September 30, 2016


Each week, I volunteer in prison. I teach and practice meditation and mindfulness with inmates and other volunteers. Last July, we talked about freedom: what does "freedom" mean to us? (An interesting question to pose within prison walls.) One inmate shared these wise words, "When I was on the outside, I was 'free,' but not really free. I did drugs. I felt strong anger and acted out in violence. To me, freedom means being free of those toxic things. Being free of my anger."

It's possible to be free while in prison. It's also possible to be imprisoned while walking the streets freely. I can be boxed-in by old tapes in my head: stories of a wounded, unlovable self. Letting go is part of my healing. Letting go of perceived control ("If only I was more perfect, bad things wouldn't happen"). Letting go of judgment and expectations. Letting go of the need to know. Letting go of the need to be right. All of these lead to freedom: to ease, contentment, and love.

Years ago, when I was in academia, striving and performing,  I would say to Mark, "I must do this work tonight." He'd respond, "Do you really? Is there no other choice?" It was a marked change in path when my answer shifted from, "No other choice, " to "Yes, there probably is another way." Even micro-choices feel like big steps toward freedom.

We don't control the bulk of life. We don't control external circumstances. But we have copious choice of how to build inner awareness and wisdom. Freedom doesn't exist outside us, it lives within us. How do we respond when things don't go our way? How do we cultivate seeds of compassion, hope, and happiness? 

In each of us, there's spaciousness. There's awareness as big as the sky or the ocean. It takes practicehonest, gentle, persistent, patient practiceto access this spaciousness, but it's possible. Any time we think or say "I must," "I have to," or "there's no other way," this is an important place to pause—to pause and stay for a few breaths. Maybe there's another way. Maybe there's a small opening toward freedom.

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  1. beautifully written, Joy. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and life-lessons. They are powerful reminders. This is a beautiful story and question.

  2. This is a big one for me right now. I am feeling very Boxed In by my life, and I'm looking for small openings. Thanks for your insights.

    1. Thank you for leaving this comment; for sharing your vulnerability. I think small openings are the path for all of us. I wish you well. Take good care.

  3. My brother-in-law, Ray died, suddenly. Despite health concerns, none of us expected this. He and my sister have been anchors in my life since my parents died, when I was young. His absence is profound. During the month of August, I did not spend much time with him or my sister as I chose to work every weekend. I saw him Labor Day weekend. Thankfully, I chose not to labor that weekend and i spent time with family. I told my sister and brother-in-law, "By the end of September, I will be all caught up." In my mind I thought, I will have more time to spend with those I love, doing what I love. The last week of September I spent grieving with those I love.

    When I returned to my office this past Monday, the "to do piles" remain and the realization that I will never be "caught up" and I will never have one more moment with him, crept painfully in. On Tuesday, my husband and I took the day off to be present with one another and present to the Earth. I found freedom in this.

    (And with all the removed comments you see, I am finding freedom from a desire to be perfect. I am not good with technology. I accept this. But I will not give up. I will keep trying to learn the lessons unfolding in this life. So I will try again to post this one comment one time!)

    Thank you Joy for this timely message. I honor your journey of grief as I honor my own.

    With metta,

    1. Andrea: This is a profound insight; a profound sharing. And it's also heartbreaking. I think grief is rich territory. To robustly paraphrase the Buddha: The s**t of our life is the compost of our awakening. And it's still so painful. I wish you self-compassion. I send you compassion. Grief brings life into clarity. Please take very good care.