At the beginning of many yoga classes I’ve taken, the mantra seen above has been chanted, and occasionally even been focused on as the theme for the class. This chant calling for the happiness and freedom of all beings is not simply a channeling and projection of good intentions, it’s a call to personal responsibility. It galvanizes and empowers us to take accountability for other beings by ensuring that everything we think, do and say is done with the aim of creating our own personal happiness and freedom. Sounds simple enough, one would think. However, throughout the past weeks and months, with the American election campaigns in full swing (pun fully intended), as well as the election here in Quebec and the reports coming out of Syria and Russia, I have been seriously mulling over what freedom really is, and how its meaning might differ from one person to the next.
I’m not a particularly political person. I’ve rarely followed any political party very closely in the past, but the rise in global intolerance seems undeniable these days, an intolerance reflected in the heads of political parties that somehow rise to power. The greater the intolerance, the less freedom people have. The two may be inversely proportional, but they’re co-dependent. There is no freedom without repression. We wouldn’t even have to discuss the concept of freedom if mankind wasn’t power-hungry and ego-driven enough to feel compelled to strip away the options and opportunities available from those they feel superior to. Every history book in existence tells of those who, in their blind pursuit to sate their hunger for control, have inflicted the most horrible and unspeakable of atrocities onto their quarries because of the threat they felt was posed to them. Repression has always existed, and judging by the snail-like pace that mankind is evolving at, it always will.
American Republicans include the withdrawal of women’s, gay, and minority rights on their current campaign platforms, and for some reason, even with the direct threat to those freedoms, they still garner a huge number of supporters. Despite the US being the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, Republicans obviously feel that they should instead adopt the political slogan “land of the racist, misogynistic, classist, and homophobic, and home of the ignorant.” Not bad for a nation with 1 in 5 people living in poverty and Caucasians now in the minority.
Our own not-for-much-longer premier of Quebec introduced legislation this year, Bill 78, essentially prohibiting our population from taking to the streets in an impromptu fashion to voice our discontent over how we felt our democratically elected leaders were managing our province. The freedom to come together and communicate dissension had conditions imposed on it, regardless of the fact that the bill itself was a farce and will prove next week in the provincial election to be the Liberal Party’s demise. And now, Russia’s government has pretty much banned homosexuality from existing (have Mr. Putin and Mr. Ahmadinejad started hanging out?), even going so far as to prohibit Russian Gay Pride Parades for the next 100 years. Countless other threats to what I have always believed freedom to stand for exist in every single village/town/city/province/state/country/continent on the globe. They always have, and they always will. That’s what I believe we are working against in the pursuit of so-called freedom.
Let’s now look at those of us in materialistic, industrialized nations. Our children have grown up, for the most part, unaware that the options available to them are the direct result of others who came before them having fought and died in the name of freedom. With them not knowing that only white, Christian, heterosexual men can breathe a sigh of relief with the bulk of history on their side, they stand to lose their own freedoms. People constantly speak about freedom as something to defend, as a basic right, but what are they really referring to? Are they speaking about the right for every single person to voice their dissatisfaction with something? How about the right to carry a gun around and use it? Or maybe what they’re talking about is the right to judge others and strip them of their dignity and livelihood? It’s unfortunate to say, but I believe on many levels that freedom for all isn’t what’s being coveted by the masses – people want the freedom to protect what they believe they are entitled to – they want security at the expense of freedom. Security to make and keep their money, security to sit at home and play video games while the rest of the world fights senseless wars, security to protect their families from the same people their attitudes are repressing.
As an innately empathetic person, and as a teacher of yoga and spirituality, I make it my responsibility to embody the essence of other beings. Yoga has us take poses named after dogs, trees, cats, lightning bolts, and so much more, all for a reason – as crazy as it may sound, to visualize adopting the energy of another being allows us to see how we as humans are simply one drop in the ocean. It shows us that it’s not all about us. It reminds us that the only threat to mankind is mankind itself. We are responsible for destroying our planet. We are responsible for allowing atrocities to take place all over the world. We are responsible for the misinterpretation of freedom and how that misinterpretation allows our leaders to forget that they’re supposed to work for us, not against us. We need to fight for our own freedom without forgetting about peace, to voice our opposition against anyone who tells us that one person is better than another or that what one person believes is more valid than the beliefs of another, and we need to teach our children that the fight existed before them, and will continue throughout their lifetime. Incorporating non-violence is essential, even against those who would beat us down, but we have a responsibility to stand up for. It’s in doing that that we fulfill our responsibility towards the freedom and happiness of all others.
And so with all that said, I ask you: what is freedom according to you? Knowing that the political pendulum swings from the right to the left and back to the right every couple of decades, do you really believe that freedom is available to all of us? Should it be? Do you feel free in your own lives? If not, why? Let me know, because in doing so, you’re letting everyone know, and we are all sharing the exact same experiences, but simply don’t feel free to enough to share. It starts with us.
Great blog, Bram! The freedom to engage in making the society you live in one which affords rights to all is a privilege. With that privilege comes responsibility. Freedom is relative, it’s many faceted and it’s precious. So many things skew our meaning and intent…take religion for example. But I have a genuine faith that the human race in it’s essence has the potential to live for the collective good of all, despite the cultural encouragement of greed and individualism. No atrocity nor any revolt against oppression has happened without the will of the people and I live in eternal hope that we learn from the atrocities and contribute to the revolution. If the tenets of basic moral philosophy were of more importance rather than everything else we complicate our lives with then more people would be living free from persecution. ‘Would the world be a better place if we all did what I am doing?’. Ah, as always your blog has me thinking about the big questions. I love it.
Freedom has always been my principal life quest. It has been acquired, lost, and found again. Unprotected, it may indeed slip away and so one must constantly assess and reassess it. Sometimes, it is a matter of perspective and as we live in a community, both local and global, I believe one must exercise perspective in order to maintain one’s own freedom and respect the freedom of others. A delicate task indeed in a very complex world, but one I believe is essential.