Home of the Free

Love is action! That’s what my friend Jess taught me. So last week I put my money where my mouth is and woke up at the crack of dawn to drive downtown to witness one of my besties, getting sworn in to become a US Citizen. I assumed I would be witnessing a hundred people or so, and call it a day. When we arrived and saw the millions of people (well, 3061 to be exact; 18 million over the last 10 years) that had come here so they could officially call the US of A their home, I experienced a moment’s panic. I mistakenly thought I would have to sit here while each person’s name was read aloud. Now that would be torture.

I am   riveted  by how many American flags I see waving around and even more plowed over by how many stories there are swirling around in this United Nations of a room. I’ve always had a strong negative reaction to American flags, but seeing everyone carrying theirs with such pride, it strikes me just how much I’ve taken for granted. The stories behind what it must mean for some to leave their native land: volumes and volumes of persecution; endless chapters where voices can’t be heard without risking prison and death; millions of pages of longing for better opportunities. I am in the presence of a serious initiation ceremony, one that catches me by utter surprise. No longer torture, but rather deeply touching…

I am taught that for ceremony to be meaningful, each person needs to make some kind of offering – something that considers either the person or situation being offered to. What is the offering that each of these individuals have made? Perhaps it’s the hardship that many have endured in order to seek freedom and make this country their home; a reality I don’t know. The judge eloquently tells us that the exchange (the offering) for becoming a citizen is “to be active and engaged and take action to give back.” In other words, pay it forward.

I imagine millions of people all over the world wanting this right to freedom, the chance to pay it forward.

This question of freedom was all around last week. We celebrated Passover with my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The meaning behind Passover, historically has been difficult for me to retain. Egypt, Pharaoh, the Red Sea parting… just a little out of my wheelhouse in terms of relatability. But at this Seder, the kids (and I) are taught that Passover is about celebrating the exodus from bondage – literally and metaphorically. In other words, the bondage of our own minds can imprison us, and if we don’t master our thoughts, they will master us. You could call it taming the mind to stay present.

I meditate because I want to tame my mind. I want more freedom in me so I can be there to help others in all kinds of difficult situations. One of the principle teachings of the Buddha was that he said, “I teach only two things. Suffering and the end of suffering.” This doesn’t mean physical pain. It doesn’t mean outer circumstances being unpleasant. It means what we do with these day to day things that happen. What we do when the S— hits the fan.

But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Outer or inner? There’s a Buddhist analogy I love… You’re barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand, or across cut glass. Or, you’re in a field with thorns. And you say, “It’s really hurting, it’s terrible, it’s too sharp, it’s too painful, it’s too hot.” Oh, I have a great idea! I am just going to cover the whole ground, everywhere I go, I’m going to cover it with leather. And then it won’t hurt my feet anymore.” It’s like saying, “I’m going to leave him because he chews too loud, and shut down when she doesn’t pick up her clothes, and make sure he speaks to me with the right tone (we have the tone police in our house). And I’m going to ban people altogether who don’t agree with my views. I’m going to make sure the smells are okay; there will be no farting around me anymore. Bye bye to all pop music; only Chants from here on in. And, if you don’t have humility, you’re out. There will be nothing that bothers me anywhere, including mosquitoes. Ahh, now I will be a very happy person!”

You may be smiling, but this is what we all do. We think, if my husband or child could just behave the way I think they should (cover the ground with leather), the pain would go away. Then my feet wouldn’t hurt anymore. So the Buddha said, “But if you simply wrap the leather around your feet” (in other words, shoes), then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn’t bother you. The analogy being, if we work with our minds, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that’s how we can free ourselves up and remain calm. Mandela is an exquisite example of this. He showed the world that a person could rise above his conditions and elevate his mind toward freedom. He found his pair of leather shoes.

This journey we take to free ourselves, to come home – not so easy. But well worth the ride. When we are freed up, the cup is half full, connection is more fluid, and gratitude recognizable. Whether you’ve migrated from another land to get here, or whether you’re traveling the vast landscapes of your emotional terrain. Or both. And whether it’s in the good ole US of A, or the home in the center of our hearts, every one of us wants to be free.