Our story, the heart articulation of our journey towards self understanding is a sacred thing. Built on a profound sense of the innate dignity that we all share, this story just is; neither right nor wrong, better nor best. When we share story, when we approach another and invite the sharing of story in its myriad of forms something special happens. Bridges are built, understanding and empathy grow, friendships are forged and the sense of our common humanity becomes a glue that can build community – locally and globally. When we come to the sacred space of another as guest – humbly, slowly, respectfully and open – and in that space choose to be deeply present to the other our hearts naturally will open in compassion.
Have you ever met someone who is deeply in love? Have you ever met someone in love with life, with the natural world around them and seeing those they encounter with eyes of acceptance and compassion? On all of our life’s journeys you do meet these people from time to time. They have a sparkle in the eyes, a lightness of step, a warmth, a softness (often despite great pain) and a presence that just speaks welcome. These people, people who have made the choice for love and compassion a life long choice are deeply and genuinely free! The fruit of compassion is freedom!
This freedom is special. It is not the adolescent freedom of believing that I can do what I wish to do when I want to do it. It is not the false and morning after empty freedom from substance abuse or sexual exploitation. It is not the false freedom of no responsibility. It is not the mirage of freedom when surrounded by wealth and luxury – too often purchased on the backs of the poor and the powerless directly or indirectly.
No, this freedom – the fruit of compassion and presence – to self, other and planet Earth itself is a deep inner freedom. It is a freedom to ‘be’; not to have to do. It is a freedom that allows you to see and celebrate your own innate dignity. It is a freedom that means you do not have to compete, nor march to someone else’s drum, nor compare nor complain. It is an annoying presence for the other who is trapped and tied and unaware as they see and sense this freedom in the other than means that all the criteria and benchmarks that they live by mean little or nothing to the one who is truly free.
Of course we quickly label these people as crazy. History has a long list of lovers that society named as crazy. Francis of Assisi embraced the freedom of lady poverty and walked out of that small Italian city naked to the shame of his family and the laughter of his peers. Francis’ embrace of poverty, of simplicity, of the purity of nature all around him led to a freedom from possessions and an awareness of both people and the natural world around him that was profound. Francis could then freely embrace a leper, dance in the meadow, go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and sit with the Muslim Sultan seeking mutual understanding. Bonhoeffer, Ann Frank, Mandela, Helen Keller, Hafiz, Gandhi, Teresa of Kolkata, Tagore, Rumi, Damien of Molokai (who lived with and embraced the lepers of the Hawaiian Island of Molokai) and thousands of others shared this freedom.
When one is deeply present and this presence leads to profound compassion you grow eyes that truly see, ears that hear what others cannot hear and a reckless abandon that takes risks to hug and sit with, cry with, mourn with, dance with the other in the midst of their story. This freedom does not make rational sense. It is not logical. It is a space where you forgive when the rational mind says don’t, you accept when the cultural norm says reject, you put your time and energy into matters of the heart before the tinsel that our materialistic world worships at altar.
The freedom born from compassion makes a mockery of labels. Labels mean nothing to it. I have a treasured memory of the Governor of Queensland – Leneen Forde – visiting my hometown of Proserpine and my mother who knew Leneen’s first husband Gerald in Canada waltzing into the shire chambers to the official welcome morning tea uninvited to shake her hand obliviously to protocol and security. That same wonderful mother of mine would sit in our kitchen having morning tea with an Aboriginal woman who helped with the washing and ironing and a elderly man who lived in a shanty on the edge of town who used to come and do our garden once a week – sharing tea and cake on our finest china. As a little boy the laughter and conversation spoke to me of a freedom way beyond societal norms.
While this freedom is the fruit of compassion its other foundation is awareness. Awareness is a life long journey. It is a skill and choice to be daily worked at. Awareness is built on silence and stillness. As you grow in awareness you see things you did not see, hear what the ego noise of your mind had blocked out and sense a deeper energy in and all around you. Awareness when coupled with compassion built on presence allows, liberates, unbinds, births – a way of being that is a channel to your deepest and most profound true self.
One of the hallmarks of the truly free person is that they ‘hold lightly’. By hold lightly I mean that they do not place too much energy into any ego fight, any label, any narrative, any reaction – any false battle that you want to fight. Holding lightly leads to a balance and a perspective that allows truth to surface and find its rightful place. Holding lightly does not allow the criticism of others to piece our personal armour – in fact, holding lightly does not even need that personal armour. Holding lightly does not invest too much energy into where the ego wants to place it – but rather trusts truth to find the time, the place and the person to trust that energy to.
No one of us is totally free. Deep inner freedom is a life long journey that we are all called to walk and like all journeys will be walked one step at a time. Our prejudices, our blind-spots, our ego reactions and over reactions, our labels (for self and other) our dependencies and fears all point to those areas of our lives where we are not free. These should not cow us for they are part and parcel of our humanity; our feet of clay – that which makes us human and never perfect. But while we do not cow down before these lacks of freedom we are also called to face them, embrace them, grow awareness around them, seek professional help where we need to and ultimately trust our deepest selves as we grow through them into freedom.
You can’t purchase this inner freedom. It is the gift of the journey walked with fidelity, courage, generosity and trust. it is the fruit of compassion built on presence.
But you feel it deep within, you experience it in a lightness of heart, a natural sense of what is really important, an ability to let go and a natural response in presence to both people and nature. This inner freedom has no titles nor is it the possession of anyone nor anything because of their status. For freedom the only criteria that matters is humility, presence and trust – and these qualities are as at home and as available to the poorest pauper as to the greatest King.
Who do you know in your life who is genuinely free – has that sparkle of the eye and lightness of step that means that know what is truly important? What is their secret?
How are you not free? What holds you back? What do you hold on to or cling to? Why?
Beautiful piece, Damien. The questions at the end are really valuable, too, and will be the focus of my journalling this morning. Thank you!
Who do you know in your life who is genuinely free – has that sparkle of the eye and lightness of step that means that know what is truly important?
Denis Ivan Hernon
What is their secret?
I never did figure that out!
I can still remember Denis Hernon bouncing up the stairs at Taringa on his 50th birthday; a truly free man.
Den bounced everywhere, the way I remember it!
So much to sit with!!!
Food for thought Damien.I love the questions posed at the completion.
I will ponder today.
Dear Jane, great to hear from you. A beautiful Autumn day to ponder. Hope you are well friend.