scientific based studies.

    In some case people get thrown in situations that they have to deal with, in other situations people are strong enough to brake with common patterns and start something new. For both I think the Hero’s journey is the path that has to be taken. And that is not an easy path, a path that can make you feel alive, that is for sure, but also a path that can make you feel very alone.

    It is a continious struggle between the inner and outer world. To love yourself, to accept yourself, to see yourself is the first step and propably the last step of everyones journey.

    Thank you for inspiring words that encourage me to be myself.

    Be good,

    Arjan Haring, Huh? – Haring instiUte of Happiness, The Netherlands

  7. Hi Arjan,

    I love this that you wrote: “the Hero’s journey is the path that has to be taken. And that is not an easy path, a path that can make you feel alive, that is for sure, but also a path that can make you feel very alone.”

    It is a very familiar feeling to me as someone working to change the established paradigm. I feel lonely and then fill myself with doubt. When all around me there are messages saying “take the easy way and you’ll get so many rewards.” I start questioning: why am I taking this difficult path? I should just do what’s easier… At the same time I KNOW that the difficult path is what’s right for me. When I accept that the doubt falls away – and as you say, then I feel so fully alive, so on fire.

    Gratefully,
    -Josh

  8. Hi Joshua,

    My appologies for my crappy english. When I read my comment back I saw a lot of missing words, grammitical horror and typo’s.
    In general I think you got the point I was trying to make. 😉

    Last year I talked to some nice lady from the states that writes books and we came up with the title: The paradox of happiness (which is btw already used more often). It was about the struggle between being satisfied with what you have, or daring to change things to really make the world a better place (for yourself). Both things make people happy, but they are very different paths.

    Personally I am a little tired of the non-stop battle for Happiness in Business I got myself into… There haven’t yet been moments that things changed by itself and I could rest for a bit (don’t even think about getting some appreciation for the work I am doing). Getting an assignment for a series of lectures on happiness for the “Harvard of Holland” (www.huh-questionmark.org/nyenrode) has been my first outer world success which feels like a big change in my life. All of my other symposia or lectures where build and held in my world, and a select set of people that “believed” in me joined these events.

    Luckily I am like a mixture of a pitbull and a bloodhound, I will never let go and I will never give up. This is very tiring… but it feels so good, cause I already know where I will be in a couple of years, a world so much prettier then the one we are living in right now.

    These thoughts give me so much energy that I wouldn’t have to sleep for a whole month. I am glad that as of last month I have one of the best coaches (on happiness of course) of Holland to help me deal with balancing my energy levels. A guiding mentor (different kinds of mentors) helps a lot during such a journey. And a mentor that knows the hero’s journey (even better experienced one of his or her own hero’s journeys) will be able to comfort and motivate you at all times.

    The more people will follow this path, the more changes (for the better I hope) we will see the coming years. And I think more and more people are doing it, so I believe the coming years will be great fun.

    I love living at this very moment of time in history!

    Keep up the good work 😉

    Arjan

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