Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me.
— Jennifer Paine Welwood
In the United States, Independence Day commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was first adopted by the Continental Congress – declaring independence of the United States from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776. This was the day our democracy was born. This legacy of freedom has had a major impact on the manner in which citizens of this country live our lives, our values, and our responsibilities.
In spite of the external independence that a democracy provides us, most of us are not truly liberated. Instead, we have become imprisoned by patterns of unconscious reactions that have become habituated and, although at some point earlier in our lives they worked to help us survive, they are no longer serving us well.
To put these unconscious habituated patterns in context, first it is important to acknowledge that there is inevitable pain (an affliction) that comes with being alive. It is not possible to be born, to live, and to die without experiencing a variety of pain.
Additionally, and even more impactful, there is often an enormous amount of optional suffering that accompanies the core pain – it is related to our experience of the pain itself. This option suffering arises when we react to the pain either with aversion (pushing away what we don’t want) or attachment (holding on to what we want to maintain). We are frequently unaware of these reactions of aversion and attachment that are the source of our suffering; they are part of the automatic patterns we’ve internalized. Although we cannot avoid the affliction of pain that arises in life, we do have the ability to free ourselves from the optional suffering that results from our reactions to this pain.
The key to freedom from optional suffering is to develop greater awareness of our automatic patterns of reaction. In seeing these reactions with our own eyes, we develop the skill to respond with choice rather than to be stuck, reacting out of habit. Ultimately, we have the capability of relating differently to the pain in our lives – the potential to meet it directly, without adding optional suffering – letting go of the habitual reactions that have kept us trapped. Freeing ourselves from this optional suffering, to whatever extent we can, we can approach true independence.
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre