Embodied Life™ Newsletter Archive

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Freedom Through Awareness (and Limitation)

March, 2018

One of the frequent phrases attached to The Embodied Life™ teachings is "Freedom Through Awareness". Rather than an philosophical idea, freedom here suggests the possibility of new behavior, and fresh responses to familiar situations.

The word familiar is chosen because of its connection to family – responding in new, more life-giving ways in our closest relationships is often the most challenging and, perhaps, the best expression of embodying freedom. Just yesterday, talking with my daughter, I observed the habit of offering unasked for and unhelpful "fatherly" advice. It took some minutes for me to awaken, once again, to this pattern.

Freedom is a path - a process, an unfolding, a falling down and rising up– rather than an everlasting state. Cultivating fresh responses, rather than unhelpful habitual reactions, in all our life situations is a life time study.

Awareness is the necessary ingredient for choosing new ways of being in any situation. Simply put, without awareness our brains MUST repeat what they already know. Just as water will travel down a hill in a furrow constructed by previous rainfall, we humans will naturally, repeat old thoughts, feelings, words and actions, unless a new possibility dawns. How can this new possibility be uncovered without awareness?

Many great teachers from Buddha to Feldenkrais were investigating a path toward true human freedom. Gautama Buddha saw that through unconscious habit patterns people perpetually repeat thoughts and action that generate suffering. He constructed a path through which participants could choose to limit their behavior, most notably through meditation and moral choices, in order to grow more free.

Feldenkrais, having witnessed pogroms in the Ukraine and the devastation of the Holocaust, also knew that human beings needed new ways of learning or we would keep repeating our violent past. He saw that this learning needed to occur in our bodies, so that it was not simply idealistic philosophy. He witnessed many “good people” lose their humanity to the persuasive ideas of powerful tyrants.  He knew that a truly free humanity had to develop limber brains, capable of and experienced in, growing new patterns of action.

Along with many world teachers, they both saw the clear connection between awareness and freedom. They also saw that this learning needed to be embodied, sensed in our very bones. In The Embodied Life teachings, the human body is not important as an end point. It is not emphasized for the pleasure of feeling well or the relief of eliminating pain, though these are welcomed by-products. Rather, the human body, as experienced from the inside, becomes a doorway to freshly experiencing the present moment. The present moment then opens us to Presence which is a pre-condition for Awareness. This is a precise, linear construct:
Embodiment > Present moment >Presence >Awareness > Freedom.
Each is a pre-condition of the next, a doorway to the unfolding path.

In surprising, paradoxical ways, freedom demands a limitation of choice, “we must choose”, as Shunryu Suzuki Roshi says, “not to do”, in order to embody freedom. Just as the physical body has restrictions, so does a path of freedom. The common, superficial notion that “freedom is doing what one wants to do” is both inaccurate and destructive. True freedom requires discipline, boundaries and specific limitations. Growing the awareness to choose these limitations is essential for our maturation.

For example:
- The agreements of a marriage allows true intimacy to grow.
- Restriction on behavior affords the safety for children to develop in healthy ways.
- Social norms create agreed boundaries that allow for respectful, civilized behaviors. Imagine driving without stop signs or traffic lights!

Old Zen story:
Student asks the teacher: "what is freedom"?
Teacher responds: "Freedom is the elbow NOT bending outward."

We all need habit patterns to function in life. Differentiating life-giving habits from those that are destructive requires both awareness and moral development. The great gift of the human brain, more than any other animal, is in our capacity to change, adapt and grow new ways of interacting with the world. This same capacity can lead humanity in very dark directions. The path of "freedom through awareness and limitation" requires that we equally value "not to do" along with celebrating our almost limitless possibilities and potentialities.

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