Since tomorrow is the 4th of July, the idea of freedom is on my mind. I am especially reminded of the big picture of freedom. As a young country we had to fight for our freedom against an oppressive regime. In 1776 we signed our Declaration of Independence stating that all men are created equal and endowed with the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. If a form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. With this, the founding fathers essentially declared war against England and began the fight to establish self-rule. We see similar examples throughout history and even today of people, as individuals, groups and countries, fighting for freedom. The stakes are high, and often lives are laid down in defense of our rights.
Most of us think of freedom as essentially doing what we want, when we want. Think of being a child and wanting to stay up late. My parents certainly seemed like an oppressive regime to me for much of my childhood. No ice cream before dinner, and finish your homework or no TV? Down with the King!
Yet in terms of our martial arts and meditation practice, we can see this differently. If we understand the nature of desire and gain introspection into what goes on in our heads, we start to see the truth.
Doing what we want is essentially being slaves to our desires
Essentially, just doing what we want all the time seems nice yet doesn’t leave us with any real power. We seem to be free to choose on the surface, but it’s our childish desires that are truly in charge.
Sifu Brown likes to say, “If I don’t always do what I want, I can do what I love.” These words have had a profound impact on me, especially in terms of discipline. Early in my Kung Fu and Tai Chi career, I established a regular practice at home. Instead of watching a ton of TV, I set aside time to do forms and meditate. This first step led me to make huge, long-lasting choices in disciplining my diet and health in general. Instead of eating junk food all the time, 90% of what I eat is very healthy and then the other 10% is whatever I feel like. This allows me to stay healthy and do the other things I love.
This may seem like I’m not free, but the only thing that is constrained is the small self, the part of me that whines and wants to stay up late to eat ice cream and watch TV. My bigger self, my true self, is truly free. When I act from a place of discipline, I get to do what I love.
This July 4th, think not only of the big picture of freedom, but also keep in mind your day-to-day thoughts and actions. Are you a slave to your desires, or are you letting them go and acting from discipline to be truly free with an abundance of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?