“Freedom starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” (Brene Brown, paraphrased.)
America celebrated her 241st birthday this week, and the special occasion made me consider more than just fireworks and grilling out. It led me to wonder: What does it really mean to be free?
While we are fortunate to live in a free and bountiful land, a land where we can vociferously disagree with the President or congregate peacefully in the streets, I would argue that most of us don’t actually feel very free.
Yes, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are imprisoned. Not by bars or bindings, but by our fear of being judged. Of being found wanting. Of being disliked. We are constantly performing in order to try to gain approval—trying to earn more money, lose more weight, buy more stuff, earn more accolades, etc. We are desperate for external validation and approval because on the inside we don’t feel our own worth. We aren’t okay. And we certainly aren’t free.
As long as we are imprisoned by our fears of being judged and our fears of not being good enough, we can’t ever be truly liberated. When we operate from a place of fear, our choices are always going to be small. Our risks are always going to be limited. We won’t have, as Jim Morrison once said, a ‘will to be weird.’
So how can we switch out of this mindset and enjoy true freedom?
First, you need to learn to observe yourself without judgment. The next time you are struggling in a social situation, take yourself out of the equation. Don’t think ego-based thoughts like “I am such a loser, I can’t believe I just fell on my face in front of my whole office” or “This conversation is so awkward, I can tell that my date doesn’t like me.” Instead, be an observer of your situation. Really imagine that you are sitting in a chair watching yourself on that stage. Now make it your goal to radiate deep, unconditional love up to that person (you) on the stage. I want you to send so much love and peace to the person up on there that it makes them stop in their very tracks. Remember this: You are not the performer. You are the observer. You are the changeless, eternal, powerful force that is watching your life unfold.
Second, make this your mantra: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Does this mean that you should live your life carelessly and behave rudely or without consideration of others? No. But being invested in public opinion and stressing over what people say about you is not the same thing as living life nobly. You can make choices that are compassionate, thoughtful and fair without doing so for other people’s approval. You can make those choices because they are the right thing to do and because they are choices you can be proud of–choices that your audience of one can applaud for.
And, last, remember that the other person is another you. In Mayan culture, there is a saying “Lak’ech Ala K’in,” which means “I am another yourself.” That person sitting across from you at that job interview? The cashier at the supermarket? Your next-door neighbor? They are all versions of you, and you are a version of them. We are all made up of the same energy. As scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
That’s kind of incredible, isn’t it? Every single person you interact with is connected to you in intangible but powerful ways. So when you feel yourself getting anxious or cringing at something silly you said, think of this: The person listening to you…is just another you.
Remember that the other person is another you.
When we can remember that we are all connected, that we are all part of the same incredible, miraculous universe, we become free of our fear of unworthiness, of separateness, of un-lovableness. We realize that we are always loved, always connected…always free.