America is often called the “Land of the free,” but ‘America’ was founded as a result of the slaughter of millions of Native Americans. ‘America’ was built by slaves, brought to the nation, mostly from Africa, against their will. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves and their descendants were never truly granted equal rights. For years after, segregation created separation amongst the people…with different doors and water fountains for ‘Whites’ and ‘Colored’ people. And now, little more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, America is facing new crises. Gun violence is out of control. Police are killing innocent men, women, and children daily, but statistics are clearly showing that the dominant majority of those deaths are happening to black people. The statistics for the prisons (many are privately owned, which is for another discussion), show that black persons make up a disproportionately high percentage of the prison populations.
The shocking part of all this is that people become temporarily shocked and outraged, and then they move on with what they were doing before. More horrifying to me are citizens who can explain away every incident and find a way to blame the victim. It’s almost as if the history of America has desensitized us to the atrocities that are happening. It is frightening.
I have the luxury of thinking and writing about these things from outside of America, now. In Cabo Verde, I actually feel free. And so, I have been asking myself what does it mean to be free? What is freedom? And how does one become free?
freedom is safety
To feel free, one must feel safe. You must feel that your family, friends, and neighbors are also safe. I think there are three basic options in this regard:
1. Hope for the best. This is an optimistic point of view, but it’s the easiest. It allows you to move on with life in the hopes that no tragedy will befall your or your loved ones.
2. Do something about it. This response requires action, and therefore, bravery. Talking about it, even on social media, can inspire positive dialogue and change. Peaceful protests, calls to elected officials, and voting only for representatives who reflect your views of equality are forms of action. Participating in boycotts intended to raise awareness of inequalities has also been historically effective (e.g. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1955-56). Societal change is often the result of those who bravely fight for equal rights.
3. Move. Some see this as a cowardly option (the message that it’s better to stay and fight rather than run away is projected in our society in many ways), but I believe it requires the most courage. The unknown is always terrifying. But I think self-preservation is tremendously important. Moving doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the country, but it can involve leaving an unsafe community or a repressive state. Sometimes the peace of mind you are able to gain by feeling safer can allow you to more effectively promote positive change. You will also be able to promote that positive change with a feeling of empathy for those who are in a situation you were previously in before the change.
I feel that I’ve lived a combination of each of these three options. (I even feel like I can relate these three options to my experiences in corporate America!) Without hesitation, I can say that moving to a country without racial division and police brutality has given me the most peace. It feels like a privilege to live in a place where you don’t have to educate your children on how to talk to police to minimize their risk of getting shot. (How crazy is that?! haha) It is a nice and welcome change that I think everyone deserves to experience. Even during the Civil Rights Movements, many leaders spent time in Africa (Nina Simone and Malcolm X come to mind). Now that I’m living here, I think a large part of it was to recharge their batteries and to be reminded of what unity feels like. Even in the most predominately black and unified neighborhood in America, I can say the feeling of togetherness only touches on what the experience of Africa is like. The media truly distorts the beauty of the continent and the people.
Freedom is health
Health is one’s greatest wealth. Being healthy gives one choices and mobility to be free. But saying this, freedom is always a state of mind. Even in the face of poor health, one can feel free simply by changing their perspective.
However, I still believe in promoting healthy habits. A state of health opens up more energy pathways for your mind, body, and spirit to be in alignment. Taking time to eat well, meditate, rest, exercise, and pray (especially sending positive vibrations to others) are all healthy habits to consider incorporating into your life.
freedom is wealth
I think saying ‘wealth’ immediately conjures up thoughts of being a billionaire. But now I think of wealth as financial freedom. It’s having $0 balances and savings that allow you do what you want. It’s about not having stress when bills are due.
Especially in America, we’re taught from a young age to be CONSUMERS. Name brands, fancy cars, and nice homes are celebrated and used to create social caste systems…even in elementary school! The right lunchbox, backpack, and sneakers can make you a cool kid. All of these social cues teach you that the right clothes and the right things are what you need to fit in. Often this translates to spending significant amounts of money later in life on things. Acquiring these things can result in the accumulation of debt which creates a spiral of dependence on employment.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. Employment in and of itself is not a bad thing! It is the dependence which can restrict freedom. There are many more capable financial gurus than me, but I think it boils down to becoming less comfortable with debt and more focused on getting rid of it. Spending less and saving more is always the most basic formula for accumulating wealth. Investing, starting businesses, and creating new streams of income help to provide new pathways to save more. With that financial freedom, you become able to do more of what you want.
Here are some quick tips:
1. Start with identifying the areas where you spend the most and figure out what you can do to decrease that amount.
2. Next, ask yourself if what you’re buying is satisfying a “want” or a “need”? Satisfy needs and bypass wants in favor of your bigger dreams.
3. Focus on paying for things completely. It can be tempting to buy now and pay later, but this eventually limits your choices…and ultimately, your freedom.
4. Finally, save as much as you can! This will allow you room to creatively invest in the stock market, retire early, or travel. Always keep a “do not touch” amount so that you have a safety cushion. That amount will vary by person, but it becomes an important factor in how free you will feel as you leave a place of employment or embark on a new path.
freedom is having time for your passions
Basic needs come first. Once you’ve knocked out food, shelter, and clothing (how much clothing do you really need?), freedom means having the luxury to find and enjoy your passions. Whether they be people, projects, or places…being able to commit time to these pursuits is a gift. And it’s where you discover the gifts you’re meant to share with the world. Whether you feel you have time or not, please make a little space (even if it’s just 5 minutes per day!) to show love to yourself by developing your passions. Your future self will thank you. And the world will be richer for it.
freedom = NO anxieties, fears, or limiting beliefs
I think this is the most important requirement for freedom. Anxieties, fears, and worry are distractions that prevent one from seeing how beautiful things can truly be. When these negative energies rule our lives, our vision is clouded. We can become stuck or move backwards.
Being free means letting go of any thought (or person, place, thing) that tries to keep us from our clear vision of a beautiful future. We are Creators and we have the power to create new realities for ourselves. First, we must believe that we can.
freedom is a state of mind
Philosopher Gurdjieff proposes that in our ordinary state we are asleep. In this state of sleep, many of us live our entire lives without being aware that something more is possible. We imagine ourselves to be fully conscious and fully developed. This illusion prevents us from seeing our situation and, especially, ourselves as we really are. Gurdjieff expressed this very clearly: “If a man in prison was at any time to have a chance of escape, then he must first of all realize that he is in prison.”
Our freedom is dependent upon us first understanding the ways in which we are not free. If we understand which choices are keeping us in a prison of our own creation, we can get free. Changing perceptions, habits, and choices comes after that. Change often feels uncomfortable at first, but we could be moving ourselves into a direction beyond what we previously thought possible. Isn’t that worth a risk? ;)
I consider myself so fortunate to feel free in this moment. I’ll close with the hope that in our continuing journey to get free that we might extend a hand back to help others on the same path. As we see ourselves in others, we experience Oneness. I truly believe that this is the awakening that will change the tragedies in America and other foreign lands that remain divided over things as insignificant as the melanin content of skin.
Let us be the change we wish to see in the world. And may you be free.
Photo source: Oneness with all