Several years ago, a few months after my marriage ended, I cleared my calendar for the month of July and took a sabbatical. Our nation was celebrating its independence, I reasoned, so why not prepare myself to embrace the personal experience of independence a divorce invites? In preparation, I entered my own history with the diligence of a scholar and spent long hours each day scrutinizing my behavior in past romantic and professional relationships. I looked most carefully at the relationships in which I believed a person or organization had harmed me. Using the tools developed by my friend Byron Katie, who developed a process called The Work, I suspended judgment about the actions of others and instead chose only to take responsibility for my own emotional debris and how it contributed to the problem.
Then, I searched for my former romantic partners, friends, employers and business associates through the Internet and other means. I sent letters or called with tender apologies. I did not anticipate responses, but they arrived—warm, generous, surprised and sometimes tearful. Whatever ties had bound me to the resentments, blame and belief that I had been wronged were released. I was free. Now, as each July unfolds, I manage to set aside one day or a few to review my life and take responsibility for the ways I put myself into bondage. When I asked, “How do you know you are free?” readers responded with the following revelations:
I know I am free because I can walk out my front door and not be scared. I can do anything I put my mind to.
I know I am free because my life is in divine order, and all those things, with the appearance of good or bad, are merely steps toward truth and freedom.
Freedom is a belief in our ability to choose. Until we choose, we have freedom. Once we have chosen, we have consequences to live with. Happy choosing!
That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.
—Chinese proverb sent in by Brendan Ruff
When despair grows in me / and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound / in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be / I go and lie down where the wood drake / rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. / I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief. I come into the presence of still water. / And I feel above me the day-blind stars / waiting for their light. For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, sent in by Susan Orr
I have a chronic physical disease, and it has been the lessons from this kick-butt spiritual teacher that have taught me about liberation. The limitations and conditions it imposes cannot be escaped, so I have learned that true freedom is a deeply realized, internal experience independent of “conditions.” It is about who I really am (infinite, in a finite body) and about the huge field of choices before me about what I experience and what I choose to do. It’s also about staying in the present moment. That’s not always easy, but it’s a truly liberating path to the truth.
—Linda Meyers, a licensed clinical social worker
Happiness is the best face-lift.
—Joni Mitchell, sent in by Ellen Chamberlin
I am free when I am putting my energy to positive use, investing it in people and activities—teaching, writing poetry, making and nurturing friendships, swimming, singing in the car. Some people may wonder how this is freedom; it sounds like work. But each of these liberates my creativity. They are how I exercise, and practice, my freedom.
Give credit where it is due and perform random acts of kindness!