The taste of freedom

Since I started learning from Brené Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle, Eckhart Tolle, Oprah, and Jody Moore (I could go on…), I feel like I’ve been shown the secret entrance to a club that I never knew existed.  A club where people openly acknowledged what I have known in my heart and been denying for so long.  There are many words used to describe this way of thinking.  I like Eckhart Tolle’s word, awakening, the best.  It’s like I’ve woken up and I can’t go back to sleep.  This awakening spills over into every aspect of my life.  I can’t help but talk to friends and family about it (see It’s a lot of work to be friends with me).  I find myself talking to my patients about it at work.  I hear myself telling R, “No one can hurt your feelings. Only you can hurt your feelings.”  He is still very confused by this but we’re going to keep working on it. 

I heard this quote from the Buddha on a podcast a few days ago and I think it sums it up: 

“Just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt, so also this teaching and discipline has one taste, the taste of liberation.”

I like the salty ocean reference because every time I get in the ocean I’m a little surprised, and then comforted, and then immersed in how salty it is.  No matter where you get into the ocean, from which continent or latitude, it tastes like salt.  And no matter where your awakening comes from, it has one taste—freedom. 

This might be the perfect litmus test for life.  Elizabeth Gilbert said it this way: “Anything that doesn’t taste like freedom isn’t your path.”  So when I’m facing a decision, which these days is usually less about what do I DO and more what do I want to THINK or FEEL, I ask myself, “What tastes like freedom?” 

What keeps me open?  What keeps me from shutting down?  What frees me from resentment?  This is the salt test.  Here are a few experiences that show this process. 

Recently I found myself thinking a thought, “I deserve ________.”  This is a thought that I could garner a lot of support for if I wanted to.  I could ask my friends and family if I deserve what I desire, and they would chime in in full support.  I could think lots of thoughts that would give evidence in my mind that I deserve what I desire.  But then I realized that I deserve doesn’t pass the salt test.  I deserve makes me feel like a victim.  It makes me feel like I am at the mercy of someone who is withholding or trying to take something from me.  I deserve doesn’t work. So when my mind threw up the I deserve card this morning, I reminded myself of this.  Then I remembered the thought that HAS worked for me in the past.  My favorite feeling is compassion and love.  Love feels the best.  I remembered the thought that gets me there so I redirected to THAT thought, and immediately, I felt freedom.  Freedom from the dark cloud of I deserve.  True compassion always tastes like freedom.

Another thought I frequently come up against is some form of ascetic deprivation.  Let me explain—this is willpower.  I have A LOT of practice with this one and I would guess it is familiar to most of us.  My brain throws up something like, “I can’t keep riding these waves, I need to draw a line in the sand for myself of what I will and will not do.”  I think this often shows up with dieting.  “I am going to cut out sugar completely,” or “I am going to work out every day forever.”  My brain wants to do a quick sort and put everything into black or white columns so I don’t have to keep making decisions.  But when I choose my actions based on willpower alone, it feels like ascetic deprivation.  It feels terrible.  I am denying myself.  That does not taste like freedom—doesn’t pass the salt test.  My solution to this is, first, to recognize when it’s happening and second, to spend time understanding why my brain is asking for the quick sort.  Is it fear of pain?  Am I feeling depleted and needing the inhale? In this space, I either come up with a deeper motivation for a change I want to make, or I decide that I was on the right track before the quick sort, and that was simply my brain trying to avoid pain or energy expenditure.   

Another card my brain likes to show me says, “You should _____________.”  I’ve spent most of my life doing the safe/smart thing.  I clung to my identity as the person that DOES the safe/smart thing.  Several months ago, I realized that was a cage I didn’t want to live in anymore.  Growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was exposed to lots of recommendations for how one should and should not live.  Most of these recommendations are not unusual in any conventional, Christian faith.  The church I grew up in can be very prescriptive.  If you want to find a prophet or authority that said something on a particular topic, you can usually find something that will tell you what you SHOULD do.  Some people really like this about the church.  For some, it’s comforting to always have a prescription available. 

For me, it became stifling.  I have been working to unravel the cord of shoulds and should nots.  To understand what feels like freedom and what does not.  So far, there are two things that have really come out of this deconstruction.  The first, I’ve already mentioned—love and compassion always taste like freedom.  This means loving God, loving myself and loving others.  The second thing is what I think we are trying to get at when we use words like faith and hope.  It works really well for me to think of it as letting things unfold.  To not slam the door closed on something because it is not right in this moment, but to let it be and let it breathe.  This means getting comfortable with uncertainty.  Getting comfortable with the fact that I might feel differently tomorrow than I do today.  That I don’t have to decide everything today.  Being generous with myself, to give myself the space and time to work it out.  It means hanging on to the things that are working for me and letting go of the things that aren’t.  It means trusting myself and knowing myself well enough to make that distinction.  And this tastes like freedom.