Hmm, I thought to myself. Now that’s different. The concept definitely got me thinking, though. It got me thinking about my inner freedom, and my struggle to find it and feel it.
Over the years, I’ve learned that so much of what we are seeking from the outside world is actually an inside job. Freedom, peace, joy, kindness, recognition, worth, and love are just a few examples.
This revelation came to me later in life since I did not grow up with this message. Quite the contrary, in fact. From the earliest age, it was drilled into me that my purpose was to better the outside world. Plain and simple. “That’s why you’re here,” I was told, “and that’s that!"
No one ever talked to me about my own feelings, happiness, joy, or peace of mind. In my home, such talk was considered selfish. The expectation was that these feelings would come as a direct result of one’s work in the outside world.
In retrospect, I find this fascinating, as both of my parents had deep inner worlds. They were both deeply religious people whose lives were steeped in prayer and contemplation. They talked constantly about Jesus, Mary, and all the other saints (who, by my estimation, seemed to lead lives that were short, hard, and violent). In my house, they were the stars that dazzled brightest, right next to those who gave their lives for their country through politics or military service.
It was work in the outside world that was held with the highest regard. Priests and nuns held court at my dinner table as I was growing up, and I was led to believe that they were the ones who had it together. They, along with other social justice figures, were the ones who were doing the work we should all be doing out in the world. They were the ones devoting themselves to making our world a kinder, gentler, more compassionate, and more inclusive place.
Yet as I reflect back, I don't remember any of them talking about their own inner worlds, their own inner happiness, or their own dark nights of the soul. Not one of them spoke up about their struggles with celibacy, poverty, or the patriarchy. Not one shared their struggle to be at peace in their lives and to find inner freedom.
Oh what I would do now to go back in time and sit at that dinner table again knowing everything I know now. My conversations with my parents, with those nuns and priests, and with those political leaders would be so different. Today I would ask them all about their own dark nights of the soul. I would ask them about their own path to inner independence. I would talk to them about their struggles and their pain. I would talk to them about their inner worlds, about how hard it is to find peace within oneself, and to also find inner joy, pure love, and deep contentment.
I would also be all up in their faces about the hypocrisy of the church and the hypocrisy in our politics. I would ask them how they make sense of that, how they stay the course, and how they persevere in light of it all. I’m genuinely interested.
I think so many of us long for leaders in every field of life who are at peace with themselves, who feel free in their lives, and who can tell us how they got there. I want to know about the mountaintops, but I also want to know about the valleys. I want insight into how to navigate the twists and turns of life. I want insight into how to endure those twists and turns with one's optimism, faith, and hope intact.
Our country is coming to terms with its own dark night of the soul right now. Like all of us, it must face its demons and endure. It must do the work required of all of us to get to that place where inner independence lies.
So much in our world is changing, and it’s changing at such a rapid pace that it often feels impossible to keep up or keep track. So many people are yelling and raging that it is hard to hear and absorb. That’s why I think it’s so important right now for each of us to focus within, to declutter and get right so that we can finally find inner peace and inner freedom.
Once we do that, we must then bring that version of ourselves to the public square. That version of ourselves that has been wounded, broken, scared. That version of ourselves that has at times no doubt felt trapped, broken, burnt out and/or overwhelmed. But also that version of ourselves that is strong, determined, and hopeful. That authentic, fully realized version lives and works from a different place. That version has a mission and a purpose at its core. That version can make our world so much better by sharing the truth of life and the common humanity we all share.
None of us will get to a place of feeling free without the help and support of friends and community. None of us can bring the best version of ourselves to the public square unless we first make ourselves whole in a deeply private space. It is deeply personal work that gets us to be able to feel good in our own skin.
Celebrating freedom is not just the work of our country. It is our own personal work as well. It is work that benefits us all.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, please help me find my inner freedom. Help me lay myself to bare—my strengths and my weaknesses, my hopes and my fears—so that I can declutter within and find peace within. Amen.
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