What does freedom mean to you?

“Most of life is so dull it is not worth discussing, and it is dull at all ages.  When we change our brand of cigarette, move to a new neighborhood, subscribe to a different newspaper, fall in and out of love, we are protesting in ways both frivolous and deep against the not to be diluted dullness of day-to-day living”.

This somewhat negative passage is taken from a novel by Truman Capote (Summer Crossing, circa 1940’s).  Still, he’s making a point for personal freedom – the ability to freely choose what we might or might not decide to do.

Freedom is perhaps the most precious gift humanity can know.  It is within personal freedom that we feel secure and can therefore welcome challenges or anything that amounts to difference.  Such freedom might simply include that of trying new things; or the freedom to buy and sell; to drive our cars or take transport wherever we wish; to enjoy entertainment and experience, with freedom, a range of the usual and the unusual occurrences that life can present.

In our work at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre we see many people suffering with anxiety and so we are particularly aware of the power of anxiety and how anxiety – or fear, really – is perhaps the greatest cause of limitation to life experience.

From my own encounter with that negative force many years ago, I know how easy it can be to lose personal freedom.  Due to paralyzing physical symptoms created by anxiety, it was just not possible in those years for me to freely choose to walk out of my home and enjoy the day to day activities so easily taken for granted.  People can be affected by anxiety in myriad ways from feelings of personal hurt or shame, frustration or depression to the development of a variety of so-called ‘coping’ strategies.  This means that many live constantly with unpleasant symptoms or nervous habits or neurotic tendencies … or a range of behavioral patterns or obsessive compulsions including further reactions of avoidance.  One such example might be the oppressive effect of claustrophobia which in turn, may create a fear of flying and thus limit the ability to travel.

But in all of this, healing is gained through paradox!  Anxiety lessens when people learn to let go beyond restraint and this is why Stillness Meditation works so well.  And anxiety also lessens when people gradually and calmly proceed toward new things, to expand rather than contract their lives by continuing to avoid what they fear.

Travel is one very distinctive means of experiencing newness – from time lapses to less familiar foods to meeting and mixing with new people and to the many confronting situations that face us when we stray from the regularity of normal daily life.

In recent travel to Eastern Europe I’ve been privileged to visit and learn more than I had understood before.  To be reminded of how countries in that area had been subjected to long periods of occupation where their own nationality and identity was powerfully oppressed; to rejoice at their demonstrations of freedom regained only within the last 20 years or so; to view monuments of liberation such as the giant cross made of glass – glass as an ongoing acknowledgement of the fragility of freedom.  And then to witness mid-summer celebrations filled with music and flowers and a vibrant sense of happiness!

By contrast we then learned in greater detail of the sobering evil that took place in the master-minded concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.   Imagine if you will the loss of personal freedom in those circumstances.  Think upon the forced submission to power, the destruction of normality and consequently, personal security … the confusion, the fear, the absence of dignity … with deprivation, torture, punishment and ultimately death by various means though largely within the horrific gas chambers under the shroud of the crematoria.  What terror of the unknown that those great many people of various nationalities, men, women and children were led into.

How fortunate is most of the world today, to know the freedom of everyday life!  Whether or not you have personally experienced the kind of stillness that we encourage at this Centre, I ask you to take a moment now to be still … to experience within that moment, the personal freedom you actually possess … and to pray, if you like, and in whichever style of faith you can muster, for freedom at a host of levels for all humanity … and in that moment of stillness, to give thanks for the level of freedom that you personally possess right now … and to ask the calm of the Universe in whatever your belief system may be, that such suppression and the atrocities that I’ve briefly touched upon – and indeed any form of inhumanity – may cease throughout the world and never occur again.