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True Freedom

In his recent book The Road to Character, David Brooks writes that “...the external drama up the ladder of success is important, but the inner struggle against one’s own weaknesses is the central drama of life.” Tomorrow marks 241 years since our country’s founders declared independence from an oppressive external force. But how do we find freedom from the internal forces that levy an unreasonable tax on our joy, creativity, authenticity, and capacity for being a loving presence in the world?

The seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom was to be “without anxiety about imperfection.” Perfectionistic thinking was the one variable out of nearly two hundred in a large study of major depressive disorder that was most predictive of treatment resistant depression. Seng-tsan appears to have been onto something 1400 years before statistics would back him up.

Meditation teacher Sally Kempton puts it this way: “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”

This Independence Day, I’m drawn to make of Seng-tsan’s ancient words a fill-in-the-blank exercise that might reveal other sources of inner oppression.

True freedom is to be without anxiety about ________________________.

How many ways could we fill in that blank? Here are a few that could lead to some good journal time for me:

True freedom is to be without anxiety about my own sacredness.

True freedom is to be without anxiety about money.

True freedom is to be without anxiety about what others think of me.

True freedom is to be without anxiety about death.

I wish you a good holiday celebrating our nation’s freedom--and the courage to make an inner declaration of independence from the enemies of freedom within! That revolution, however, will not likely be an eight-year war; it’s more likely to feel like a lifelong series of daily skirmishes.

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Crecopia moth photo in header used by permission of Scott Rosenfeld,