Wednesday, December 14, 2016

SPIRITUAL EXPLORATIONS – 362

This is the daily exploration for Tuesday, December 27, 2016.
WE ARE EXPLORING THE HEAVENLY ATTRIBUTE OF FREEDOM


+ We are called to create and enjoy a realm of compassion, peace, justice and sustainable abundance for all.

+ Our pressure cooker society pushes us to our emotional limits. We deserve relief from getting crucified by daily stresses. We deserve to be happier, to be more comfortable in our own skins, to have nurturing relationships. . . .It's lunacy to put up with being chronically anxious, fatigued, or depressed as so many of us have. I rebel against that cheerless status quo, and hope you will too. . . .

Though we commonly think of freedom as uncensored speech, emancipation from slavery, and the right to vote and worship as we choose, you can't achieve total freedom until you learn to take charge of emotions, instead of them running you. This is a radical paradigm shift we all can make, regardless of our present anxieties or past hardships.
-- Judith Orloff in Emotional Freedom

+ It really is important to devote time and energy to this important work of overcoming this lunacy which our society has produced in so many of us. So, what follows is some very wise guidance by the brilliant Edward Bastian who has been our guide before during these spiritual explorations, particularly during our exploration of the practice of Heavenliness. Freedom is one of the big questions Ed explores in Mandala: Creating An Authentic Spiritual Path: An InterSpiritual Process.

Here is a rather lengthy excerpt from his chapter on the question of Freedom (If not now, maybe you can find some time later to read and reflect on his wise counsel):

What is freedom?
Is true freedom possible?
How can I be free?
Do I have free will and freedom of choice?
Can there be freedom without bondage?

Growing up in American, we are constantly bombarded by the claim that American is the Land of the Free. Here in America we proclaim the inalienable rights for “Freedom from Tyranny,” “Freedom to Vote,” “Sexual Freedom,” “Freedom of the Press,” “Freedom of the Marketplace,” “Freedom of Self Governance,” “Freedom of Equality,” “Freedom of Religion,” and “Freedom to be Happy.” Of all these Freedoms, the “Freedom to be Happy” has always been the most perplexing to me. For amidst all the other Freedoms, the “Free to be Happy” was the most illusive. While all the other Freedoms pertain to our external relationship with others in society, this last one, “Freedom to be Happy” is uniquely personal and internal.

When I was young and separating from my Iowa home, one of the Freedoms I most valued was the freedom to leave my home and travel the world. I was free to explore the world’s cultures, ways of life, and religions. As a hitchhiker through Europe, Africa, and Asia I was picked up by an extraordinary variety of people, rich and poor, who took me to their homes so I could experience their lives. In my brief stint with civil rights movement in Alabama and Mississippi I came in contact with Freedom Fighters who struggled for political, economic, and social equality. As a film-maker I documented the religions of Asia and the effects of religion on the lives of ordinary people. As a photographer I documented the war in Viet Nam. As a Buddhist scholar and practitioner, I lived in India among the impoverished refugees from Tibet.

One of the most striking conclusions of all these experiences is that there is no direct correlation between external freedom and economic circumstance and internal happiness. I have witnessed people in pain and poverty with no apparent economic, political, and social freedom who have inner lives of peace, contentment, and empathy. Happiness I discovered, is the result of inner freedom from the causes that bind and imprison us. This fact doesn’t alleviate the need and responsibility to struggle for the other external freedoms. But in our struggles, we need to be cognizant that inner freedom and happiness does not automatically arise just because we experience the external freedoms.

I first heard this message from an unlikely source. It happened as I was headed to Viet Nam to experience and document the war as a free-lance photographer. Ironically, America’s rationale for the oppressive war was to liberate the Vietnamese people from the threat of Communism. I had landed in Bangkok, Thailand where I was waiting for a flight to Saigon the next day and free to wander the streets and clubs that night.

It was in one of these clubs that I met a couple of young Thai women who invited me to join them on the dance floor and of course being a young red-blooded American man I obliged. After about an hour, one of them asked me if I would like to go home with her. I had heard about the rampant prostitution in Bangkok that was so popular among tourists and soldiers and I frankly wasn’t interested in that. But as I was about the decline her offer, she said, “I am not a prostitute. I was married to an American soldier who was killed in Viet Nam and I would just like your company.” With that I agreed and off we went to her apartment near by.

In the morning, after a lovely night together, she told me that her father was on his way over for breakfast. With that I offered that it was time for me to go, but she begged me to stay saying it is important for me to meet him. So we sat together in the kitchen savoring a cup of tea waiting his arrival. Within a few minutes, we heard a gentle knock at the door and in walked a diminutive Buddhist monk who was her father that she wanted me to meet. He was so warm and friendly that I was immediately at ease in his company. His questions to me were translated by his daughter, and soon I was asking him questions about Buddhism.

So it was under these circumstances in that small Bangkok kitchen that I received my first teachings on Buddhism about how we can achieve Freedom. He explained to me that material things and sensual experiences cannot make me happy that my happiness and freedom must come from within. “So long as we believe happiness will come from outside, we will be unhappy,” he said. Then he told me about the Four Noble Truths which encapsulate all the Buddha’s teachings. These are: (1) All beings are in a state of suffering; (2) Our suffering is caused by our ignorance, desire, and anger; (3) Freedom from suffering is possible; (4) Buddhist practices can eliminate these internal causes of suffering and enable us to be free.

I must admit that as a healthy young man who had just enjoyed an unexpectedly wonderful night with his daughter, that these teachings presented quite a challenge. But I revered this simple monk and his wisdom. Somehow, deep inside me I knew they were true, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up my illusion of happiness. Over the following years, his wisdom continued to work within me and once I learned enough from a plethora of material and sensual experiences that were fun but not the source of happiness, I increasingly became drawn to the Buddhist perspective. I began searching the world’s religions for my own inner path to happiness.

The process for internal freedom begins with knowledge that our “self” is not a permanent independent unit that is separate from others. This “selfless” knowledge is both understood intellectually and experienced meditatively. It is the truth of our inter-dependence with all other beings and the environment in which we live. It is the truth of universal reciprocity between all forms of life. It is a genuine empathy for others, knowing that our well-being is intertwined with
theirs.

If our sensual and materialistic activities are tempered by this knowledge and experience of inter-dependence and empathy, then we don’t engage in the objects of our desire with the expectation that they will cause our lasting happiness. This knowledge in turn lessens our desire, craving, grasping, and dependence on external stimulation for internal well-being. For the external causes of happiness are fleeting and impermanent. If our happiness is imprisoned by these, we can never be free.

I have found meditation to be an important tool in the happiness process and I have adapted a classical Buddhist technique for this purpose. The underlying assumption, of course, is that our minds have the natural capacity to be in a state of peace, tranquility, and equanimity when the causes of unhappiness have been healed and removed. Sometimes, my meditation on emptiness and inter-dependence focuses on the actual unhappy emotion I am feeling. Through this meditation, the negative emotion is transformed into feeling of equanimity and contentment. This meditation can be practiced at any time and in any place.

I begin by simply being mindful of the unhappy feeling. I objectively observe it without passing judgment on it. Rather than allowing it to compound and grow, I observe how this emotion is effecting my body through my stomach, head, neck, or back and notice how this single unhappy emotion can set off a chain of reactions including pain, stress, anger, and depression. Then I put this unhappy emotion under my mental microscope to discover what it is made up of and what caused it. For example, it might arise from my fear of too little money to support me in my old age. It might be the result of my unfulfilled desire for a female partner, a soul mate, to accompany me through the next phase in my life. It might arise from my worry about my children and other family members. Without judging or rejecting this emotion I examine what caused it and I realize that it is my unrealistic expectation that financial security, a relationship, or the well-being of my family will be the sole cause of my happiness.

Then, in the case of a desire for relationship, I realize that this hope it clouded by my own past relations with other women, including my mother. Because of these, I projecting my ideals of a perfect soul mate onto a woman whose body and personality resonate with an archetypal “soul mate image” in my own subconscious mind. Then I remember that my projected archetypal image of that person will come into conflict with the actual personality of any woman that I meet. When I fail to meet someone who matches this archetypal image, or when a particular woman fails to fulfill my projections, I will become unhappy and might treat that person unkindly. I then realize how this whole chain of unhappy emotional and physiological events started with my false assumption that a relationship with someone could be the cause of my happiness. I conclude that a relationship in and of itself cannot be the caused of my happiness, especially if it is solely predicated on my own selfish needs and projections.

From a Buddhist perspective, I meditate on the impermanence of relationships and how they are empty of the inherent capacity to create happiness. I empty myself of the false projections I have unconsciously formed about potential partners. I remind myself of the inter-dependence of all things and that my well-being is dependent on the well-being of others with whom I am in relationship.

To recap, my antidote to an negative emotion is the following: 1. Objectively and dispassionately observe the negative emotion. 2. Focus my attention on my breathing to pacify the secondary mental and physiological effects of this emotion. The breathing will create a gap between the stimulus of desire and my response to it. It is in this gap that I can… 3. Examine the cause of the unhappy emotion and see that it is my own unrealistic expectation that another person can make me happy. 4. Remind myself that no external thing, sensation, or relationship can cause me to be happy. 5. Focus on the impermanence and emptiness of my desires, projections, and the unhappiness they create. This, along with the breathing, and allows the effects of emotion to dissipate. 6. Experience the mental equanimity that arises from gentle breathing and from pacifying a desire based on false expectations. 7. Allow the natural state of equanimity, contentment, peace and happiness to rise up and enjoyed that feeling within me. 8. Remind myself that even this equanimity is inter-dependent and refrain from attachment to it. 9. Replace the unhappy emotion with a compassionate intention for the happiness of the person on whom I projected false expectations.

In this way, every unhappy emotion can become an object of meditation and can be healed thus allowing our natural state of happiness to emerge. Gradually, Buddhist meditations can replace external desire with internal contentment. This meditation does not negate the importance for compassionate engagement with each and every person. But it quells the self-centered projections that create unhappiness when others fail to live up to our false expectations.

This type of meditation can be practiced on all negative emotions like greed, jealousy, anger, hatred, that arise from unhealthy desire and attachment for money, possessions, and relationships. When we apply this meditation successfully, our mind is released from the suffering of desire and can reside in a natural state of happiness and internal freedom from the vicissitudes of unrealistic and unhealthy desires.


+ I would love it if you offered a guest post.  And, I have work to do on the Abundancetrek Freedom page. Maybe you can help.  Send an email with the subject “Freedom” or “Heavenly Attributes” or “Guest Post” to John@abundancetrek.com.

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