A lot of people now follow the practice of choosing a word to focus on for the year ahead, rather than making up a list of new year’s resolution they will very likely break. It’s a great idea and perhaps one I would have adopted sooner, had I ever had a particular word pressing itself upon me at the start of January.
Well, this year I do and it came to me from several sources all at once, as things tend to when they are clearly meant to get your attention, including a song in my head (“emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds…”), a meaningful piece of jewellery and, above all, a distinct feeling that matches the word. Yes, I do feel more at liberty somehow, and long to experience more of this on the outside; to encourage the blooming of something that already feels like its ready to surpass the edges of all my previous experiences, if I let it…because my word of the year is FREEDOM.
And there’s nothing like a l-o-n-g Christmas, one that felt a bit like slowly suffocating beneath the patched-together remnants of an old life, to make you chomp at the bit of all the freedom waiting at its end. Oh, to be free from tradition for traditions sake; its deathly (but that’s another story). Reclaiming the space and the solitude to do what I really want to be doing is so liberating, I hardly know where to start. And the fact this word came to find me…I didn’t have to go looking for it…speaks volumes.
To add personal context, freedom is something that has felt like it is taunting me through a closed window for some time now; not just because of domestic circumstances, finances, all the usual reasons. For over a decade, I have had a whole bundle of what they label autoimmune conditions (I don’t!) which, for all my very determined efforts to figure them out and recover my health, still assert their sway over many aspects of my life. Chronic, sometimes extreme, pain and intense sensitivities to environmental factors still swoop in to affect me, as do bouts of the kind of chronic fatigue that wipe the floor with me; not very liberating…yet I still feel the essence of this word calling out to me at the start of this new year.
Importantly, if I’m going to make freedom feel real in my life, I know this will involve challenging some of those factors in my life that still feel so very limiting…but not in the way you might expect. Because, I’ve already learned the hard way, this won’t work if it means making those circumstances, such as ongoing health issues, “wrong” or entering into some kind of death-struggle with my own life, demanding that my challenges cease; this only leads to more frustration and bigger-seeming problems. Rather, I’ve come to realise over many years of such struggle that the ultimate freedom is the kind we achieve even when circumstance would like to dictate that we are anything but at liberty; experiencing the freedom to choose joy and wellbeing, in spite of those circumstances…as an inside job. You could say, the freedom of all freedoms is the freedom from having to do anything in particular — no need to travel or study, create the perfect life, pursue accolades or even heal from a limiting condition…because it allows that whatever and wherever we already are today is quite enough to be free. I know it as the freedom to cease comparing my circumstances with others or judging my, in many ways, amazing life to be any less than theirs because of so-called shortcomings.
Yes, as I bite back the disappointment of not feeling well enough to walk as far as I would have liked today, in the dazzling January sunshine, its freedom from making unreasonable demands of myself anymore and to be alright with whatever presents to me.
These mindsets are all pivotal, because they gain for us the ultimate freedom…to exist in that freedom without conditions or compromise; the freedom to be included amongst the free without requiring a particular pass card to get in. So how do I get to experience this kind of freedom…so that I am aware that I am experiencing it, in every moment, and not just doing it lip service? I suspect that will be the journey my year takes me on but here’s some thoughts…
Just to add, the word “freedom” encompasses so many themes that I am already working on across all the layers of life, thus finding my word is a continuation, the next most natural progression; giving those themes a focal point to dance around. It feels relevant to me and it feels equally relevant and on-topic for everything that is going on in the world so, as ever, I am able to play with it across all the different scales of the picture, from personal to collective, as I am always wont to do. Maybe some of these versions of freedom feel on-point for you too.
They include the very obvious freedoms that we usually think of, to live as we want, explore new things, travel to new places and have enough resources to make free choices. Its even the freedom to express what we want and to support certain points of view that we have; yes, I reserve the freedom to speak out loud about those things that I feel need to be said, which I frequently do as someone passionate about animals, ecology and so on.
Yet, for me, it also includes the liberty to free the mind and heart from the kind of preoccupations that torture and overwhelm. As a highly sensitive person with health issues that respond all-too closely to all the diverse things I encounter in the world, I know I must exert the freedom of choice not to get myself caught up in the kind of negative thinking and traumatic information exposure that unravels me in hopeless pain and frustration, as so many people do in the name of relentlessly pursuing a cause.
Thus, for us all, it’s the freedom to carefully choose the appropriate amount, and source, of whatever “news” comes into our feed each day; and to switch off whatever makes us feel nothing but defeated and hopelessly locked outside of our ability to make a real difference. It’s the freedom to claim the right to sleep without a leaden or traumatised heart and mind every night, so we can wake up with all the necessary love of life to face another day. It’s freedom to create a version of life that suits us and our own particular needs, and to love that life dearly, without guilt; even when we know there are others living in hellish conditions. It’s the freedom to allow that we can only do what we can do to help others…and I hope that we will…but that we must, first of all, love and show compassion to ourselves in order to be of any use to another.
In other words, its claiming back that most basic human liberty of being at peace with ourselves, and what we are capable of, when all is said and done.
Therefore, in my case, while I own up to the inbuilt sense of responsibility, to serve the collective, that is such a big part of me, I also know I have a responsibility to myself…to make sure I know what peace feels like, every day…in order to be truly free. As such, an equal priority must be to ensure that I am free from the kind of heart-wrenching pain and despair that comes from repeatedly throwing myself against an immoveable, or very slowly crumbling, wall of circumstances; allowing myself to step back and, frequently, remind myself that the most subtle methods of effecting change are often the most powerful (and faithfully employing those methods, however ephemeral they may seem). It’s the freedom to know I contribute significantly…just by being me; especially when I live according to the divine guidance that is joy…and to stand by that knowing. It’s the freedom to consult my highest self, through intuition and quiet moments; to notice subtleties and be the one who sees and records things that others may miss. It’s freedom from too much stimulation, all those noisy distractions going on in the world, to be able to hear my own subtle senses when they speak. It’s daring to know that those quiet gifts are, perhaps, my highest gifts to offer in this messed up reality and that I am not letting anybody down by being true to my nature.
And then a quote popped up in my FB feed as I flipped back on to edit this post… “The basis of your life is Freedom, the purpose of your life is Joy…” (Esther Hicks).
We forget or over-ride this all the time, don’t we? Most of us act like we are reaching for too many cookies from the jar when we even think about believing in this statement…yet, I know in my heart of hearts, that it’s true in a way that sustains beyond anything else going on.
Therefore, I claim the freedom to be far more selective about my self-imposed, and other, imperatives; in fact, to challenge anything that asserts that it “has to” be done and, like a child, claim the freedom to repeatedly pose the question “why?” Like that child, it’s the freedom to live inventively, playfully…like most of us cease doing when we become adults; claiming also my freedom from guilt or embarrassment at doing so. Likewise, I reserve the freedom to bring more structures into my life whenever they feel truly supportive and wanted; since the kind of freedom that means having to give up everything, even useful resources, in the name of no attachment to anything is no freedom at all (a case of baby thrown out with bath water).
I encourage others who are sensitive types, who offer quieter gifts, who feel more than other people and who are prone to taking on more than their fair share of the worry burdens of life, to claim back the simple freedom of feeling lighthearted, uncluttered and at peace; allowing simple pleasures to shine through, as we did when we were children and our play-zone was the whole world. It can be somewhat like that again, if we claim that freedom back, at least a good portion of the time…and this tends to make us considerably stronger, in all the other times, than if we wear ourselves down to a post with all our concerns. It’s the freedom to own up to the fact that imagination is just as crucial to our wellbeing as it was back then; as is the freedom to choose our own balance of “hard fact” with something softer and more fluid. That word in there is key; true freedom comes from balance, not extremes.
Allowing freedom to occur, in our own experience, is perhaps the most crucial piece of it all; because, how many of us stop it in its tracks, as though it is a guilty pleasure in a world full of limitations. Well, perhaps if we claim it for ourselves, the rest will follow…as though we each helped to model how it was even possible. After all, to achieve freedom, we need to exercise those freedoms we have (not take them for granted); and, like any other form of exercise, the more we work out, the stronger its muscle becomes…collectively.
I am sure many more layers of interpretation will come to me over the coming year; after all, its only the first week of January. This flow of thoughts feels like a powerful starting point and I can tell I am on track as I feel the excitement around it…which is how you will know when you have found your word. Once you have found it, placing gentle reminders around your space and person can be a powerful enhancement; perhaps starting a journal reserved for any ponderings, also so you can look back and appreciate the journey they have taken you on. As a mindfulness practice, this feels far more in-sync to me than all those tedious resolution lists ever were, not least because it is not a closed-system or at all prescriptive but, rather, allows for gradual growth and evolution as the word reveals more and more of itself, leaving you free (!) to do nothing more than remain patient and receptive to whatever it has to show you.
One of the ways that this word asserted to me was through music; first of all Bob Marley’s classic, as above, which has been dancing in and out of my head for a few days over the new year period. But then, at the weekend, a far stranger playlist of songs came into my head, made up of songs I had all-but forgotten and all from a particular era. Made curious by this, I checked out the dates, only to discover they all came from the music chart of a particular January, almost forty years ago…a time that I equate with, guess, what, enhanced freedom. Music and other sensory cues are often a way that our superconsciousness uses to communicate with us so this synchronicity was truly interesting and got my attention.
When I took time to feel into the memories associated with that time, finding those music tracks and creating a playlist of them, I got to a feeling which unravelled these themes.
It was a point in my schooling when I turned a massive corner in my life, shifting out of a feeling of oppression at my old school, where I was bullied and felt compromised thus, quite often, ungrounded and detached from school life and my peers. That January marked a massive turning point, into a completely different era where I felt, at last, settled into my new school and much more comfortable with life in general…I made like-natured friends who seemed to “get” me and was now able to use my academic and artistic gifts without fear of repercussions, so I became more relaxed and playful, thus able to be truly myself at last. So, no longer living in a constant state of high-alert, I was able to become more grounded in my human life and began to thrive over the next few years; which is exactly what my life is calling for right now.
There are many themes here in common with where I am at this point in my life; so I wanted to demonstrate just how useful this kind of cruise through whatever your superconscious throws up can be. By going softly into whatever comes to you, yet pursuing any trails of feeling or association, you can be led straight into a deep layer of insight that you left for yourself, like a breadcrumb trail across lifetimes.