This post was inspired and half written in Nepal at the project site. Be sure to check it out!
Every 4th of July, our family would have some kind of barbecue and head to St. Charles for the fireworks. We took advantage of our freedom, celebrated in red, white and blue and lived out our suburban American dream come true.
The past decade, July 4th has taken on a bit more of a sober tone. As we are in two wars, many Americans including myself, have reflected more upon our troops, how lucky we are to be “free” and to have those troops among us willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of freedom. (My brother, by the way, is now one of them as he has just enlisted.) The past few years I haven’t really had the opportunity to celebrate our independence in the States, but this year while in Nepal, I reflected on our freedom, and what that means to me.
I suppose freedom is different to different people, and it means something different in every culture. In the States, it means that we have the freedom to say and worship what we please. Furthermore, we are entitled to the freedom of the pursuit of happiness; however, is that the extent of it? This IS a nice hefty load of liberty that I do not take for granted, but I have to wonder if these liberties (as practiced and lived out today) really give the word freedom justice.
Why when we summit a peak and fully enjoy the beauty of nature do we feel more free? Why when we begin a new relationship do we sometimes feel more free?
I suppose these acts could really just fall into pursuing happiness, but looking around Philadelphia, I really don't think many Americans are using their freedoms to pursue happiness. Often, I don't either.
Many of us create our own walls and limits and convince ourselves we must fit in some reality we create for ourself. Most of us probably do a great job limiting ourselves without any outside help and do not pursue true happiness.
Therefore, while living in such a free country, and having a brother literally about to sacrifice his freedom for mine, I just want to make sure he’s not doing so in vain.
As far as him sacrificing his freedom though, I understand freedom is relative. For instance, my brother might be more free in the military than he would be otherwise. Sometimes, we need to get rid of distractions so we can be free from our own paralyzing thoughts. For him, the military might actually be freeing and give him an opportunity for more than he would otherwise do, although that's probably not be the case for everyone that enlists. For some, they really might be sacrificing freedom. I think it depends on the state of the individual’s mind, circumstances and where their limits prior to enlisting come from.
When we flippantly acknowledge those that fight for our freedom, we should really stop and think. Where does our freedom come from and what does that even mean? To a large extent, I think it comes from our own minds. If we can free our own minds from attachment to unimportant events and destructive thought processes without the need for a gigantic military, then I don’t think that is really the sole thing protecting our freedom. Now, maybe there are different levels of freedom. For instance, the only reason I can reflect on this whole concept is because I am safe in my room without catastrophic events taking place everyday. So yes, I definitely owe some baseline freedoms to our security.
However, on a deeper level, much of our trapped and “unfree” feelings are really independent of how “safe” we are. Once we are safe to the point where we can think freely, we need to let go of the self-destructive thought processes that are now “free” to run wild. We can let go of so much unnecessary fear that we create ourselves. Unfortunately, the military can not free me or probably most of us from our own neurosis. I think it’s time to rediscover what the word means or redefine it. For me, I need to remember to use my freedom to ACTUALLY pursue happiness rather than creating ridiculous problems in my own head simply because I have the freedom to do so. For me, this process starts with remembering to practice gratitude and shedding fear daily.
Speaking of which, I am grateful for my friend, Christine, who donated to the cause today. Thank you!