Exploring Personal Freedom
Updated: Dec 24, 2022
Each Spring, Jewish people observe the holiday of Passover, which is a celebration of freedom connected to the ancient story of our ancestors being liberated from slavery in Egypt. We are told by our tradition to imagine, each year during our Passover Seder, that we ourselves are being liberated. I find this to be a beautiful opportunity to consider what freedom means to us on a personal level.
Whether or not you are Jewish, Spring, a season of new beginnings, is a perfect time to do some internal "Spring cleaning". I offer the following prompts, exercises and practices to you as a way to mindfully take stock of your life at this moment - to explore the ways in which you feel constricted or held back and to find new appreciation and purpose for the freedoms you possess.
Step 1: Examine the Narrow Places
Journal Exercise: In what ways do you currently feel limited, held back, constricted or stuck? You may begin by asking yourself the following questions (spend some time journaling and/or discussing with a trusted partner):
In what way(s) am I holding myself back from being my truest, brightest, most free self?
In what ways am I enslaved by my own actions, thoughts or words?
In what ways am I held back by society or by expectations placed on me by others?
In which areas of my life do I feel silenced or disregarded?
Once you have explored your narrow place(s) - Pause and take some time for self-compassion. It can be difficult, but really powerful, to name and acknowledge the ways in which you feel limited or held-back. I am going to invite you to have self-compassion, especially for the ways in which you might be limiting yourself. I believe we need to show love and kindness to even the most difficult parts of ourselves in order to grow and move forward.
Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position, perhaps with your hands over your heart or wrapped around yourself. Turn inwards and take a few breaths. Imagine what you would say to the part of you that has hardened or become cynical, the part of you that has held you back or been overly influenced by outside pressures. Speak with kindness and compassion to this part of you that has likely been trying to protect you and keep you safe.
Step 2: Release Your Restraints
Now that you have identified what is holding you back, see if you can let it go. This is your opportunity for an “inner spring cleaning” (or if you are Jewish / celebrating Passover, you can think about this as burning your “inner chametz”).
Look over your responses to the prompts in Step 1 of this exercise and identify what is in your control; what would like to leave behind as you move toward freedom and expansion? What can you release as you step forward into spring and opportunities for new beginnings?
Ritual Activity: Write down what you would like to release on small pieces of paper. Create a (safe contained) fire in whichever way you choose and burn the papers one by one. Stay present and notice how it feels to let these constraints go.
Step 3: Move Toward Freedom
Now, I hope you have more space to move toward freedom and expansion.
I suggest that you begin by feeling gratitude and appreciation for the many ways in which you experience freedom in your life. You can define freedom in any way that you find tangible and meaningful for you.
Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position and turn your attention inward. After spending a few moments with your breath, begin to identify and consider the ways in which you experience freedom in your life. Consider your mind, body and spirit. Consider your education, religious / spiritual practice, love / marriage / partnership(s). Consider your home, job / vocation, community. Consider how you think, speak, access information and/or spend your time. What else? See if you can cultivate a feeling of gratitude and appreciation for all the ways in which you are free. Notice this sensation of gratitude and feel it throughout your body for 3-5 more breaths before you open your eyes.
Freedom is a complicated concept and a word we certainly overuse in the United States. The freedoms that we experience can be won through determination and bravery or by pure luck of circumstance. Violence and harm have been perpetrated in the name of freedom. Freedom for one person or group can be achieved by holding back or holding down another. And with freedom comes a certain amount of power – I think it is important to ask, What is the purpose of your freedom? What will you do with it?
You have an opportunity not only to feel gratitude for the freedoms you possess, but to consider the purpose of this freedom. To consider if the way(s) you express your freedom is harming others or lifting them up.
Journal Exercise: Create a Freedom Intention - What is your intention for your freedom this year? How might you tap into your courage, agency and hope to live more freely in your life / body / relationships? How might you use your freedom to create more freedom for others? Can you fine the freedom and hope to imagine a better future?
I encourage you to connect this intention to your personal values / beliefs and to find opportunities to share this intention with others in your life.
For those of you who are Jew(ish) - Chag Pesach Sameach! And for everyone, I wish you a beautiful spring. May your exploration of personal freedom open you to many fruitful new beginnings.
Thank you to Rabbi Shefa Gold and At the Well for providing inspiration for a few of the exploration prompts included in this post.