Last night I was sitting with my colleagues at the New York Person Centered Resource Center, and the talk turned to emotional freedom.
What does freedom mean to us? As a society, we have moved beyond the shackles of restrictive speech and we are free go wherever we want.
But are our minds really free? Don’t we all restrict ourselves by our constant worries, or guilt, or even desire, and prevent the feeling of true freedom?
It is easy for many of us to feel free when we are alone. Unless there is loneliness or disorientation, we are empowered to pursue our own goals. But it’s another story in groups.
The psychology professor John Shlien wrote in his book, “To Lead An Honorable Life“: “There is one goal for a group and its individual members – and that is the experience of freedom. Group freedom is the most meaningful freedom, since freedom in isolation is almost freedom without context.”
Groups have their own dynamics. Some participants are more dominant than others on any given day. Some have more to say, less to give. Some bring confusion to the group, others spaciousness.
If there is a leader, the power shifts to this person and the group adjusts to that shift.
Research shows that groups work best when the power among its members is evenly distributed. When everybody speaks the same amount of time and draws the same amount of attention.
But the individual feeling of contributing successfully to a group is the freedom the express yourself authentically.
Unfortunately, we can’t always pull it off. Sometimes there are other group members who won’t allow for everyone to open up. That’s one thing.
But so often, our minds won’t allow us to expand our genuine self, put it out there and see what happens. It’s the hardest thing to show others what’s going on inside: all the uncertainty, jumbled thoughts, anxiety or anger. So often we disagree, but don’t dare to say so because we are afraid.
To restrict our own expression is not the same as being restricted by someone else. We give away power when we censor ourselves. We hide and sugarcoat who we truly are. We succumb to the fear of being judged, rejected, or emotionally abandoned.
It takes guts to show yourself just the way you are. Too great is the risk of being hurt. But we can’t always avoid the pain of being alive. It goes with the territory of trying to expand ourselves, to self actualize and stay engaged.
If we can accept that pain is a part of growth, we can be free. If we can remember that all pain passes, we can take risks. If we dare to negotiate with those who hurt us, we heal.
As the Zen teacher Joko Beck said: “In truth, we are already free.” It’s our minds that makes us believe otherwise.
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Last reviewed: 26 Jul 2012