steps to freedom

(transforming limitations into liberations)

photo by martin sigmund,

We are familiar with moments of freedom, but we also know how it feels to be stuck, caught, like there are obstacles in the way of feeling free. Instead, we feel imprisoned by limitations. Limitations sometimes manifest on a physical level - inflexibility appears in our body or a rigidity of the mind - we keep bumping into ourselves and other people and things. Nothing seems to work. It feels like the sky has collapsed, clouds are hanging around us and our limitless potential seems far away.

The goal of yoga is liberation from all limitations. So how do we overcome limitations? A good example, again looking at the physical, is if you are stiff and inflexible in your body, you can do something about it - do some Hatha Yoga and your body will change. In the same way, if you use the other tools of yoga you will stretch your mind and bring your essential self into the light. Watching your mind, chanting a mantra and meditating can give you the space and the perspective to see the obstacles in your path: Where are you and what is restricting you? Is it hard to get up each morning? Are you obligated to another person? Are you afraid to take on a responsible position? Is it difficult to change a habit?

We have the ability to grow out of our limitations. The process starts with the willingness to see a limitation as the indicator that something needs to change. We don't have to stay in confinement or pain. We can get to the root of a limitation in life, be it another person's expectations of us or our own expectations of ourselves and other people.

I have seen many people take steps to challenge their beliefs about who they are, what they are allowed to do, and what their life is supposed to be. A woman who was attached to her pain said, "I want to face my depression so I can grow into my potential and have no regrets that I didn't take the opportunity." In recognizing her limitations and choosing to move through them she took many little steps: making decisions about her medication, acting on her dreams, having a regular yoga practice and noticing how she used her time. Each step changed her perception of what life was offering her, who she was, what she knew and what she could do. Gratitude and inspiration replaced the depression as she learned to trust herself, and she voiced this. In a simple, sincere way she brought positive actions into her life.

A man who didn't believe in himself said, "I want to face the fear of being on my own for a while to develop inner strength." He took a first step and went through a time of confused thoughts and ideas about what he really wanted to do. This brought up the issue of loneliness. Each step as he moved into his aloneness brought a different perspective and also support from sources he hadn't been aware of before. It was as if in taking the first step to change there was encouragement to engage in his process and find his inner spiritual strength.

Change is a natural part of life and change requires that we take risks and face fears. If we don't risk, we can never transform fears into courage or our obstacles into strengths. Through the experience we learn that fear, risks and mistakes are all part of life and can lead to inspiration. Each step we take shakes up our life so that we have a new perspective and more possibilities.

A risk in a relationship could be to support the best in the other person even if it means letting them go so that they can do what their hearts desire. Accepting the change may mean seeing the illusion of the relationship dissolve or feeling the pain of loneliness that is there.

A risk in reaching your own potential may be to fulfill a dream of travel or schooling. If your interest is music, go beyond fantasizing. You could buy yourself an instrument - learn, make mistakes and put yourself to the test. By learning to play you will find out where it takes you. Life is risky and at some point we need to move out of the comfort zone to face life courageously, give ourselves the freedom to act and take responsibility for the learning that comes with that choice.

Reflection and spiritual practice enable us to challenge our ideas, to be thoughtful and self-disciplined. Integrating what we learn about our inner selves into our outer lives makes us stronger and gives us more choices. The energy that we once put into our limitations is freed up and directed toward cooperating with our ideals.

Once you taste freedom you want more. You know it is time to face the unknown. You want to dig deep for the gems and the gold and not keep moving on from distraction to distraction. Life really is what we make of it and the more we can see that, the more we can create a fulfilling life. There will always be another step. Be ready to explore and take a risk. It is a worthwhile and exciting journey to freedom.
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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