As the US approaches a holiday weekend, Independence Day, I often feel a personal quandary about this holiday. Since I am in India (receiving necessary therapies for ongoing post-concussion symptoms), my reflections have a different feel to them.
The great Mahatma K Gandhi was instrumental in freeing India from British colonization, which began near to 1608, according to some historians, and ended in 1947. For India to regain its independence from Britain was a profoundly meaningful act. Gandhi’s life was lost in the process, but the freedom he wished for the people of India was won.
In our country, those who were fighting for our independence from Britain were also colonizing the native people who already inhabited this land, since time immemorial.
I sat with this recurring painful societal quandary (recurring because it happens in me every year) in my meditation this morning. Whereas, normally, my meditation is quiet, reflective and still, this morning this poignancy and pain wafted in. I welcomed it. I felt it in my body. I allowed it to move in whatever way it needed to.
After meditation, I did a google search with the words that could best describe my painful inner conflict. I thought it might be hard to find something in the Google sea of options for my search. I must have articulated it well enough for Google because the top item on the list met me where I was wanting to be met.
This is what came at the top of the search engine:
Why the US can't claim to have been India's colonial cousin in its struggle against the British | By Mitra Sharafi
I am also reminded that Juneteenth was recently celebrated. Some call it our Second Independence Day as it marks the effective end of slavery in the US. This is a day that I celebrate.
Our 4th of July:
I realize it’s a complicated world. I can understand the desire to celebrate one’s freedom. Yet, I also see that many of us in the dominant culture celebrate “freedoms” that have harmed and continue to harm others. We may not even realize we are doing it since our seemingly mundane or commonplace actions are so woven into daily life that something such as filling our gas tank is overlooked for the damage it is causing.
Many people’s freedoms are being taken away as I write this blog. Affirmative action is under threat at the university level. One person’s freedom to bear arms is another person’s fear of attending public school. Countless people have had the same freedoms available to me as a middle class Caucasian woman denied to them by racism’s continued influence in resource allocation, barriers to access for essential services, social justice issues, and systems of oppression.
Sometimes people equate freedom with the privilege to do what they want. Does money then equal freedom? Of course, having money makes it easier to move about in this world with some assurance or ease. Yet, those of us looking deeply know that money doesn’t bring the deepest freedom. And that how it is acquired can actually cause the opposite of freedom, even if one is wealthy.
Sometimes people feel they’ve earned the freedom to do certain things, perhaps outside of their usual behavior or their stated value system, because they’ve been through a period of strain or they’ve paid some invisible dues by doing backbreaking work, either mentally or physically, on behalf of a pressure outside of themselves, such as a job, or on a bigger scale, the “machine”. Corporate culture feeds the merchant culture of consumerism, seducing us until we’ve earned “this or that” freedom. The freedom to purchase things that we want, even though they may have been grown, raised, made or shipped using the exploitative labor of people living in dependent poverty. We make these purchases and, even though they may end up in the landfill later, we have some fleeting, justified happiness that we might mistake as freedom, contentment, momentary satisfaction. Only to need something more. Again. And, again.
Before I am just dowsing any remaining fondness you have for the upcoming holiday, let me say that I do want us to celebrate freedom. I just want us to truly know what it is and to make a commitment to raising up freedom, human rights, and the welfare of all species as zestfully as we might pursue our own freedom. Since most people in the dominant culture are pursuing pleasure more than freedom, we have society-wide dilemma. This, along with the way this holiday is represented and what its narrative leaves out, is what troubles me.
What, then, am I doing about my inner quandary?
I’m deepening my commitment to the ethical precepts outlined in the 5 Imperatives. (These imperatives have been my focus for the last few months and will be our focus for the August retreat at Breitenbush as well. Check the link for more info on that.)
Really specifically, I’m taking a closer look at each of the teachings and asking how I can deepen those in my own life.
The First Imperative:
How do I truly express my care for the welfare of all others beyond my daily prayer for this? And my efforts to revive our programs in Oregon’s prisons, or any other offering or program I might make? For me, there has to be an equal amount of raising up the welfare of the greater good along with the reduction of exploitation, oppression, colonization, and injustices. My life so far has placed me in situations where I have had the privilege to create programs and opportunities, for which I feel deeply grateful and honored. But, if I pan back the camera and look at where I have given explicit energy to the reduction of exploitation, it’s far less. Therein lies one of my commitments upon returning to the US. How can I get involved, in an active way, not just with my voice within my small circle of influence, but a truly active way to be involved?
Stay Tuned for the remaining imperatives and check out the posts on our FB page as well.