Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Celebrate Your Independence

This week in the US we will celebrate our July 4th holiday, a commemoration of our nation's independence from a controlling Colonial power. We will barbecue, display our flags and wear red, white and blue. This holiday brings a word to mind, lauded and proclaimed in patriotic songs: Freedom. Let freedom ring! Freedom is an intrinsic American value.

Independence is synonymous with freedom. Independence from what?

I want to live and die free. Yet like most of us, I often find myself bogged down or entangled. Many of us feel beholden to a job, an employer, even a family. We all have obligations. Our movements cannot always be free; or can they?

Even if we can't always go exactly where we want or grow money trees in our backyards, we are able to free ourselves internally. We can work towards freeing our minds and emotions. Yoga is a practice I use to emancipate myself from inner slavery, like Bob Marley sang in Redemption Song.

There are three Sanskrit words I associate with freedom, even though many more exist. The three words I think of are moksha, vairagya and kaivalya. We can find these words in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. 

Moksha describes liberation in the truest and deepest sense, a spiritual and mental freedom releasing us from the cycle of death and rebirth that Hindus believe in. In more Western terms, we can think of moksha as a final liberation from the consequences of our actions and from the heaviness of our burden of existence. Christians use the term "salvation" to describe this kind of freedom.

Vairagya is the freedom from all worldly desires, a state of non-attachment to the fruits of our actions. Sutra 1.12 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah says that we can free our minds through dedicated action without attachment to outcomes or results. A simpler translation is practice or work without attachment. This means doing our duty, giving our best effort, yet releasing expectations. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna to work without attachment. In Chapter 3, he says, "by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme."

Kaivalya means real independence, and is translated as "isolation," but it does not mean loneliness. Rather, kaivalya is a state of freedom from entanglements, wordly desires and egoism. A person who achieves kaivalya is called a Kevalin, someone who knows how to live in the world without being enslaved to it, just as Jesus Christ talked about being in the world, but not of it.

The simplest formula I can think of to apply these concepts to my life is living life to the fullest without clinging to expectations. Show up, and expect nothing.

This path to inner emancipation applies to both active and passive pursuits. It is easier to see how it applies to your work or your yoga practice. Do your best and let that be your reward; don't expect perfection or applause; don't be greedy; don't be a show-off; instead give without an expectation to receive; apply effort, then surrender. Do what you do for the sake of doing it, no matter what it is. The quality of being you bring to your work is more important than the reward of the work itself. Any other type of work is a form of enslavement. Even our yoga practice can enslave us if we are attached to the results.

What about the times when we rest, when we play, when we seek distraction and entertainment? We can also be freer and happier in these moments when we are able to let go of expectations. One example is going to see a film. Do you ever go to a movie without knowing anything about it? Can you simply watch a film and let it be what it is, enjoying it without expecting it to elicit particular emotions or inform you in a particular way? Sometimes I go see a movie purposefully ignoring all descriptions and reviews beforehand, so it's a like an unknown gift for me to open. I enjoy it more when there are no expectations.

Our expectations, attachments and entanglements are a trap. We give away our freedom, our peace, our joy and our power when we depend on an outcome.

Today, July 4th, every day, celebrate your own Independence Day.

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