To ring in the New Year this year, I did something I’ve never done before.
For two days, I sat with a group of women in a meditation retreat online.
These women, like me, wanted freedom.
I went into this retreat wanting to be free of many things, like my busy, overthinking mind and lack of presence, the constant stress and worry that plagued me in 2020, the never-ending mountains of negativity I kept getting trapped under, my quickly-fading hope for a bright future, and my lack of belief that things can change.
I wanted to stop viewing my current “reality” as all there will ever be.
But I think most of all, I wanted to believe in possibility again, and in myself.
Obviously, that’s quite a list, and would be plenty of material to work with for a brief two days. (And probably even a lifetime!)
But as each person shared what they wanted to be free of, I found myself nodding in recognition and agreement. Oh yeah, and that too. I want to be free of that. And that! … And that!
I definitely wasn’t alone in my desire for freedom, and I felt a sense of community as I listened and saw the faces on my screen all mirroring back my own state of heaviness.
Before we dove into discovering for ourselves the cause of these heavy feelings, the woman facilitating the event reminded us of a simple truth:
“Peace comes by invitation only, the invitation from yourself.” — Byron Katie
Before you can begin to change your life, you have to really want to. If you have no desire for freedom, there is nothing anyone can do to help you.
And from what I’ve experienced so far, the process of changing your life is completely counterintuitive.
We think that in order to change our lives, we have to change external things like our jobs, our relationships, the way our bodies look, etc. But what if it’s our minds that we actually need to work with?
What if the key to changing your life was simply opening your mind?
You might think that you’re a pretty open-minded person already, and maybe you are. I don’t know. And either way, I wouldn’t fault you for it, because I can relate.
For most of my life, I thought I was pretty “chill” too, meaning laid back and easygoing. I believed strongly in the idea of “live and let live,” and I honestly believed I was following my own advice.
I was always extremely hard on myself, of course (isn’t everyone?), but I did my best not to judge others and to be supportive of the life they were living and what they were doing.
That was before I was introduced to a process of meditation called “The Work,” which is something I’ve now been practicing for years.
The Work is all about exploring our inner lives, which is something most of us have very little clue about, because we’re not taught how to process anything that goes on in there. All the focus is on the outer world. What we are taught from a very young age is not to show emotion, to be strong, to keep our personal business to ourselves, and to control ourselves. And from this conditioning, we learn that our inner lives (our thoughts, feelings, emotions, desires) are not to be trusted, acknowledged, accepted, or explored.
As a result, anything that goes on internally has to be stifled and kept secret.
So when I first started doing The Work, I had absolutely no idea how much stuff (feelings, pain, thoughts) I was still carrying around that had never been processed.
I also quickly discovered that I wasn’t all that laid back after all!
Underneath the composed exterior I’d worked hard at building, there was all kinds of worry, fear, comparison, judgement, opinions, anxiety, resentment, hurt… and on and on.
I also began to see that being such a harsh critic towards myself didn’t just end with me; it also extended to everyone else in my life and even to people I didn’t even know!
The truth was, I had all kinds of thoughts and opinions about others, too. I thought I knew what they should be doing, and how they should think and act and what they should believe. I was walking through life in a state of constant comparison, measuring myself against others and labelling everything I saw as good or bad, right or wrong, pretty or ugly, useful or useless.
Over these last few years, I’ve gone on a journey of self-exploration, and what I’ve found has completely opened me up in ways I never knew existed. It’s also brought me more peace, clarity, compassion, and yes — freedom.
Through The Work, I am starting to see how human it is to have thoughts, and to experience a wide range of emotions and feelings.
The problem is not having them; it’s that we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience them. We try to squash and hide them, and we feel ashamed of them. We pretend like they don’t exist, and they go unprocessed.
Through meditation and this process of self-inquiry, I am seeing the cost of denying my thoughts and emotions rather than accepting and processing them.
I can’t control the thoughts that enter my head at any given time or the emotional/energetic response they cause, but I can acknowledge them, allow them to surface, and even welcome them in.
“I don’t let go of my thoughts. I meet them with understanding, and then they let go of me.” — Byron Katie
The insanity we experience is in the pretending, not in the feeling.
The truth is that what I’ve always really wanted is simply freedom to be human, and every time I explore my mind through inquiry, I gain a little bit of my humanity back. I am reminded that I am free — I’ve just forgotten it.
When I’m believing that I need to show up in the world in a certain way in order to be safe or loved or respected, I deny myself of the real, true, raw humanness that is natural and a part of all of us.
When you deny yourself the space and freedom to express yourself genuinely and authentically, you are essentially denying yourself of the true human experience.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, true freedom is found in accepting all of it, not just the pretty parts.
Be willing to open your mind, and you will find the freedom you seek.