Svatantriya. Freedom. One of the aspects of the Absolute Universal Supreme Energy is freedom. Unbounded, unlimited, freedom. Inexplicably uninhibited Conscious Energy. Eternal presence with no boundaries. A Universe so entirely free it can and does, unfold upon Herself, weaving an intricate web of everyone and everything. Svatantriya is a Sanskrit term and means “self weaving freedom.” The Uni – verse, or One-turn, is constantly unfolding upon itself and holds all the unlimited multi-verses within it. Just think of all the little universes spinning together, your own body, all the rest of the bodies, all the forests, oceans, heavens, all animals, beings, and on and on, all simultaneously pulsing with potential, with life force at this very moment in a symphony of ecstatic being we call, Life. If that doesn’t make sense, think of the movie A Bug’s Life,..the whole adventure took place in a drop of water.
One of the great gifts of the yoga practice, or hopefully any spiritual practice, is to experience or recognize this Universal energy (Spirit) within and as yourself, and ultimately with in and as everything and everyone around you. You are a Universe within the Universe and the Universe is happening as you. As Stephen Hawking said, “you are what the Universe is doing.” This is it, this moment, this body, this lifetime, your heartbeat right now. Svatantriya, unfolding and weaving the entire cosmos and you are woven inextricably into it. Whoa.
Photo by Laura Kay
The desire to feel free is a very powerful motivator. This desire instigates everything from a nation starting a revolutionary or civil war seeking independence from a dictator, to the guy next door starting a hatha yoga practice seeking freedom from low back pain. Everyone wants to feel free. We are always seeking freedom either “from” something, or someone, or freedom “to” something or someone. We abuse drugs, alcohol, etc.. to be free from pain, and we flee oppressed countries to be free to earn enough money to care for our families. Freedom is empowerment, having the capacity to choose, freedom from, or freedom to. The other side of that choice is the disempowered story, which is the victim story. When you feel free, you are experiencing your essential Nature, you feel empowered. You recognize your birthright that is Svatantriya.
Freedom is the difference between being a victim or being empowered. Ultimately, it is a choice, on some deep level, no matter what the circumstance. The highest teaching of Anusara yoga is the first principle, ‘Open to Grace’. To me it means, ‘open to whatever Life is presenting you in this moment’, which sometimes has to include bad, crummy stuff we don’t like or want. That takes courage. The courage to engage your heart, having fear, and facing the scary, unknown anyway. It means open to ‘what is. The tantric teachings call it the ‘yes’, no matter what, and then the empowered yogi looks for and acts in the highest way that enhances the greater flow of Life.
Victor Frankel, holocaust survivor, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, talks about the way he survived because ‘they’ couldn’t imprison his heart and mind. While physically he was imprisoned, he was free in his heart and mind. He was ‘free’ to search out the beauty in the iris of the dead fish head served to him in a bowl of dirty water as dinner, and he was grateful. When Annie Herz-Sommer, the oldest surviving holocaust survivor, was recently asked what her secret of life is, she answered, “Optimism, and looking for the good. I see beauty everywhere. I know about the bad things, but I look for the good things.” 109 ys Holocaust Survivor. If anyone has earned the right to hold the ‘victim’ story it would be both these great beings, and yet they consciously actively chose to look for beauty, look for the good when things were bad, bad, bad!!! And the greatest part of these stories, is there is gratitude. Gratitude for life, gratitude for the blessing of the challenge. There isn’t a denial of the bad, or pushing it away, it is a free choice to actively affirm good, beauty, what IS life affirming of the whole cycle of life.
Freedom is your intrinsic nature. “You are not a bound being seeking freedom, you are free being, free to choose to whom and what and how you bind yourself to.” –Douglas Brooks. This is one of the most liberating teachings I’ve ever received. The contemplation reveals an opportunity of empowerment in life as opposed to living as a victim of your own story. Free to choose to bind yourself, and create attachments. Attachments that serve the whole cycle of Life are the ones you want to make. You want to be attached to your spouse and kids! I feel so happy two of my friends who are gay and have been together for over 40 years, and FINALLY this week were free to legally marry, to public affirm their committed devotion to each other for all the world to witness. That public expression of chosen attachment, the chosen bond, actually creates freedom. You are free to choose your mate, choose your job, your home, choose how you spend money, what vehicle, kids or not, adopt or not, what you do with your time, energy and money, what ideas and beliefs you hold, the people you hang out with, pretty much everything. Or do you have a story of being held captive by attachments to your partner, your career, finances, your friends, possessions, kids or not, etc. etc? This is a big contemplation, attachment vs. freedom. Will the story of your life, your myth, be one of victim or one of the empowered hero?
Yoga’s boons are tools for empowered living. With practice, you learn you have a choice and you learn how to choose. You learn you are free to look for, to actively seek an opening, an opportunity, the good, the interconnectedness underlying everything and all experience. Easy when life gives the good stuff, the happy, happy, joy, joy. Looking for the Highest, or ‘good’ isn’t denying or ignoring horrible, demonic evil actions being chosen in the world. There is NO way to explain away hideous evil choices people make and do to others, especially if you have been in the path of anything atrocious. Most everyone has experienced some degree of being on the receiving end of someone else choosing to do harm and create suffering. Another great teaching I learned from Dr. Brooks is the good news is, you are a free being, free to choose, the bad news is, so is everyone else. Unfortunately, there are people whose hearts are so blocked from their connection to the Divine and each other, they do ugly things to each other and our planet. This is where empowerment and freedom of the heart and mind are challenged. Ultimately, the response, what you do with tragedy, is the juncture between empowerment or victimhood.
The practice of yoga, (practice meaning over and over, with devotion to the universal Energy within and without) coming back to your mat, your seat in meditation, the mantra, the ‘yoga practices’, cultivates the tools and capacity to see even dark experiences as expressions of the One. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (the Divine) tells Arjuna (the Soul), again and again, that he is everything, both delicious and horrific. “I am the death that carries off all things… of beasts I am the king of beasts, I am the beauty of the beautiful.” Krishna. The Gita is something every yogi eventually will read and contemplate.
The highest perspective is the knowing that the Universe is so free even the ‘bad’ horrifying experiences are woven in as part of the web of Life’s cycles. Seeing the dark as an expression of the Universal doesn’t mean you like it, support it, grab or push against it, it’s the acknowledgement that is the empowerment. Then you are free to choose.
To me, the yoga is to look for and make the Universal connection in any experience. The empowered freedom of choice is how you consciously respond to and contribute to the world, no matter what. What will you do with your experiences? How will you show up? Can you be grateful for even the challenging hard parts of life? Will your thought, word and deed create more freedom, beauty, love and light ,…or not? Every breath, every moment is another opportunity exercise your free will of choice. You are a free being, free to choose how you receive Life, all of it’s experiences and happenings, how you move in the world, what you think, say, and do. You will make a difference, make a wave on this Ocean of embodied Spirit. What difference will your wave make? You are free to you weave your own life and your choices will be the legacy you leave. The Universe is so free, out of it’s own freedom it has chosen to become you, therefore, you are free, free to choose. You are Svatantriya. Choose Freedom, choose Love, choose Gratitude. (It’s always your choice.)
Happy 4th of July! Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. That is the birthright of the whole planet… Not just U.S.
“The secret to Happiness is Freedom, the secret to Freedom is Courage.” – Thucydides 471-440 bc