This 4th of July, I skipped the usual fireworks to spend the evening with my two-and-a-half year old niece, Luna, my seven-month-old nephew, Nico, and my sister Carrie. The family is visiting from their travels around the world, spending a few months in Massachusetts, currently staying at my parents’ house.
Carrie’s husband, Pablo, is from Argentina, and the family usually lives abroad. They generally stay in one location for two to four months at a time before moving on, and still do so with two young children (don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t travel just because you have children!).
They recently bought a home in Northampton, MA that they are renovating to rent out as an income property. Tomorrow they will move into one of their other rental income properties here in Northampton, so that it’s easier to pop over and work on the new house.
This is a family that has lived in Costa Rica, Spain, France, Turkey, Italy, Thailand, Honduras, Argentina, Indonesia, and Hawaii, among other exotic destinations. And that’s just over the past few years!
I feel lucky to get to see them when they are in the States, and to visit them as often as possible when they are living somewhere beautiful abroad. I have visited the family in Costa Rica, Spain, Hawaii and many times in Argentina.
One never knows where they will be off to next! This is definitely a family that is actively living the life of their dreams.
Fourth of July On the Playground
Since it’s such a treat to have the family around, I skipped more traditional 4th of July festivities to take Luna and Nico to the playground with my sister Carrie. I pushed Luna on the swings, took her on the slide (she insisted on me going down the slide too, which I am always happy to do!). She drove a pretend car and train.
We cooked dinner together afterwards and put the kiddos to bed. Then, it was time for me to finish this blog.
Still hearing the occasional fireworks booming off in the distance, I reflected tonight on the concept of “freedom” and what it means to me.
The Many Meanings of Freedom
In one obvious sense, we as U.S. citizens are incredibly blessed to have freedom of speech and religion, and to live a country where we do not worry about war, famine or disease in the way that people of many other countries still do.
It’s easy to take our many freedoms for granted, since we were raised with these privileges. I look to stay in a state of gratitude for the simple things we so often take for granted, including these freedoms, a roof overhead, food on the table, clean water, a bank account with money in it. These are things that so many in the world do not have.
I’m so grateful to everyone who has come before, from the founding fathers of our country to my own parents, who have made it possible for me to live a life in which I’m able to have my basic needs fulfilled, to be safe, healthy, and living in a stable environment.
I am also conscious of and grateful for the fact that I have the freedom and ability to pursue my dreams.
This is an added layer of privilege and freedom. For those in the world who are struggling just to survive, stay alive, put food on the table, endure war or famine, it’s usually not possible to “dream big” and go after their heart’s desires. For some, it is a daily fight just to stay alive.
For many of us here in the U.S., we are fortunate to have transcended that basic “survival state” and to be able to pursue whatever it is we dream of achieving, doing, having or being.
I hope I will never take this freedom for granted ~ the amazing freedom to pursue my dreams.
Another level of freedom, that I look to cultivate daily and to help others practice in their own lives, is emotional freedom from suffering. This doesn’t mean that life is suddenly “perfect” without any ups and downs, but rather that we transform our relationship to life in order to be truly free.
A recent beautiful blog on the topic of suffering by Kute Blackson discusses the concept of suffering and freeing ourselves from it:
Whether you are a businessman or a buddha, pain is inevitable. There is no way to avoid it. Just by virtue of being in a human body there will be some pain. Trying to avoid pain will only create more suffering. Embrace pain to release yourself from suffering.
Suffering is optional. Suffering is a choice.
Suffering comes from your story about what is happening in your life and less about what is actually happening. What is happening is simply what is happening. The suffering part comes from all your interpretations and meanings about the experience. Change your story and the way you are interpreting reality and you begin to change your reality. When you change your reality within yourself you shift your experience of your reality outside. Once you understand this, you only suffer if you choose to.
Blackson asks, “What stories are you making up about yourself, your life, your partner, your current experience that is causing you suffering?”
And can you change those stories to find more freedom and happiness? Those who are truly emotionally “free” can learn to cultivate happiness and inner peace in any circumstances, and still pursue their dreams, looking to create a life that is more and more full and satisfying over time.
Learning to Flow With Life
Buddhism teaches that in fact suffering arises from “attachment to desires,” or wanting to control how things map out in our lives. It’s one thing to have goals and dreams; these can channel our passions, give us direction, keep us inspired, and help us to use our strengths in service of the world.
It’s when we get attached to how and when things will manifest that we sometimes suffer ~ when a project falls through, a job doesn’t work out, a relationship ends. Can we find a way to remain happy and peaceful, even amidst the changing circumstances of our lives?
Buddhism also teaches that “the only thing permanent is change.” Life is constant flux, constant motion. When we grow attached to keeping things a certain way, we suffer. When we fight with reality the way that it is, we suffer.
I have always loved this quote from Byron Katie: “When I argue with reality, I lose, but only 100% of the time.”
Amen to that! Can we learn to love what is? While continuing to pursue our biggest dreams of the moment, and just having fun with it? This is another kind of freedom.
So How Do We Eliminate Suffering, Exactly?
For those not familiar with the Buddhist tradition, Kute Blackson offers some simple approaches to transcending suffering in his blog, by focusing first on what causes our suffering:
The 7 Keys to Creating Suffering by Kute Blackson:
1- Resist everything: Resist what is. Resist reality. Fight against what is happening in your life with all your might. This is a guaranteed method to suffer.
Key Solution: Accept what is, so that you can then decide how to shift it.
2- Holding the belief: “The experience that is happening to me should not be happening to me. I should be having some other experience than the one I am having. This shouldn’t be happening to me”. You have probably heard yourself doing some version of this. It just keeps you stuck.
Key Solution: Embrace your current experience. Your current experience is the experience that you are meant to be having because you are having it right now. Trust, and focus on what the you can learn and how you can grow. The experience is here to help you evolve.
3- Focusing on all the things that you cannot control. This will only cause you to feel completely helpless and disempowered. It will leave you in a state of worry and anxiety. Some of us are professional “worriers”. No matter how much you worry it doesn’t actually change the situation. Once you are done worrying the situation will be the same. Worrying is a waste of time.
Key Solution: Focus on what you can control. Take actions that are in your power, step by step.
4- Refusing to change. Keep doing the same over and over and hoping for a different result. Well, as Einstein said is the definition of insanity. Are you so set in your ways that you are afraid of giving up the known suffering for the unknown possibility of happiness?
Key Solution: Embrace change. Be willing to do something different. Let go. Go into the unknown. Take different actions.
5- Give up your responsibility: Be a victim. Play the blame game making everyone else at fault or responsible for your life and how you feel. Unless you take responsibility for your current experience then you are powerless to change it.
Key Solution: Take full responsibility for your current reality and decide what changes you are committed to making. Give up blame.
6- Focus on everything that is wrong in your life. Whether a relationship or person. When you focus on what is wrong, you will surely find what is wrong. You will end up creating more of what is wrong to feel wrong a about. Then the negative cycle continues.
Key Solution: Start focusing on what you are grateful for. Remember all your blessings, and appreciate that daily. What you appreciates, expands. What you thank about comes about.
7- Denial: Lie to yourself and others. Pretend that everything is fine when you know that it isn’t. When you avoid facing what is, you end up staying stuck and repeating the same patterns of pain, and relationship. This only ends up prolonging your suffering.
Key Solution: Tell the truth to yourself first. Tell the truth to those in your life. Be honest. Face reality.
As Kute says, “Life is too short to waste spent suffering. Most of what you worry about today you won’t even remember a few months from now. Most of what you are trying to change in people today, you won’t care about on your deathbed.”
Celebrating Our Freedoms!
This 4th of July holiday week, can we remember to give thanks not only for our freedom as citizens, but for the many freedoms we have, including the freedom to pursue your dreams, the freedom to be who you want to be, the freedom to choose your attitude toward life?
May we all walk a path that helps us to eliminate unnecessary emotional suffering for ourselves and others. May we all remember that we are meant to be happy (even the Dalai Lama says, “The purpose of life is to be happy!”) and to shine.
Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. She is also a lindy hopper, belly dancer and globe-trotter. Her post day is Tuesday.