Sunday Sermon (March 9, 2008)

¡Hola! Everybody,
My fever is gone (thanks Princess for the bath suggestion ), but I still feel like crap. I feel like grits and eggs this morning… I wrote the following a couple of years ago.

* * *

The Myth of Freedom
“A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.”
— Imamu Amiri Baraka (1934 –)
American playwright, poet, novelist, essayist

I once became lost in a national park in Connecticut many years ago. I was about 19-20, a busload of us city kids planned a trip, and we all trekked up to some park in Armpit, USA. I am a dyed-in-the-wool city boy. And when I say city, I mean city. Please, I’ve traveled around this country and some places that use the term “City” are laughable. Yes, I am a NYC snob: anything above 14th street for me is Hicksville. Anyway, grew up in the city and the first time I saw a pig live, I thought it was a cow! When I thought of pigs, what came to mind was that pig Arnold from the 1960s TV sitcom, “Green Acres”

Whatever… always the adventurous one, I convinced another poor soul to go “exploring” with me. We got lost for close to 48 hours. LOL! We kept walking in circles. There was this lake not too far from us, you see, and me being the “Brainiac” of the two decided if we followed the lakeshore, we would eventually end up where we started. The thing is we kept walking in circles, not around the lake, but within a confined space. We realized this after hours of walking because we kept seeing a rock formation that looked eerily familiar. The reason for that was that it was the same rock formation! LMAO! By this time, it had gotten dark and there was a pronounced early October chill. My poor friend had inadvertently fallen into a cascade that hid a cave – he was freezing, but we thought the cave was the best place to stay for the night.

We had nothing – no matches, flashlight, compass, food – nothing. We had to stop because of that annoying tendency towards complete darkness in the country. I mean, you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. Sheeesh! To make matters worse, I swore I heard a wolf’s howl. I’m serious! Now, I don’t know if wolves actually exist in some Connecticut state park, but to this day, I swear I heard a howl! In addition, I didn’t make things better by voicing my conviction that the cave we had taken refuge in was some Grizzly bear’s home.

So, there were, hungry, cold, and lost.

Eventually, we somehow found our way to a road the next day, but they had a whole posse of people looking for us, which ruined the trip for everyone else. We walked down the road until we came upon some ranger in a car who then proceeded to ask us if we had seen two Puerto Rican kids walking around lost… DUH?!?! Hellloooo?!?! Fuckin’ hicks… LMAO!

Of course, being philosophically inclined, I found all sorts of metaphors and meaning behind our little adventure, while my companion, who was freezing to death, cursed me the whole time. Still, it fascinated me that, left to our own devices, we kept walking around in circles. Shit, we tried to walk differently, making lefts, where we had previously made rights, and still we walked in circles. What does that say about our own habitual patterns, I asked my friend, as he conjured new swear words for my edification.

For the next fifteen years of my life, that incident was to become a metaphor for how I lived: doing what I wanted, how I wanted, when I wanted, and mistaking that for freedom. I think many people mistake “following their bliss” for freedom when in actuality walking around in circles without a compass is the ultimate prison. It’s the ultimate prison because we can’t see the bars, for they exist in our minds. We’re all “doing time,” in some way or another.

True freedom, for me anyway, takes practice. Actually, it takes a set of practices that serve as a guideline and map to freedom. Walk around rudderless without direction long enough and you’ll find you’re creating the same mess repeatedly.

Habitual patterns mistaken as freedom.

I like to say that I became free while I was incarcerated and this is very true. Many years after that incident in the woods, I found myself incarcerated at a maximum-security “facility.” LOL! I’m not proud of that, but I have to admit there’s some irony in this story – at least for me there is, so I find some humor in all this now. It was early spring, my favorite time of the year, and I was in a prison yard looking at some mountains and feeling really depressed about being locked up.

Then it hit me… I was actually free! Just like that! I realized that though the state had my body, only I could give anyone permission to enslave my mind. It may not sound like a lot to you, but for me it was transformative experience. The fact that I could choose to be free no matter where I found myself blew me away.

Looking back, I understand now that it didn’t happen all at once, that my epiphany that day wasn’t something spontaneous. I understand now, my realization came about because of the work I had put in, but it hit me that day like a bolt of lightning in the middle of a completely dark country night: I was free. Free, right then, at that very moment.

It was amazing. I could choose to be free! OMG!!! This couldn’t be true. Nevertheless, I felt it in the very fiber of my being, this freedom was real, alive, a part of me, a part of my heritage as a human being. When I went back to my cell later that day, I shared my revelation with my neighbors and they all started laughing at me! LOL! They were – like – “Eddie, you in jail, bro.”

And they were correct, of course, I was incarcerated. However, my realization was that while I could be coerced into prison physically, only I could give another permission to incarcerate my heart and mind. What I saw clearly for the first time was that I was giving the prison authorities this permission to take my mind, to imprison my heart. From that day on, I became free and my life, even within the prison walls, changed dramatically. I no longer felt at the mercy of sadistic prison guards or all the other insanity that goes on in prison. From that day on, I was free – really free — and all my interactions reflected this realization of freedom. What happened was that people began responding to me differently: guards, who previously were able to press my buttons, didn’t know how to deal with the newer, free me, leaving them confused and anxious.

Other inmates would ask me why I “looked” different: was I exercising more, did I gain weight? Eventually, my freedom permeated my immediate surroundings and those in contact with me began doing their own inner work, in the process transforming our collective prison experience. The effect was so palpable that I was eventually transferred from that location because I was deemed too dangerous. LOL! But by then it was too late, even in solitary confinement, they couldn’t take my freedom away.

I became free that early Spring day and though there are times I choose to give up my freedom – especially when I come into contact with people with hate in their hearts – I have chosen freedom more often than not these past sixteen years. My personal liberation, I have found, is not individual, dedicated solely to “me” (mini me? LOL!), but instead it comes with a responsibility and an awareness that it affects everything around me. That other prison we all share: the myth that we are separate from others has also dissolved and as a result your personal liberation is also important to me.

Ultimately, I have learned that my freedom demands I choose happiness. I never even knew I had that choice. It is my responsibility as a human being, actually, this choice. This is why I always say that everything we ever need for our happiness exists right here, right now, this very moment… this very life. This is true whether your prison is made of concrete and bars or psychic cockroaches.

May you all know true happiness… and freedom.

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