January 10, 2008
Freedom and Slavery – A Cycle of Life
A Man’s Journey to Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach and friends is a collection of some fifty short stories written by men covering wide-ranging themes “on what it means to live authentically.” The topics range from relationships with their mothers, fathers on vulnerability, balls, simplicity, work, failure and humor among many others. Sarah writes in her introduction of one music legend’s story that he was the first person that came to mind when she developed the idea for this sequel.
Sarah states that American novelist Willa Cather insisted that there are only two human stories, “and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before.” This is “why every raconteur tells them over and over and every lyricist puts them to song.” This singer, songwriter and musician is known to everyone simply as Sting. Ban Breathnach says that dating back to the Old Testament and going forward all the way up to the present in the song Every Breath You Take “the two stories that keeps our soul enthralled are passion and betrayal.”
I would argue that there is one more – freedom and slavery. From the story of the Hebrew slaves escaping Egypt under Moses’ leadership to Jesus’ arrival and liberating message of “the truth shall set you free” during the Pharisees oppressing dogma over everyone living in the Holy Land. To the American colonies fight for independence against King George and the mighty British Empire to the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to the American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. march on Washington D.C. To today’s slavery to the U.S. dollar and the daily reporting on the rise and fall of the stock markets, our retirement plans and all opposition to realigning our crippled social values.
We are at war in the Persian Gulf region trying to “set free” three different factions of believers all living under one roof from tyranny while back home slavery runs rampant in every corner of our society. From our addiction to every substance known to man to our relationships with all those in our life and those who we wish were. We are intoxicated to a vain lifestyle, a celebrity one of money, power and fame. Our quenching thirst for more never seems to be met and during our private moments we feel a constant ache and emptiness in our holed soul.
Recently at one of my weekly support groups the subject of Codependency was brought up as a meeting topic for discussion. There are several different definitions for this term, but generally codependency is defined as an enmeshment by one individual into the lives of another, symptoms include doing for the other person what they are naturally capable of doing for themselves to everyone’s determent. There is an absence of natural boundaries along with the insane acts of controlling and constantly matching one’s feelings to the other. This dynamic can occur in any relationship between parent and child, a couple married or not, friends, co-workers… As a codependent, if they’re feeling happy then you’re happy, if they’re sad then you’re sad and so on.
Listening to the first person introduce the topic he expressed his past and present frustrations with his codependency issues and his unhealthy behaviors in dealing with various relationships in his life. As he spoke, he struggled out loud trying to get a clear definition in his mind and to make sense of what codependency was and wasn’t. By the time he finished speaking I didn’t have anything burning to say, but quickly others in attendance did. One by one each began chiming in about their own experiences, such as the frequency of relapsing into old patterns of behavior that ultimately gets them into trouble with others. This results in him or her feeling hurt and confused. After listening to four or five more members speak up and each listing the shared symptoms a notion of what codependency wasn’t popped into my mind. When the room fell silent, I introduced myself and then made the following declaration, “Free people aren’t codependent.” While I had never once heard that concept uttered, the phrase made sense to me.
I believe freedom is the “end zone” of recovery from our addictions and slavery to all drugs including our attachments to others. I went on to explain that free people are able to speak their personal truth thus never compromising their own integrity. That’s a critical distinction of healthy behavior. Codependents have lost that ability, lost their integrity and their power resulting in them becoming tangled in their toxic relationships.
Free people live free of constant fear, anxiety, worry… Rather than reliving their past or projecting into the future, free people simply live in the moment, live in today. They believe that their tomorrows will be taken care of if they will simply do the necessary work presented to them in the current twenty-four hours. They trust this evolving process that leads to emotional and spiritual growth.
The Lord’s Prayer plainly states that God will provide us with our “daily bread”; free people know this to be true. The free have a strong faith built on a foundation of many successful days, months and/or years already put together. Free people don’t procrastinate or put off essential activities. They do not experience periods of boredom. Free people literally spend every waking minute pursuing their interests and engaging in healthy relationships that match their same values. They avoid having their time wasted by others. They have their power, they have their backbone and they exercise it everyday.
The free are unaware of what others think of them and have no preoccupation of how they appear to the world. They are like the gold-panner who walks the stream daily turning over the stones looking for indication of a gold deposit and the direction of the source. They’re in the game of life while the emotional and spiritual cripples watch from the sandy bank making up every excuse on why they can’t. One group is alive and thriving while the other is dead.
Travel to the countryside of Costa Rica and you will see what many other Americans including myself have felt and witnessed. The natives are alive, happy and we’re not. Why? They’re living in simplicity because they are not saturated in material goods and crowded minds. There are no Target stores there. They don’t share our same value system. I have read of similar accounts of Americans traveling to other isolated regions of the world.
Codependents feel more comfortable taking the focus off their own life and turning their attention to the “problem child.” Codependents are fixers; this trait often develops in their family of origin. Where the absence of one or both parents usually leads to the oldest child or the next in line having to step up and become a surrogate parent and mate to perform the duties of the absent or unavailable parent. These children become super-responsible. They perform daily chores around the house, as well as, caretaking of the younger children and trying to meet the unmet emotional needs of their sole parent. Forced to grow up fast they lose their own childhood due to these new demands.
Without an intervention such as therapy, codependents are set up for a lifetime of unconsciously being in the “fixing” or rescuing business. They often pursue careers being doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, attorneys, teachers, I suspect even presidents and lawmakers… where their whole day is spent worrying or trying to fix their patients, clients, students, constituents or our global neighbors – [the Middle East] all the while neglecting their own basic needs including those of their family. As the emotional and spiritually wounded, they really can’t take any steps forward in their own journey through life therefore they always have a constant need to put the focus on anyone other than themselves. This serves as a total distraction and/or obsession. (Doesn’t this sound like officials with our federal government?)
Without any backbone they will continue to compromise their own integrity to please others to the detriment of all (Corporate America, lobbyists, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Korea, China and any of our other “allies” that we payoff annually). Under this arrangement everyone’s a dependent and nobody ever grows up. Only when we become aware of this destructive pattern of conduct and begin making changes will the situation lead to a healthier dynamic. The establishing of boundaries and turning loose those around us is the road to our recovery, to our freedom and theirs. Only the enslaved enslave (Many of our domestic policies hamstring our states and citizens due to the complex federal mandates, care for our veterans from the Veterans Administration, Social Security, Medicare and Homeland Security and of course filing our yearly income tax return). Free people don’t have or take slaves; they help liberate them (Our government has lots of them, both, here and abroad).
I once read an account of Harriet Tubman and her “Underground Railroad”, a network to lead African slaves off southern plantations and into freedom. Harriet led slaves out of the South and into the North taking them as far as Nova Scotia, Canada. A surprising or interesting element to this story was that Harriet always carried a pistol while escorting the slaves. If ever a slave got nervous while on the journey north and wanted to turn back. Harriet would stick her gun in the face of the reluctant slave.
If that action didn’t convince the slave to continue on the voyage and they still wanted to return to their plantation then Harriet’s efforts and the whole operation would be blown once the white plantation owner got tipped off. This would most likely lead to a bounty being placed on Harriet’s head. The stakes were so high that Harriet was prepared to kill the slave right on the spot to protect her own freedom and the freedom of all future escapees. Free people don’t shirk responsibly and do the tough stuff. The free intuitively know when to cut their losses. If you’re a slave to any vice, you’re already dead.
Fr. Anthony de Mello stated death this way, “People don’t live, most of you, you don’t live, you’re just keeping the body alive. That’s not life. You’re not living until it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to you whether you live or die.” Do you want to come alive then start by dropping your addictions and wake up to this truth?
At last spring’s commencements, Oprah spoke to a graduating class from a college. “O” told the story of Harriet having to convince these same slaves still working the plantations that they were in fact were “slaves.” Nobody believed her. Brainwashed to the only way of life that they had ever known passed down for generations and centuries most didn’t understand or believe they were wearing shackles on their wrists, ankles much less around their minds. I ask, are you a slave to this same belief system? Has family, schools, church and the rest of society defined your limited world? Have you bought into these beliefs – hook, line and sinker? What plantation are you working on today? What master are you serving?
On my slow journey to freedom I have talked to many “slaves” encouraging them to come along and to try this same way of life? I’ve lost count of the names and have forgotten most of their faces? Most didn’t believe what I was saying. Today, several of them are six-feet under. In my eighteen years of recovery and preaching this Gospel to friends, family, a girlfriend, wife, in-laws, relatives and strangers the only person that experienced radical change in all that time was myself. That’s it, not one more soul was saved or wanted to be. Talk about being one sorry preacher, but I have come to learn that that’s the one and only person that I am responsible for.
A journey based on faith will take you down a different road towards your dreams than where another will arrive out of fear (The same can be said of nations, as well). Slavery is a death, living a nightmare and freedom is to live, to have faith, to take risks each day leading to continuous growth. Today, our society reeks of death. Death is virtually everywhere and it is on the faces of many that I see and know. All that I have seen and heard since 9/11 is fear and worry. Fear and death is all over our airwaves and in print while covering national politics, the missing and the murdered, the wars, the latest terrorist’s attacks and our nighttime TV dramas are filled with blood and corpses already to be dissected. The one and only TV channel that my “rabbit ears” picks up is the local CBS-affiliate.
Airing almost every night there’s a great shoot ‘em up or a “who done it” with some sorted crime scene. Hit shows like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) has two different weekly series running if you can’t get enough of just one: CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. Other shows include The Unit, NCIS, Cold Case, Numb3rs – an FBI drama, 48 Hours [Real Murder] Mysteries and Moonlight is about vampires running the streets of LA looking for victims to bite and blood to drink. That’s just one of the major networks’ partial line-up.
All this makes me wonder if nightly viewers aren’t staring at their flat screens at a once great stiff named America. And people wonder why we can’t sleep anymore without drugs. Our stock markets is based on fear and greed, it’s daily performance always makes the news and various reported stocks can make our day or cause us to want to jump to off the top of our office building. Talk about power and not having ours. What toll is all this having on our psyche, our nation? I think the impact is huge. Are any of the presidential candidates going address this issue during this current election cycle? Screw the economy. What does it matter how much money you have if your neurotic and too afraid to come out of your house of beliefs? So, we are the richest country in the world, yet it does not matter one flip when an underserved mentally ill college student shoots and kills 31 others on campus. Our society has broken down and we are cut off from feeling our pain. We just want more drugs.
Isn’t it time we cycle out of this death spiral both, in our personal lives and in our society? The time is now to reclaim our lives through an honest rebirth – an American Renaissance and a true celebration of Christ’s birth without all the gift-wrapped imported lead-painted toys. Jesus lived a simple life, he walked his walk and he challenged his followers, admirers and enemies to do the same. Some rose to the occasion while most wouldn’t and it’s no different today. Free people walk their walk; they are not the hypocrites while most everyone else is. Let’s put our self-talk and good intentions into action – One Day at a Time. This is the real political issue of this campaign season and of our time. Nothing else matters without personal and community freedom, integrity and a sense of the truth.
This commentary is dedicated to Sir Edmund Hillary, who died this week at the age of 88. The once 33-year old New Zealander mountain climber and Antarctic Explorer was the first to successfully climb Mount Everest. He was once quoted as saying, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
Fr. Anthony de Mello put it this way, “Don’t ask the world to change – you change first.” Today, America is around the globe fighting two separate wars trying to change those situations to our liking, both, in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one of them we are trying to bring “freedom” while we have lost our own ability to recognize this same truth, this reality in our own country.
It’s been said about relationships that the one who cares the least has the most power. Who do you think cares more about the situation – the United States or the new Iraq Government with a pummeled country and over a half of million dead citizens? Do you think Iraq cares whether we get to declare victory for a second time and ride off into the sunset? The Iraqis religious groups will solve their problems when their ready and it won’t likely be on the U.S.’s timeframe.
I think it has become quit apparent that our job is not to conquer Iraq, Osama bin Laden, Iran, al Qaeda or the rest of the Muslim world. TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw regularly asks his guests about their troubled lives the following question, “How is it working?” Maybe Dr. Phil should be asking President George W. Bush and every American how our enmeshed lives, domestic and foreign policies are working. In this cycle of life and death, it’s time once again to conquer ourselves. Freedom isn’t something you defend instead it’s a liberation process. Have we forgotten?
Surrender to Win!
“Better the man that conquer a thousand thousand men is the one who conquer one, himself.” – Buddha
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog @ http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. All essays are available in a MS Word format upon request. I can be contacted by email: email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008. All Rights Reserved. “Freedom and Slavery – A Cycle of Life” by Ted Burnett.
Ban Breathnach, Sarah: A Man’s Journey to Simple Abundance. Copyright Ó 2000 de Mello, Anthony: Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. Copyright © 1990