When I was a child, the Fourth of July wasn’t so much what was being celebrated as it was the way in which we celebrated the day. Summer, family and friends coming to our house to be outside all day, swimming, playing badminton, harvesting wild raspberries from the forest, my dad playing his guitar under the tulip poplar in the front yard, hot dogs and hamburgers grilling, corn on the cob, potato salad, watermelon, sparklers when it got dark.
As an adult, the 4th of July continues to be a time to get together with family and friends; much smaller groups now, but the same sentiment of relaxing and enjoying the day together. I can’t confess to ever having been very patriotic. I’m afraid that I get quite caught up in thinking about how the first human inhabitants of this land were displaced by presumptuous foreign people who believed they somehow had more of a right to occupy the land than the natives did. I think about how the foreigners’ greatest weapon was influenza and how so many people were killed so quickly, how the survivors were forced to move into less habitable places–the absolute indignity of this, the injustice. I often have the thought that it would’ve been better for the Earth if the Americas were never discovered, if the native people were allowed to continue their way of life for all of this time. I also think about the myth of American independence; I found out today that the actual signing happened on July 2, and England didn’t even see the declaration until some time in August. How about independence being applied only to the white male, how minorities, women–anybody who wasn’t a white male–didn’t obtain the right to vote until much later?
As I thought about all of these stories and how they don’t evoke a patriotic feeling that moves me to celebrate my “freedom,” I asked myself, “If this isn’t freedom, then what is?” I remembered the yogic perspective, and it goes something like this: All paths lead inwards. Liberation happens when one is able to detach from the external world and realize the vastness of the innermost self.
Are you happy all of the time? Peaceful? Joyful? Content? Or do you become aware of the mind’s propensity for letting you know all of the reasons that you couldn’t possibly be happy in this moment, letting you know that you have X, Y, and Z to accomplish/experience/obtain before you could call what you’re feeling happiness?
Today I mused over the endless list of things I think I should have to be really happy, and I was struck with how impossible to obtain a lot of those prerequisites really were. And then from somewhere there was a reminder to look within for the changeless self that permeates the world of change.
Freedom, to the yogi, is finding contentment with this moment. It’s a willingness to let go of everything that is outside so that awareness is free to navigate inwards. It’s being joyful and peaceful in a steady manner, regardless of the inevitable ups and downs of this life.
Independence is not looking to a particular person, or object, or experience to know that we are free. Independence is the realization that true freedom happens on the deepest level, when we realize we are free to choose our thoughts and behaviors, we are free to breathe deeply, to allow life in.
Freedom like this cannot be given to us or taken from us, because it is who we are. Maybe we will get to the point where we won’t wait for one day a year to consider our independence; we’ll remember it every day, and act from this wisdom.
I am thankful for what I have,
but when I become afraid of losing it,
now I am imprisoned by fear.
I’m happy to be myself,
but when I resist the self expression of everyone around me
now I am a slave to my ideas.
In this moment, I know this is the only moment,
but when I project into the future, to plan, to anticipate
now have I robbed myself of the present moment.
Let me love what is.
Let me focus on what is here, now.
Let me feel grateful for the many blessings of this life.
Help me to let go of all of it when it is time.