What do you think of when you hear the word liberation in today’s contemporary world?
This word has been on my heart and in my mind lately.
When you think of being liberated how does your body and mind respond?
Does your body become tense and constrict or sink into relaxation and expansion?
Does your breathing become shallow or deeper?
Do you have a visual image of what being liberated looks like?
Perhaps it is a 100 year old spiritual guru with a beard down to his stomach sitting atop a mountain peak in Tibet?
Is your response coupled with doubt or fear of never achieving or maintaining such a state?
Do you become excited as if to anticipate something big happening?
So many questions……For some of us, liberation comes when our bills are paid, our fundamental needs met, and when we are basically living the ‘status quo’. For others, it might be more of an existential experience, such as being free from constraints of working for an employer, greater connection with inner peace, being transformed through gains of knowledge and education (when you know better, you do better right Maya Angelou?).
From a Buddhist perspective, one of the paths to liberation comes through a meditative practice of concentration such as that through breath-work. The following description is eloquent and sums it up quite succinctly: “The ease derives from releasing our attention from that which we have no real control. In letting go of attending to all that is arising and passing in the background, we’re freed to attend to that which we can influence: for example, we work with the breath, extending the exhalations to calm the mind, exploring the sensations of respiration to center awareness. From a present-time perspective of a relaxed body and mind, the thoughts that disturb us—invariably based on past memories or future projections—lose their appeal. Instead the mind floats in awareness of sensations, eventually dropping into the profound absorption states (Korda, 2016).
Wowser, right? The feeling of being liberated is supported when we can stay present to the here and now experience and the moment to moment interactions with ourselves and others. We are liberated when we notice our emotional and bodily reactions and meet these states with greater ease and choice. When our bodies are relaxed, our brain is signaled for calm and consequently we can choose our response versus get stuck in reactivity and suffering. When we succumb to the mind trap, obsessive negativity, playing over and over the incident with our partner or boss in desperation for the outcome to be something other than what it is…then, we are not liberated. The dark hole of consumerism is another sure fire way to become trapped and become like puppets to a force greater than our own.
The individuals I have been privileged to work with over the years have all been seeking liberation in some form. Freedom from the shackles of depression, the hold of anxiety, wild mood swings, or the deep despair from a broken heart. Trauma and addiction are the greatest interrupters and eliminators of liberation; they steal one’s aliveness, soul, vitality and essence. The thoughts and feelings that coincide with trauma and addiction speak of fear and doubt that life can be any different, shame, resentment, and disbelief that one deserves to be free. So the vision I hold in the therapy room, is to guide clients to their own liberation, to explore through imagery and somatic essence, what that might look AND feel like. In the wise words of Peter Levine, trauma does not have to be a life sentence. It must not be.
Of course, liberation is not a constant state- no state of being is constant. It takes work and effort to be liberated. It may be fleeting at times, harder during high stress, and come easily some days when things are smooth-sailing. Even with an ongoing meditation or personal growth practice, we will continue to find ourselves grasping, attaching to expectations of how something/someone should be, resistance to the harsh reality of life, and yearning for something external to give us pleasure or relief. Well, at least that is MY experience. Hopefully, these times will become less and less as we have more and more direct contact with the felt sense of being liberated.
Liberation is not just for the enlightened or those living in seclusion without the temptations of modern life. Liberation is attainable, if only in incremental experiences, to each and every one of us; the challenge is to rise above our stagnation, fear and doubt and take a vulnerable risk to embody our higher self- one of connection, compassion, kindness, insight, wisdom and peace.
“Rather than rejecting pain and holding on to pleasure, we learn to accept both, to eliminate our habitual pattern of the reactive mind and attain “equanimity” – a state of even-mindedness in which we see things as they are without reacting with negative emotions” (Wong, 2006).
I wish you well in your journey towards a tad bit more liberation in YOUR life!