With the 4th of July festivities of last weekend, the concept of ‘freedom’ popped right back into my mind. I know it might sound naïve, but the idea and meaning of freedom only became clear to me a couple of years ago. I was participating in a program at the university, which was called: Leaders for Economic Change. We were a group of 30 young people from all over the world. My small group existed of 2 Dutch people, one British person, one from Bangladesh and one person from Zambia. The Zambians name was Gift, and a gift he was. We were asked to discuss amongst us what freedom means to you. As an eager Dutch student I started, talking about Freedom when you are off work, laying on a beach, watching the ocean, reading a book and sipping a cocktail. It all connected and corresponded with my reality, my sense of freedom.
Gift however, had something very different to share: freedom to him was when everybody had equal chances, when every kid could have a proper education and because of that, have a real chance in life.
And wow, did that open my eyes, I really thought my version of freedom was universal, except for when you are in prison or at war. How little did I know!
At the same time I realized how lucky I had been, that my version of freedom comes from a care-free life. And this concept of ‘freedom’ can show you who you are; the definition of freedom is personal. One explanation is not better than the other, it is just different, it is you.
I am sharing this, because ‘freedom’ is also a big subject in yoga. In yoga we strive to be free of suffering. In the yoga sutras there is no discrimination made between sufferings. Every suffering is real; every suffering can make your life miserable, even if your suffering seems minor in comparison to others.
The yoga sutras (2.15) gives us four main reasons for suffering:
- Parinama: change, modification or transformation; Change affects people, objects and the environment. In the end nothing is stable in our universe, there is constant change, constant uncertainty, which are factors for irritation, instability and internal misery. Any change creates an opportunity for someone to suffer by holding on to what was, instead of embraces, allowing or accepting what is in front of them.
- Tapa: regret, guilt, torture; The thirst of wanting something can create an unfulfilled desire, which leads to regret, guilt, torture. A bitter regret over what we have done, or not done. A burning desire to repeat the past. All sources of anxiety that wear us down.
- Samskara: Routine, habit, conditioning; Some of our routines and habits are deeply rooted in ourselves. They are like a deep groove in wood, you can sand it down a little bit, but when you don’t take care of it, it will continue to get deeper and deeper. These grooves push us to act in stereotyped manner. Make us repeat patterns, which might not be the right response in a certain situation.
- Guna: Fundamental energy, quality, substance; The gunas reflect on the fact that we live in our body and the fluctuations and instability of the mind. The instability in our mind leads to chaos, negative judgments and inappropriate responses.
Suffering is ultimately a state of mind, your reaction to what’s happening, your reaction to what overcame you. We will always be faced with difficult times, but we have choice how to respond to it. We can choose how much we suffer from it.
In yoga we work on not creating new suffering, by realizing that we can’t change the circumstances, we can’t change what will happen to us. But we do have a chance to change our own response to it, the way we hold it, the way we let it take over our mind, body and life and how we move through it.
This way we are refining the mind, redefining our relationship to the mind and defining freedom in a new way. Because in the end, freedom is personal, there is no discrimination for the suffering you have, as long as you remember that you have a choice. The choice is liberating, the choice gives you your freedom. The choice helps you to be free of suffering, that choice leads you to happiness and bliss.