Seven Interconnected Steps to Freedom
“The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.”
Meditation and mindfulness practice loosens our ideas about who we think we are, thus allowing us to witness the ego we create through thought. Letting go of the conceptual walls we form and encircle ourselves with allows us to meet our Selves and the world we move through intimately. Fundamentally, through practice, we are learning to step out of the narratives we create, out into the vastness and clarity of untarnished reality. There is a freedom there—one that does not require anything but being—and this freedom is accessible within each moment we experience. The question is, can we leave behind our thoughts and greet the now as it is?[i]
In Zen, people talk about Big mind: a way of being in which one dives into the universe and begins to relate to a greater background. It is a state of mind that is too open and vast for anything to stick to.[ii] I often found it interesting how much I feared such a place—one in which there were no problems, aversions, or issues through which I could define who I was. Meeting Big mind in meditation proved to be an intriguing place to go from time-to-time. I didn’t really know what I would be like in a certain situation. I wasn’t tall or short, intelligent or dull, or some other configuration of identity. All that came forward was the moment—the guest and the host, the host and the guest. Here are seven interconnected steps that aid me on the path:
1. Give credence to your inner voice
Remember to listen to what is coming up inside you. This ancient wisdom comes from something far deeper than anything you have consciously experienced before. Respect this voice and let it be. At first, you don’t even have to listen to it, just let it naturally bubble up to the surface. It is a gift from beyond knowing—receive it gently.
2. Let go and allow space— just focus on Being and see what happens
Rather than doing, rather than striving, just sit and focus some of your energy on being. Listen to the silence or the sound—and relax within it. Let go of everything, your title, your name, your job, your schedule or anything else that defines who you are. Good, now, you are none of these things. Let go of them by simply sitting, breathing, and being. Giving your inner movements space to breathe allows them finally to take root, to find shelter and protection within the stormy conditions of the mind. It is essential that you allow them to take root. Opening up the mind and letting go, we expand outwards: roots in the ground, mind of sky.
3. Nourishment through witnessing, having some alone (all-one) time[iii]
The inner stirrings have taken root. To deny them now would mean living a lie, which you are now becoming more and more aware of. Begin to watch what is happening inside and outside. By just watching, you are increasing awareness and separating from the existential form you once identified yourself with. Remove yourself and just sit with what comes and what goes throughout the day. You will see that life too moves in this way. Cycles and cycles within cycles. Things, feelings, come and inevitably, go. There is no need to move up and down with them, no need to attach. Just watch and smile with the ups and the downs. ‘Good and bad,’ what you perceive, happens regardless. And, ‘good and bad’ in turn, spring forth from ‘good and bad’ events. This is not new. It is just a different, even-keeled way of looking at life. Keep witnessing and keep unraveling. Go inside. Nourish reality with more awareness of what is. When we stop the judging we are at peace. And when we have some alone time within the mindfulness we create, we are at one with Self. Take some time, and be at one with what/who You really are underneath.
4. Find a practice—a path that suites who you are
Whether it is Buddhism or any other Way, find the core teachings of going in, of seeking inner truth, of ‘Knowing thyself.’ Millions of humans have gone before you in search of the same Self, the same inner stillness. Utilize their experiences by reading and expanding. There are thousands of road maps, some of which apply to you. Find the ones you resonate with and begin practicing.
You are now fanning the flames. But remember, you only have a small flame. Forces, both within and without, will attempt to extinguish your flame, the growing light of your consciousness. You can prevent this from happening by practicing every day. Read, learn, practice, and begin applying it to your daily life in a practical, responsible way. Follow the mantra, “Mindfulness, awareness, concentration, and acceptance of what is.” Practicing these gems throughout the day will unveil more and more of what life has to offer. The keys will become apparent and you will be able to allow them to work on you.
5. Practice cultivating mindfulness, awareness, and concentration.
Being mindful, being aware, and maintaining concentration throughout the day, every day, is difficult. It requires effort, it requires passion, and it requires patience. You will fall off your horse many times. There is no doubting this. But you know this. You are patient and you are learning to practice with sincere effort. So getting back up and continuing is what must be done. Now you are more passionate, more determined to turn in.
As you continue to bob up and down in the seas and cycles of life, with right effort and patience you begin to sink below the surface. This can be daunting, different, and a little frightening. It is calmer and slightly eerie below the waves. You watch each one pass and as you sink deeper and your awareness grows, you begin to be mindful of the sea—a sea that is full of waves, each made out of water: each its own wave, but part of the same rolling, cyclical sea.[iv] Its vibrating vastness transcends conceptualization or rational comprehension.
This is reality. The ocean remains, but you are changing. Your vantage point has changed, you are deep, balanced, stable, calm, present. For the first time you see life as a miracle. You see it in all its grandeur and all its simplicity. This is fantastic, but it will pass at some point. And you must be ready to be patient and accept what is. Each time we get back on the path we are stronger, more aware.
Naturally, you have a small hiccup and for a moment, you are back to where you started. But things are different. You have seen what life is like through the lens of complete awareness. You are not the same when you come to. When you stop, and reach down, there is something else there. Something deep, something stable, something wise. You have no choice but to laugh, to sit in silence for a moment. For you have lived among the waves your whole life and never had the presence of mind to see what you were moving in, what you were a part of. The ocean has been lost to you and it has become the silent elephant in the room within your mind. There is no more hiding from it. It is time to turn in.
7. Becoming a beacon for ourselves and thus, for others
Ultimately, this is the goal. In briefly getting in touch with your inner Self, in finally committing to the quest of seeking, you become a beacon of light for others to experience. You seek your Self and in doing so, you naturally become all one. A beacon is one who has conquered herself and is willing and able to be here with and for others. He is mindful, clear, honest, receptive, open, and he exudes a presence that can be felt by other conscious beings. A Beacon is here for the now. She is a being who is in this world, totally, but not of it. His view is beyond any judgment.
Where there was once a fenced in yard, there is now an open wilderness, full of life and all the miracles within it. When she eats, she eats, when she walks, she walks, when she speaks, she speaks impeccably. His energy is one that is aligned with that of the world and thus the universe. She moves with nature and the passing of windswept leaves. This is an ideal we should all look towards. Be the change you want to see and rightfully aim for depth.
As our awareness grows, so too does our joy and our wisdom. Though we have not done any homework or research, we have slowly acquired wisdom through self-examination. We are ready to keep moving forward, to seek our true Self. Remember, we are the case-study, we are the canvas to work with. Buddha and others worked and found enlightenment through themselves and their own experience: no one & nothing else.
Seeing reality and discovering more of the inner space within has brought balance and joy to seekers throughout the ages. When we become balanced there is less up and down and more witnessing. We stop judging people and events. We stop reacting to, or resisting the flow of life. People and things begin to come to us naturally, without us having to do anything. There is no explanation for this. It is just what happens. Our daily practice is what gets us to this point. Practice sets the framework for how we live our lives to the fullest. It is the process of witnessing and making the small changes as we go along. Focusing on the breath, bringing ourselves more into the present moment, allowing space, and being honest with ourselves, are crucial aspects of what we are trying to do.
As we move along, we reap the rewards from our practice. Our sincerity and our effort in maintaining conscious awareness throughout the day is our fuel. When we lose this alertness, we fall prey to the mind and we drift back into unconscious behavior. Our openness and our presence is also essential in keeping this connection. Without openness—acceptance to what comes our way and presence—being right here, right now, we become victims of fantasies and mental projections that lead us astray from our practice. Learn to live in a way that reflects these principles, no matter your spirituality, and we are on the path.
The greatest gift we can give someone is our total, undivided presence. Our awareness is capable of giving the gift of presence to those who we meet along the path. In this lies our growing ability to help other beings bobbing up and down in the waves.
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
One of my favorite poems, “The Guest House,” offers us a beautiful way to view our emotions in life. We should treat each one of our negative feelings with compassion and openness – like a guest stopping by for tea or a cup of coffee. We embrace the emotion and we accept its presence unconditionally. Coming back to this poem, we lighten our hearts and we live more fully – turning our mental states and tough situations into opportunities for us to live deeply and to love completely. Practicing and living the way of “The Guest House,” is learning to live an enlightened life.
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond”
~ Jelaluddin Rumi, translation: Coleman Bark
[i] Since we were born, we have been constructing our lives through thought and labeling. In Buddhism, freedom means letting go of this fictitious world and entering into the one of no-birth and no-death. Through this view of reality, the universe is as it is – springing out of nowhere.
[ii] In regards to this example, I often think of Bodhidharma’s “I don’t know” in response to the great Chinese Emperor’s question, “who are you standing before me?”
[iii] The Greek root of ‘alone’ can be interpreted as, “all one.”
[iv] Getting in touch with the infinite background as opposed to the foreground
Editor: Kate Bartolotta