Free Yourself Introduction
“May I and all beings be free.”
Each day, midway through my morning hike, I stand on a cliff on a narrow dirt trail I share with elk, deer and coyote and say this loving-kindness phrase. I say it every morning for the past nineteen years to call freedom into this world.
I first heard it at a weekend meditation retreat in Santa Rosa, California in 1983. At that time, thirty years ago, I needed something to quiet fear and grief over several endings: the end of a five-year relationship, my full-time counseling job in Napa, California and my thirteen-year love affair with the San Francisco-Bay Area. My u-haul sat in the retreat center parking lot holding all my belongings. I was stepping into the unknown to live on forty acres in Northern California.
At that time I had no clue the lengths we humans go to in order to hold freedom away. At thirty-three, I had so much to learn about how we, including myself, imprison ourselves in unconscious fear, doubt, judgment, guilt and shame with no idea we are doing it. Back then, in my ignorance, I welcomed the concept of freedom, telling myself, “Yes, if only I felt free of this heart-wrenching grief, then I could be free. If only I knew securely where my next paycheck was coming from, then I could be free. And if only I stopped doubting my choice to leave the Bay Area, then I could be free.” I had no idea what true freedom was.
Thirty years later I share the freedom of knowing who we really are.
Over 2,500 years ago Buddha taught that, underneath our thoughts and feelings, we are all born with unlimited joy, loving-kindness, compassion and inner peace.
As therapist, author, workshop leader and visiting professor, I have shared the powerful heart choices in this book with thousands of clients, students and workshop participants. Whether we are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Wicca or Atheist, we can all benefit from the practical, unorthodox heart tools I have honed into gems from Buddhist wisdom and Body-Centered Therapy.
This book deeply respects your religious preferences and will never attempt to convert you to Buddhism or sign up for new age therapy.
This book is your invitation to wake up free of unconscious ego habits.
This book is an invitation for busy people of all faiths to find inner peace.
This book is an invitation to see that freedom is a real place in your heart.
In order to wake up free, we must first understand what we need to wake up from. Few of us realize that, at birth, we inherited a common misunderstanding about who we humans are. Then we ingested it as our reality. Buddha calls this our Unconscious Human Conditioning. Everyone around us, including mom and dad, Grandpa Fred and Aunt Alice all reinforced this detour from reality because they never knew any different. The problem is, unconsciousness causes suffering.
Many spiritual teachers predict, “Now is the time of ordinary awakening.”
We are the ones we are waiting for. Our generation holds in its fingertips the Holy Grail for waking up free. Rather than bury our head in the sand, clueless about who we really are, we owe it to ourselves and the world to wake up free.
In the thick cloud of human misunderstanding, we shortchange ourselves.
We believe we are our name, our body, our family history and achievements, our thoughts, feelings, sensations and beliefs. And in ego’s narrow world, this is true. But who we are in our heart is lifetime’s more than this. If we stay in ego’s tight shoe, we waste precious years looking in the wrong places for freedom.
Who we really are is Conscious, Loving, Compassionate Awareness. Inside our wise heart, we tap into the same Universal knowing and ancient wisdom that keeps our heart beating and lungs breathing. From this spacious place, we see negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs but stop identifying with them. From our new eagle’s nest view of life, we become Loving Awareness noticing thoughts, fears, feelings and reactions—our own and other’s. We still eat, sleep, parent, exercise, work and make love like usual, but in shifting out of our small ego identity into our heart’s unlimited joy, compassion and awareness, we feel free.
For instance, Jennifer struggled with depression for years. Anti-depressants failed her. Labeling her thoughts “thinking” in meditation failed her. But after locating her depression in her body as a tight fist in her belly, she breathed into the center of the knot. “By breathing directly into my grief,” she said, “the memory of a miscarriage years ago popped into my mind. When it happened, I stayed busy with work to avoid the grief. Now I let myself cry until my body was done crying. Later the tight fist melted into a peaceful spacious feeling I’d never known.”
Two distinct voices speak to us simultaneously in our head all the time.
To hear the gentle wisdom of our kind heart, we first identify ego’s loud, demanding, judgmental, shaming voice as ego, not who we are. We have listened to ego’s voice in our head for decades, since we learned how to talk. We assume, “This must be my voice.” But ego is only one small part of who we are.
Ego is Latin for “I,” which sounds innocent enough. But this “I” thought multiplies so fast inside our head that within seconds millions of complex thoughts abound for us to organize, analyze and somehow make sense out of. As we grow and mature, a simple thought like “I am this body” multiplies into “I am this fear, this anxiety, this despair, this guilt, this regret, this pain,” ad infinitum until we live confused and self-doubting. In no time flat, ego becomes the root of our self-hatred and much of our suffering by reacting personally to every little thing.
Once awareness sets ego’s ranting aside, we hear the soft voice of our wise heart.
A quiet revolution in human consciousness is underfoot. But unlike the noisy factories and autos of the industrial revolution, this silent revolution takes places quietly one moment, one heart at a time as each of us commit to waking up. Each time we meet anger or fear with compassion, world consciousness evolves.
Freedom is defined as “being free of restraints” according to Webster. Awareness frees us to consciously choose each moment between suffering and joy, fear and love, anxiety and inner peace. The first five Heart Choices—being Trusting, Curious, Awake, Resourceful and Compassionate—offer freedom from unconscious thoughts, fears, habits and reactions. The last five Heart Choices—Kindness, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Discernment and Inner Peace—make challenges feel workable and cultivate freedom in our love relationships and in the world.
With its uncanny ability to remain peaceful amidst chaos, our heart makes such unorthodox choices as “loving fear when it visits and trusting the wisdom of unexpected changes.” Each time we consciously choose to respond to our own grief with kindness, we set down centuries of unconscious human conditioning. Each time we respond to another’s sadness with compassion, we step into the freedom, joy and inner peace that are always present inside our heart.
This book is your gold card into the inner sanctuary of your wise, loving, compassionate heart. Conscious choice brings awareness and freedom.
HOW I CAME TO TRUST THESE TEN HEART CHOICES
My Colorado and California licenses say “Marriage & Family Therapist.” But I have devoted my adult life to studying Buddhism, Bioenergetics, Body-Centered Therapy, Feldenkrais work and Spirituality, all to quell my passion for conscious awakening. My mother’s depression at ten lit a flame inside me to understand human happiness and unhappiness. My insight meditation practice in my thirties and forties, coupled with Buddhist studies, brought a deep sense of personal peace. At the same time, I witnessed thousands of individuals and couples in my therapy practice rave about the freedom they felt after a Body-Centered Therapy session. Whether they suffered from ulcers, pain, anxiety, depression or cancer, after locating unexpressed fear, grief and shame in their body and releasing it with their breath, the majority of clients said, “I feel spacious, peaceful, free, happy.”
Heart tools from this powerful combination of meditative awareness and Body-Centered Therapy, are woven throughout this book. Besides watching my own mind in meditation, I sat in a room with clients’ deepest pain, witnessing year after year how true Buddha’s wisdom still is today: that suffering is part of life and we reduce our own suffering each time we stop the unconscious human habit of resisting of what is true. Buddha’s teachings offer practical life skills for coping with dilemmas and understanding how to make friends with feelings.
Then Heart Choices changed my life. One April morning in 2005, at the end of a peaceful meditation, I thought, “I’d like to bring more heart qualities into my daily life.” Since psychology studies show it takes us humans one month to change a habit, I whispered to myself each morning for thirty days, “Today I cultivate kindness.” I already knew the power of intentions for aligning our conscious and unconscious parts, but I had no idea how heart choices would change my life.
Some days went smoothly, which I expected since I had meditated for years. But when a driver cut me off, or a workshop got canceled, or someone hurt my feelings, “kindness” took effort, presence and awareness. Yet I kept my intention and at times forced myself to respond with kindness. All those hours and years on my meditation pillow did not translate nearly as quickly as my intention to be kind. The next three months, I practiced presence, curiosity and awareness with similar surprising results. I was not as conscious and awake as I thought I was! But with each passing month and heart choice, joy and lightness became the norm. That fall during a health crisis, I chose compassion for myself. This ended all lifelong loyalties to ego that still seduced me in moments of tiredness and worry. As I held my fear, sorrow, back pain and anger in loving compassion, my quality of life changed forever. I could no longer cling to fear and resentment like I used to. As I met other’s judgments with compassion, I reacted less personally. I still spent hours lost in thought. But awareness came to the rescue more often.
My deep intention is to share these powerful heart choices with you. Whether you meditate or pray and attend the church of your faith or not, these ten heart choices are your birthright. Since we never received them in grade school or high school, please accept them now. Clients have shown me the pain we cause ourselves by severely limiting our sense of self. I have witnessed thousands of clients wake up out of ego’s illusions into the freedom and inner peace that changes their quality of life forever. I now share this with you.
When we stand tall as a ponderosa pine or redwood tree in the truth and stillness of our mountain of being and respond to ourselves, loved ones and life from this inner strength, we invite others to stand in their mountain of being.
HOW TO DERIVE THE MOST VALUE FROM THIS BOOK
Each of ten chapters offers one heart quality essential to meeting life’s challenges with confidence. They are written in a language that many different people can understand. The first, Your Trusting Heart, lays a foundation. Each subsequent chapter deepens awareness to prepare you for the next heart choice, so it is wise to let the last chapter prepare you for the next.
Since we humans take one month to change old habits, ideally you will spend one whole month on each chapter. This affords you countless situations in which to practice presence, curiosity, awareness or compassion. But if you can’t spend ten months, at least spend one full week with each chapter to practice each heart choice under a variety of experiences.
At the end of each chapter, four Heart Tools help you bring resourcefulness, gratitude or forgiveness to specific life situations. Each heart tool is brief to fit easily into a ten-minute morning commute, meditation practice or workout time.
As you get the hang of asking such questions as “Which ego story am I running now” and “How am I causing suffering by my reaction,” you free yourself to hear the soft, kind wisdom of your loving heart. Like a good lover your heart gently reminds you to let go of ego’s incessant thoughts and bask in the freedom and inner peace that is always present. We practiced our unconscious conditioning for decades, the same habits our ancestors practiced for centuries, so we can all find ten minutes in a busy day to wake up free. The reward is priceless.
Hopefully we will practice presence, awareness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness, in some form or another, for the rest of our lives. These ten heart choices stand alone as the gateway to who we really are. And they prove a powerful adjunct to any meditation, prayer or yoga practice.
Together we embrace this silent evolution in consciousness. In the privacy of our own home, with our own family, we change human consciousness one choice, one moment, one breath at a time.