This weekend we celebrate the Fourth of July, a holiday that historically represents our independence as a nation. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence but has come to be a celebration of our inherent right to freedom.
Merriam-Webster defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” but the meaning of freedom we each hold will be as varied as we are. If you ask a thousand people what freedom means to them, you’ll probably get a thousand different responses. For some, freedom means having the resources to meet their financial needs; for others, freedom means coming into perfect physical health. It can look like freedom from a political tyrant, an oppressive system, or an abusive relationship. It may mean freedom from stress, from a burden, or loneliness.
In his 2005 commencement speech to the graduates at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace reflected on what true freedom really is—and it’s not what we have been bred to believe.
“But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.”
True freedom means freedom from, as he puts it, worship. When we worship things outside of ourselves—the job, the car, physical beauty, power—we create chaos in ourselves and the world. To worship these things means to be stuck in a continuous loop of lack mentality, it means to live life unconsciously.
“If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables, the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth upfront in daily consciousness.”
This doesn’t mean that a life of freedom doesn’t include these things; it certainly can. It just means that your life isn’t defined by them but, instead, enhanced by them. When you live a life of true happiness and freedom, physical delights and successes rise and fall like your breath, and you receive them and give them away just as effortlessly. It is only your ability to share, lift up others, love unconditionally, and give radically that is the road to real, lasting freedom.
Think now about what your life would look like if you remove all worship of physical things and focus only on what you wish to create and give. What does it look like?
Is it a job you love? A beautiful, intimate partnership? Is it the ability to travel the world? Is it the ability to follow your passion?
Now, examine why you don’t do these things, and you’ll start to see clues to where you might be unconsciously worshipping. This list will likely be much longer and include things like:
My husband would never support me doing…
My wife would think that I am…
I don’t have the money to…
I’m afraid that my family will say…
I don’t have the energy to…
Because of how I grew up, I am not able to…
These beliefs are what stand in your way. Whether it is a circumstance, a person, a relationship, or anything that’s outside of you, there is an unconscious worship of that thing that is blocking your joy and freedom.
Now, close your eyes, and this time, imagine you’re living in real freedom. Bring a picture of true happiness into your mind. What is happening? Who is there, and what are they saying? What are you doing? What are you sharing? Don’t focus on “things,” focus on how you are feeling. How does your body feel? Relaxed? Joyful? Loving? Where do you feel it in your body? Allow yourself to just relish the experience.
Open your eyes. How do you feel now? I’m guessing that you feel lighter, more open, and happier. Notice how none of the things on your list are any different at this moment, and yet you’re feeling joyful right now.
When you free yourself from worship, you free yourself from selfishness, ego, lack, and all the other forms of negativity. As you spend the next few days celebrating freedom, also become aware of how you might be worshipping. Do you worship a sense of superiority, through gossip and judgment? Do you worship a sense of status that causes you to withhold truth and vulnerability? Do you worship physical sensations that result in harmful habits? Make a new commitment to your freedom and release unconscious worship. In its place, allow the intention of sharing to grow instead.
We all deserve the experience of true freedom. One that allows us to live our purpose, share our gifts, and clear a path for others to do the same.
Happy Independence Day.