Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Whole Point of Enlightenment, Liberation, & Freedom

I recently asked the question: Are we avoiding communal responsibility?, and I would like to look into that a little more.

As we are putting ourselves into Triangle pose on our yoga mats, as we are settling in comfortably on our zafu cushions, as we pull out our prayer beads, as we light our candles, as we gaze at the moon and contemplate her feminine energy...

As we do all these things that comprise individual spiritual lives, do we think about the reason we do them?

Is Triangle pose only about stretching? Is meditating only about feeling peaceful and calm? Are the prayer beads only about connecting to the inner divine?

In other words, have our spiritual lives become self-centered?

It's true -- we can only liberate ourselves.

It's true -- we can only be who we were meant to be, and it's most definitively true that when we are that person it goes a very long way to rippling out and healing the planet.

I believe that with all my heart or I would not write and take pictures and dance. If I did not believe that, I would chuck it all and head to the streets and feed the hungry and clothe the poor and help build houses (and I have done this in the past, actually).

I am a believer that we are all sent here for different reasons, and each of these reasons is just as important as the next, just as vital to communal health.

And yet...

What is the point of enlightenment but to eventually spread our light to others?

What is the point of liberation but to eventually help liberate?

What is the point of freedom but to go back and unlock the doors of the prisons that contain so many?

We must get off the mat, off the zafu. We must put our beads in our pockets and walk into the world.

But how? It will look differently for each of us.

How do you spread your light? How do you help to liberate your fellow human beings? How do you unlock others' cages?

(Photo & Text Copyright: Christine C. Reed,, 2009)


Emma said...

I sort of don't fit into this conversation. I don't worry about enlightenment at all. I don't really have distinct spiritual practices. When I practice yoga, it's because of how it makes me feel in my body and mind. If I burn sage, it's because I like the scent and feel. I could go on. :) My point is, I am not purposely pursuing a spiritual goal and I am 150% OK with that.

But this overall topic interests me a lot and I'm interested to see what discussions arise.

Linnea said...

I see this issue popping up in different places I visit. I wonder if, as a collective consciousness, we are preparing to move from one state (e.g. chakras 1-3, which are mightily concerned with self, and as you once rightly noted to me the place where many are stuck) to another (chakra 4, the heart center).

That said, I think the Chakra One changes in our societal fabric, given the economic collapse, have a lot of people whose spiritual practice was racking up returns on investment frantically searching for returns of a different sort. (That's not intended as a crack. The economy has affected virtually everyone, and people need to find ways to cope.)

I always appreciate these posts. They're wonderfully thought-provoking.

Eco Yogini said...

I do agree that they are connected, perhaps even on an unconscious level. If you are happier, more at peace, more 'zen' then this energy (through your kindness, actions, words) will naturally spread and influence others, with or without conscious effort.
Of course, thinking of ourselves as part of a connected community (which ties into my 'eco' life!) always helps.
I think that Emma, although not specifically 'spiritual' but just kindness and peace and happiness can most definitely influence others- so in that sense you are definitely helping your community.

Sometimes you never know what small things, like helping someone carry their bags, can help spread that sense of peace. :)

sherry ♥ lee said...

You pose excellent questions. I do what I have always done, lead by example. I speak about life and experience. I share what I know. I ask questions and seek knowledge other places. I've learned the biggest lesson through my health -- and that is to remember to let others shine their allow others to be a blessing.

Your point that we are all sent here for different reasons speaks to what I'm saying. Some of us don't know what that is until we are placed in a situation to allow that to happen. I often say my cancer was a gift to me, but it has also been a gift to allow them to be a blessing to me and to know that they can do this for others.

From the time I was a small child I would say to myself "I was born to serve others, to make others happy" and for many years I felt that was a chore and a curse. I now see it in the more positive vein...that I have much to offer, perhaps more in a teaching way than any other. For as much as we are all born for a purpose and a reason, some need to be shown what that is.

Anonymous said...

yeah this is very interesting...i have also felt that people into this whole spiritual world are abit selfish...its always "ME, ME ME"...working on "myself" can i improve me? blah blah blah.... well to actually HELP yourself GROW MORE you have to get out into the world and actually HELP people...and volunteer and be active in your community!! Then you will become enlightened by gtaitude and helping others...

Heather Plett said...

Exactly! Just the kinds of questions I'm trying to wrestle with at my new site.

You are a wise sage.

Amy said...

I hope that I can help others simply by sharing my journey and my truth. I think that is what you do here--though it's difficult to always know that because blogging does seem so "me" centered.

Ketzirah (Carly) said...

You are so awesome. Yes -- the point should be to spread the light. We tend to spend a lot of time preaching to the choir.

It's one of the nice things about being a "corporate priestess." I have a whole different set of people to model my life for. I can't preach, because that would be inappropriate. But I can share and model.

bLu eYd YoGi said...

hello gorgeous! just popping in to SPREAD THE LOVE ~

heidi daisybones said...

This is the question that keeps me making art, even if that means doodling for ten minutes after a long fight for my daughter's bedtime. This is the kind of thing that brought me back to my art after neglecting it- because not sharing it is not honoring it.

I've been thinking a lot about my own spiritual map lately- I'm hard to locate and exist between atheism and paganism, rationalism and mysticism... but I wholly believe in the principles of the UU Church, where I'm a member. I've recently realized part of my reticence to attend regularly is that I'm resisting being a "joiner."

It's a weird concept to grok that the UUs (or whatever tribe others may have found) are a *community* of free thinkers. I think I'd trained myself not to believe such a thing could exist?

Why is so much learning actually un-learning bullshit? :D

Emma said...

Thanks, Eco Yogini. :) I definitely believe that kindness and love are worthwhile and affect our communities. They're both very important to me!

But I understood Christine to be asking something like: How does your pursuit of spiritual liberation contribute to others' liberation? Rather than how do my actions as a whole contribute...

svasti said...

Here I go quoting my teacher again! ;)

"Seva, seva, seva-yourself, first".

Actually, I think he could be quoting someone else there, too.

Anyway, this is an interesting topic, because there's generally two camps in this whole spiritual world. The 'me-first' people, and those that are insistent on doing seva (selfless work) - but really its not quite seva because there's an element of wanting to be *seen* to be doing good work for others.

As I've quoted here before - or wait, perhaps it was on Brooks' blog - "No one gets enlightened on their own".

Right. So its all a little bit confusing, isn't it? Except its not.

The seva quote suggests that selfless work for others is a very good thing. But before you can be truly selfless, you need to do a bunch of work on yourself first.

That doesn't mean selfishly only taking actions for yourself until you're able to be truly selfless. No way... its good to get some practice in along the way. And in doing so, we also notice as we become less attached to being seen as 'noble', or 'kind', or 'important' for our work for others.

So, every day I try to do little things. Give my seat up on the tram. Let someone walk through the door instead of barging ahead. Smile at someone who looks really sad.

And I'm learning a great deal - oh my!! - about how being a yoga teacher has nothing to do with what a good person I am. Instead it has a lot to do with whether or not I can get my ego out of the way and share some love. And if I can be present 100% of the time I'm leading a class. Can I be present and aware of what the class is doing and what they need?

Deldino said...

I think by sharing our stories we can help each other see we are not alone and it always amazes me when I hear someone's words as if they could have been spoken from my mouth, as yours did now.
I also believe reading these blogs and showing up in person where we can is a form of non-judgement witnessing and support for others journeys.

mommymystic said...

Well, as the comments show, you hit a nerve. I like svasti's comment on the two-camps, I think it is very true, and you find the two camps in virtually every world religion. Personally, at this point, I kind of swing between the two approaches - I have periods where I am very 'me-focused' in the sense of 'what do I need to refresh/empower/learn/get to the next level'? And then there are very service oriented phases where it is really about 'what can I offer? how can I help?' On one level I am always trying to balance both, and on another I cycle between them. And each phase has its own lessons for me, and its benefits for others. It's like a spiral I guess, moving in and out of these phases, but at the same time circling upward, if that makes sense?

Cindy said...

You just have to lead by example. You spread it by walking the talk and practicing what you preach. You can talk and teach and write, but only those ready to listen and learn will. Blogging is a great way! So, thank you! I always appreciate your thoughts:)))

YogaforCynics said...

This kinda dovetails with my latest blog post (sorry if this sounds like a cheap plug--it's relevant, really) about a kind of random and rather inappropriate comment I made which ended up having a significant positive impact on someone's life...while the results of my more forthright attempts at saving the world tend to be rather underwhelming. I guess if there's any lesson to take from that it's that having compassion underlying whatever we do might be more important than specific actions...or something...

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

The light is where we each walk. Through authenticity we can spread our light to others. Being alive means having a ripple effect. Being human means acknowledging that our ripple effect will spread to our surroundings. Doing all we can to make a difference, denying the apathy ... telling ourselves 100 pennies makes a dollar ~ what we say and do ... as individuals ... absolutely matters.

speck of dust said...

By accepting people as they are and loving them. Especially people who have been very cruel.