39 - Justice in Contemplation - Part 4: Freedom
We all want to be free. It’s an idea said so much, in so many contexts, that it’s almost become glib. We all want freedom, but freedom can mean a lot of different things to different people, especially depending on where freedom seems most lacking for us in any current moment. What do you think about when you think of freedom? What most think about is personal freedom. The freedom to do whatever we want, when we want, no matter what. That would include things like the protection of personal rights, personal property, and financial stability. But we would also quickly admit that to ensure certain personal freedoms, other personal freedoms must be curtailed. I cannot do what ever I want, whenever I want, to whomever I want, because I don’t want others to be able to do whatever they want to me. The foundation of civil society is the willingness to give up a certain amount of freedom to safeguard freedom. In order to live in community with others, we must all agree to hold certain boundaries for the good of all. We could live alone, and be perfectly free to do whatever we wanted, in theory. But if we are to live in proximity with other humans, we’re going to have to exercise certain restrains on our personal liberty for the sake of the whole. This is the most basic level of human society. But we can miss the point, and begin down a path of reversing the whole point of group boundaries if we do not understand the deeper reality. The purpose of curtailing certain freedoms for the sake of community isn’t to protect me from you, but to create a space where community can exist and thrive. The purpose is for community, not individual freedom. When we begin to think of communal constraint in terms of personal benefit, we go down a path where we begin to pull apart the basis of community for our own personal gain. It’s the difference between thinking everyone is here for me, and thinking I am here for everyone. When I start down the path of wanting everyone else’s freedoms curtailed for the sake of my own, community falls apart. Selfishness, as the center point of community produces the opposite. Greater freedom for me, which requires less freedom for you, is not true freedom. That is back to the power-over system. Community is about power-with. We are currently in the midst of communal breakdown because we have forgotten this one simple truth. Community is about the “us” being bigger than the “me.” Whenever the “me” gets too big, the “us” falls apart. When we understand the need to put our own personal needs second to the needs of the community, then community works. When we’re all fighting for the prominence of our own personal needs over others, no one will get their needs meet. That’s because many of our deepest needs can only be met communally. Community is what we’re made for. That also means that individual freedom is far less important than the health and well being of the community. We turn that on its head to our own peril. Trying to approach society from an individualistic standpoint is precarious at best. The American experiment was never meant to guarantee personal freedom above community. We were meant to be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. How then, have we become so divided, and so intrenched in a system which seems more bent on liberty and justice for some, but not for the whole? The answer is simple, because we have become more vested in personal freedom than freedom for all, and personal freedom always divides.
I am married with three young kids. Every day is a social experiment. I get to watch my kids discovering how relationship works, and how to navigate their own needs in the midst of our family environment. My kids are 5, 8, and 10, and are at the stage where they are most often still trying to put their own needs first, in competition with the needs of the whole family. For us as parents at this stage, it can be exhausting, because it seems like we are constantly running from one demand to the next. “Get me chocolate milk,” “get me dinner,” “stop brother from looking at me,” “make sister quiet,” “make brother play my game.” Most mornings I’m up here typing away, and my first morning interaction is my 5-year-old daughter asking me to get her breakfast. I don’t neccesarily want to stop what I’m doing and get her breakfast, but such is the balance of family, and life. We all have needs. We are all here in this shared space of living life together. What my wife and I are most trying to teach our kids at this stage is how to consider the needs of others. They are deeply invested in figuring out how to get everyone else to meet their needs and do what they want, and we are deeply invested in trying to help them understand the benefits and necessity of considering the needs of others, and the whole. I feel like our nation is in the same basic lesson, and failing badly to learn it. I also think we’ve leaned to heavily on meeting the needs of the individual, instead of teaching the individual how to meet the needs of the whole. The irony is that when we think it’s about the whole meeting the needs of the individual, the needs of both get lost. Everything is not here for me. I am here for everything. That is the basis of the contemplative perspective. It’s not a self-effacing idea, but affirms the self as a part of the whole. It balances the good of the one through the good of the many by understanding that this is how the good of both gets fulfilled. It is good for me to seek the good of others. It is not good for me to seek my good above the good of others. This is the foundation of relationships, but also of the entire cosmos. We are all part of one symbiotic organism, small parts of a single whole. When one part gets too invested in their personal freedom, enough to step out of the whole and try to dominate it for their own purpose, the whole suffers, and the one part with it. When everyone is fighting for their own needs above others, no one’s needs get met. We must understand freedom as a shared experience, or we will not experience much freedom. We must also understand how we can feed into the freedom of the whole, and how we can constrain that freedom. It’s not just about me giving up some freedom to get certain freedoms, it’s about me being willing to help foster freedom for everyone. The goal cannot be self-centered. It cannot be about my freedom. If we think it’s about trading freedom, then we can begin to think in terms of me having more and you having less. This is how my kids think it works. They are always wanting someone else’s freedom curtailed so they can do what they want. One wants to sing, the other wants quiet; who should get what they want? What they think is that the one who with the most power has the most freedom. They are constantly pushing each other, fighting for their way. Sometimes they even get physical. They are already practicing the idea that might makes right. And they can often see mom and dad as the most free, because we are the most dominant and in control of what happens for the family. What they don’t understand is how much we sacrifice and work for their good, not our own. They think we are constantly constraining them for our own benefit. They don’t understand that we are most often constraining them for their own benefit. But the goal is to help them grow into, and learn how to constrain themselves for their own benefit. If they grow up, and never learn how to balance their own needs with the needs of others and the whole, they will grow up into a frustrating adulthood, because the world is not about their needs. In order for them to get any of their needs met, they must learn how to meet others needs. When no one knows how to meet the needs of others, no one gets what they need, especially when it comes to love and community.
Did you know that the word “politic” means sensible or wise action? It literally means doing what is the most good. The word came from the original Greek word “polis” which simply meant “city,” which also then started being used to describe a person in that city, a “polities” or “citizen.” It bears the idea that in order for citizens to live in close proximity, a necessary harmony is required. It also became sensible to have certain individuals devoted to that harmony, which we now call politicians. Governments were formed in order to ensure the harmony of the city and its citizens. They were given a certain amount of power over citizens in order to keep the peace. They were meant to do what was good for the whole city. But what happens when those charged with safe-guarding the harmony of the entire city begin to favor certain individuals or groups over others, or when they begin favoring their own good over that of those they govern? The whole thing breaks down. Governance which is good requires people that are good, people that can seek the good of others and the whole over themselves, people that are politic. How far we have wavered from that idea. Now the very word “politics” means to be divisive, to be about your own party, your own personal agenda, or the agenda of only those who favor you. We have come to see the political process as a means of power-over and power-for, not power-with, because we have decided that whoever controls the political process can get their needs met above the needs of others. We have come to see the government as a means for personal power because we have forgotten how to be good people, people who are about the good of the whole. In a democracy, the heart of the government reflects the heart of the people. As individual citizens, when we are about electing people who will only do what is good for us, we end up electing people who tend to only do what is good for them, because that is our basis for good. We should not be surprised by how petty our politics are, when we ourselves have become so petty. When we only know how to seek our own good above others, it should not surprise us when others attempt to seek their own good above ours. How can we expect others to be more altruistic than we are? Why should we expect others to bend to our good, if we are unwilling to bend to theirs? Do we really think everyone else should do the work of sacrificing their freedoms for ours? This will not work. How can we get to a place where we are all working together for the harmony of everyone? How can we learn again how to put our personal freedoms beneath the freedom of all? We can clearly see the result of some seeking freedom at the cost of others. The problem becomes when those benefiting from such a lopsided freedom are unwilling to see how their freedom is constraining that of others, or don’t care. If the system is benefiting me, why would I change the system? Whether you believe in it, or agree with it, this is the very definition of “White Privilege” and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. These are simply attempting to point out that the system has benefited some more than others. To simply stick your head in the sand and say, “I don’t see it” or “it’s not effecting me” probably means your benefiting from that disproportionate freedom. It may also mean you like it, and don’t want to give it up. But here’s the bigger problem. Why would you give it up? If freedom is a game where some must lose so others can win, then why would you choose to lose, especially if you’re on the winning side? If we are all simply playing the game of personal preference over the good of the whole, would any one choose to lose? No, then it is a fight, and the to the victor goes the spoils. When we set the game up with winners and losers, we should not expect the winners to not want to win. And then even the losers are simply wanting to take the win away a get it for themselves. In a world where the power of the few comes from the powerlessness of the many, and the majority is allowed to dominate the minority for the sake of its own good, who wouldn’t want to be in power? In that system those being left out aren’t asking to be included, they’re asking to trade places with the powerful. The goal of equality in a system of power-over isn’t about equality at all, it’s about taking turns as the ones who get to control the whole system for their own benefit. And no one should be surprised, in that system, when the powerful won’t lay down their power so the powerless can take their place. True equality is creating a space where everyone is working for the good of everyone, not one group working to gain power over others. When we believe that the good of the individual supersedes the good of the whole, we will get exactly what we see in our current society; national infighting for control of a system designed to only benefit some. A system designed to only benefit some, eventually only benefits the few. And as it progresses, it will benefit fewer and fewer people, until it eventually only benefits the one. This is how a democracy becomes an oligarchy, and eventually a dictatorship.
Ultimate power corrupts ultimately. It was a phrase taught to me by my high school history teacher. We were talking about the founding of the American Democracy, and the idea of checks and balances. Our government was founded on the idea that what balances power is equal and opposing power. Our three branches of government were meant to balance each other out by keeping each other in check. Each was meant to have limited power in a limited sphere, and two of the three were meant to be given their power from the power of the people. It’s what we call representative government. The founders of the American Experiment saw the obvious abuse of power by the governments they came from, and wanted to prevent it in this newly forming nation. So, they sought to balance power with power. I agree with the basic idea, but how does power balance power if both powers are corrupt. I agree that power needs to be balanced, but not that power balances power. What balances power is powerlessness. What that means is that the more power one has, the more they must be prepared to give it away. The only way power remains balanced, between those who have more and those who have less, is if those who have more understand the need to give it to those who don’t. With great power comes great responsibility (Thanks Uncle Ben). The responsibility of power is to understand that it is balanced by a giving flow. Power is a giving flow. The more we are empowered by the true power of the universe, which is the giving flow of love, the more we will be in the flow of love and want to continue the flow. What we often call power, which is seen as the individual’s ability to control all things for his/her own benefit, is actually powerlessness. True power is a giving flow, false power is a taking flow. When we feel that we truly don’t have power, we are always trying to get it and take it. When we know that we are in the flow of true power, we know we no longer need to get what we already have. The freedom of stepping into true power is the freedom from the grip of false power. False power is always about trying to get what we don’t have. True power is about giving what we already have, because true power can only be given, never taken, and never taken away. True power is the ability to love all things. Power is a giving flow. The true power of love will always empower us to give, because it was first given to us. The false power of hate will always seek to take control of what it cannot. Thus, it imprisons us in a paradigm of chasing after an illusive power we can never gain, because we can truly never control other people. Any measure of control over people is an illusion, and only works to the degree we are able to convince others it is real. But even in this game the only power we have over others is the power they have given to us. Power is a giving flow. We may convince others of the need to give up some of their power and control in their lives for some illusionary and elusive benefit, but eventually the game always ends in disillusion, because giving up power to the few never benefits the whole. And this is not how true power works anyway. We’ve all been caught in this false power, in the game of giving up our power in thinking we will gain more. But it is a game which actually decimates power. The more we try to control others, the less we actually do, because the only true control we ever have is over ourselves. In every situation, we always have the choice to give others power over us. It may not always be easy to see, because of deception, manipulation, and lies, but we are still always choosing who we follow, and to whom we give control. We often give up control to gain something. But as Ben Franklin once said, when you give up freedom to gain security, you get neither (my paraphrase). That is a mob mentality, and based on fear. True power is based on love. False power is based on fear, and fear always leads to hate.
If we were honest enough, and had enough clarity, we’d be able to admit that most of our loss of freedom is a reaction to fear. When we choose to act out of fear, we are denying the power of love. The loving choice always leads to freedom. The fearful choice always leads to oppression. The only true freedom we have is the freedom to love others well. We lose that freedom when we choose, out of fear, to withhold our love from others. Fear is a prison that binds us to others out of fear, and those we fear we will eventually hate. When we give our freedom to others, out of fear, we end up resenting the outcome, because the end result is always being controlled by others in ways we do not really want. Why does the abused spouse stay with the abusive partner? Why do oppressed citizens stay under an oppressive government? They may think they have no choice, but they are really choosing safety over freedom out of fear. We always have a choice. That choice may be scary, and so we may feel it is not a choice when safety and comfort trump our desire for freedom. In choosing to follow the path God has put before me, I have come to some scary cross-roads. There were times I had to visualize the outcome to make things clear. I had to imagine the choice between what seemed the most safe and what seemed the most dire. There were times, facing a decision, I thought, “what if I end up in the gutter, on the street with my family. Am I still willing to make this decision and take this risk even if that is the outcome?” It may seem silly, or extreme, but it helped me frame the choice in clear terms, to understand the risk. How far was I willing to go to do what I felt called to in my heart? What if it led to something I feared? Was I willing to take the risk anyway? One of those scary decisions was deciding to leave my position at a thrift store charity when I had no guaranteed work to replace it. I been on two out-of-town excursions with my brother-in-law installing neon. It was good work, but very inconsistent. The choice my wife and I faced was leaving a job with guaranteed income for work that could come and go at any time. We had a deep sense that this was the right decision, even though it made no sense. The practical, and safe decision would have been to stay with the guaranteed job. We really knew what we were supposed to do. The main struggle was to make the risky choice over the safe one. And we did. I’m glad we did, because that choice eventually led us to the place of starting our own construction company, and we have never been more financially secure. But when I look back at many of the decisions we had to make along the way, few seemed safe, but they all seemed clear. Fear blocks our decision making at every turn. It clouds our perception and pushes us in the wrong direction. And most of the time it’s a perceived fear. We are most often running, not from real fear, but the shadows of fear. Most fear is a “what if” scenario. What if we step out and the worst happens? Most insurance is based on fear. It the business of insuring against the “what if’s” of life. My friend recently got into a car accident. The accident was his fault, and the other car was a nice, fairly new Cadillac. When he got home, and contacted his agent, he was shocked to find out his car insurance had lapsed. Between him and his wife, someone had forgotten to pay it that month. Talk about bad timing! His initial reaction was panic. What was he going to do now? What could he do? He contacted the other guy involved in the accident and let him know what was going on. The guy was very kind, and agreed to work it out without insurance. The final cost was a few thousand dollars, which was still hard to swallow, but manageable. In my friend’s experience of a worst-case-scenario, the worst did not happen. It usually doesn’t. The things we imagine we’re protecting ourselves from by giving up our freedom usually aren’t real. What is real is the limiting consequences of those fear-based choices. What if we could see through the fear to a better choice? What if we could learn how to make choices without the fear factor? Then we would be heading down the road of greater freedom.
What would you do if you had no fear? How would you live differently? How would you love differently? Love is a giving flow. Hate is the reversal of that flow through fear, a fear the is usually based on illusion. The reason we want to gain power over others, is for the purpose of protection out of fear. I see this all the time in the arena of politics. “The Democrats want to turn us into an oppressive communist regime,” “the Republicans want the poor to die in the gutter.” All the rhetoric is fear-based, and to the extreme. We are constantly assigning the worst motives and outcomes to visible actions. We have actually been trained this way by the political process. How else can we be convinced to support one party so passionately unless the opposing party is so evil? It is the political game, and it is tearing our nation apart for the purpose of the power of the few. There must always be a dire threat we are being saved from, in one group or another, in order to convince us to give up our power for the sake of protection. Sometimes political parties are no better than organized crime, creating the very scenario they claim to be saving us from in order to keep saving us, in order to keep their power. Is it hard to imagine that the party of the poor must always have the poor to stay in power, or the party of big corporations must continue favoring those corporations? But they can never frame their political positions this way. If you are for the poor, you must always frame the issue as being against the rich, because that is what the poor want to hear. And if you are for the wealthy maintaining their wealth, you must make it about the freedom for everyone to pursue extreme wealth, even though most never even get the chance. I’m not trying to be overly cynical, or critical. I’m just trying to be honest. Those with the most power generally want more power, when power is motivated by fear. But when we understand that true power is motivated by love, we can step into a power paradigm that is a giving flow. Taking power is based in fear, and fear leads to hate. Giving power is based in love, and love leads to more love. We always have the power to resist those who have power over us. We can always choose to step out of these fear-based power systems by stepping out of fear. If we don’t play the fear game, and believe the fear-based illusion being promoted for the sake of keeping us “safe,” then we can begin to walk out of these fear-power systems and back into the power of love. Love always trumps fear. Love is more powerful. Love is a giving flow, and love equals freedom. Freedom is based on our ability to love others, even when we might feel compelled to hate them. When we understand how much of people’s actions are based in fear, we can step past that fear and love them, because we understand the power of fear they are under. Fear is the oppressor in any oppressive system. As soon as we stop giving into fear, oppression is over. Even on a grand scale, we are choosing to follow along with oppressive systems, not because we have to, but because we are too afraid not to. Fear is at the heart of oppression, and thus oppression is something we most often do to ourselves. It may be hard to see the connection, because we tend to think of oppression as something others are doing to us, but we are always part of the system which is oppressing us. We may struggle to see the link. We are all parts of these systems. If the system is oppressive, then we must own our part in its oppression. We must work to see how we, as a part, are buying into that system. In any system, we can follow along or we can resist. But we must understand what we are resisting. You cannot fight hate with hate, or fear with fear. If oppression is the fear we believe, and the freedom we give up on account of it, then love is the only way out.
I think it’s hard to trace all our oppression and freedom back to these two things; fear and love. When we truly love others, we would never do anything to harm or hurt them. When we truly love others, we are trying to help them, and not protect ourselves from them. It’s true, sometimes we will get hurt. Loving those still trapped in hate and fear can have some negative consequences. It takes time for love to show the way. Hate puts us in our corners, suspicious and afraid of the “other.” Love is the only way to come out into the open, and draw others out as well. When we live in the place of love, we are free. And when we are free, we are able to show others the way to that same freedom in how we love others freely. Love is freedom, and freedom is love. What does that mean in situations where we are genuinely oppressed by others not loving us well, where limitations exist because of hate’s dysfunction? First, it means we must show a better way. If love has no way into a situation where oppression exists because of hate, how will that situation change? We can wait for the other to love, or we can be preemptive with our love. Either way, love is the solution to what has come about from the lack of love. We’re certainly not going to get out of the cycles and patterns of hate through equal measures of hate. Only love can show the way. Second, it means that our oppression is not about what we lack. It’s how we respond that matters. How we experience others hate is what oppresses us. That may be hard to swallow, but we can at least see the beauty in this truth. Our oppression is never in the hands of others. They cannot give it to us, or take it away, which means we have the power over our own oppression. Oppression and freedom are inner realities. They are things which exist within ourselves, and so we are always able to solve those issues within ourselves. Even where we experience outward limitation, that does not need to equal inner oppression. Oppression is never about outward limitation. External limitlessness is not the same as freedom. If that were true, we’d have to leave our very bodies, and perhaps the natural world in order to truly be free, because the world is full of necessary limitations. Gravity is a limitation which keeps us from floating into space. Oxygen is limited in the atmosphere (it’s only 21 percent), because pure oxygen is an oxidizer, which feeds fire. The more oxygen, the faster a fire burns. Your body is limited by your bones and skin. Water is held by a glass, or river. Everywhere limitation equals freedom. Limitation is not oppression. Oppression is the absence of love, and you can always choose to love. You cannot choose the limitations of the world around you. You only choose how to act and react towards them. We have a lot of work to do in changing our perception of freedom. Freedom is not my ability to do whatever I want. It is not the power I have over others. It is the power I have over myself. It is the power I possess to love others well. When I understand this, I understand how limitation works with freedom, and not against it. Because I want to love others, there are thousands of things I will not do, even if I could. Freedom equals my ability to love, and love equals limitation.
The power of love is a giving flow. The power of hate is a taking flow. Hate always sees power as something we must have over others, and take from others. Power, in terms of hate, is always the balance of my power over yours. It can only imagine power in this way, in a way that only allows me to have it when you don’t. Hate is a negative power structure. We don’t always feel the hate of it. Sometimes, to us, it feels good. It feels good to get my needs met, to have my bank account full, my fridge stocked, my safety guaranteed, but when it is at the cost of the oppression of others, no matter how far removed, it is still playing the negative power game of hate. Hate can look like a lot of different things, including apathy and comfort. Our inability to connect self-centered love with its consequences in the world at large is actually a natural byproduct of hate. Hate is not always a felt emotion. Sometimes we can feel “loving” in the midst of that negative flow. Me having the power over the entire world to bend it to my will may not feel like hate, but if it is robbing others of their power to thrive or survive, it is none the less grounded in this taking flow. How can we get in contact with the deeper energy of love and hate, in order to see clearly when we are acting out of personal good and against the greater good? Love alone knows how to balance my good with the good of the whole. Only love can produce a balanced playing field for everyone. Love puts us in a place to be outward focused. How else could love be a giving flow. When I am about my needs, I am focusing my power inward. I am about power flowing to me. That is an oppressive power, both to others and for me. I am literally oppressing myself, and then naturally oppressing others. My ability to act - to move in the world, to have influence and a voice - that is my power. To focus my power inward is to use my abilities, affluence, connections, resources, and position for my own benefit. It leaves me thinking I must get everything I need for myself. It turns everything into transaction, into commerce and capitalism. In this world money is not just a means to an end, it is the monetization of life, of people’s life energy. This mentality boils everything down to cost and exchange. When everything is about what I want, everything gets framed in terms of me getting what I want. Then, even my relationships are self-serving. This inward flow of power is self-isolating. It allows nothing to come to me but that which I think I have earned and deserve. In this mentality we are literally paying for everything, earning everything, and thus owning everything. When life is monetized, and power is my ability to earn what I want, then I have the ability to even own the lives of others. Nothing can then be given to me. Even when it is, I cannot see the gift. I have to rationalize it in terms of deserving or not deserving it, earning or not earning it. I even calculate my worth this way. It is an identity founded in transactional value. I am only worth what I can earn. Then I must even be earn being loved. What I have, based on what I can do, determines my value. My power, the ability to produce the flow of things to myself, then traps me in the negative space of fear and hate. Fear, because I must work for what I have, and can thus lose it all based on my continued performance. Hate, because resentment and bitterness ensue when I’m not getting what I think I have earned or deserve. The problem in this system, is it is highly self-referential and diverse. I determine my own worth. I establish my own worth. But no one else may buy into that system of value. I may amass billions of dollars, a fine education, excellent experience in a field, great skill and ability to do many different things, but if others don’t value those things as I do, they will not value me. To monetize human worth – to make it about what I can do and produce – is to set us all up in a system where no one’s worth is stable. It may guarantee a measure of worth, but only for those towards the top of this power pyramid. But even that measure of worth is worthless, because it is based in externals which change, even from person to person. It is less about admiration and more about jealously, less about love and more about hate. I may play to your power, if you have more power in this system, but only because I want what you have, not because I care about you at all. In this system the poor have no value. The outcast, the nominal, the masses who have little to no ability to rise very far at all above their current state, no matter how hard they work, must simply accept their powerlessness and inability to matter. But even those who rise to the very top don’t experience value and love. The further up you go, the more isolated, the more hated, the more people want to get what you have, even if that means taking you out. This whole power-system is set up against the flow of love. It leaves no room for anything to flow to us freely. It is devoid of freedom.
When I think love is about you giving me value, and being able to earn that value, I fail to understand the very nature of love. Then, I approach every person and situation with the angle of how I can get value and power to flow to me. When everyone is in this stance, no one will truly experience love. Love can only happen when we choose to value people based on our choice alone. When I choose to give you respect, honor, and dignity simply because I can, then the space and freedom for love to flow is there. Love is a giving flow. It’s something I choose to give you, no matter who you are, what you look like, and what you can do for me, or to me. It never hinges how I treat you based on how you treat me. It never values you based on what you do to me, or can do for me. Love is always about what I can do for you. Love is choosing to honor, respect, and value every living thing in light of what it is, not how I see or value it. It never hinges the value of anything on the value I can give it. Any value which comes from me is self-referential, which means I will only see its value based on what it can do for me. Everything has value apart from me, and me apart from it. Love recognizes this external value as something independent from me, and allows the space for things to have their own value. Love focuses my attention outward, towards the things themselves, not toward my value of them based on what they mean for me. This brings so much freedom in how we interact with the entire world. It takes the weight of attempting to determine the value of things off my shoulders. It means I no longer need to create a system of value for all things, or anything. I am free to simply be myself, to discover and express my own value for myself, and to live out of that value alone. And when others also allow for this, in me and in themselves, we will all cease to oppress each other with external expectations. Then we can love things simply for being what they are. Then we are also not trying to derive our value from how others things value us. We are no longer demanding other things give us value, and only feeling valued based on our limited perception of that exchange. Then we no longer need this huge, hulking mass of a system which can only understand others value based on me. Then value is not something I give to others, but something others give me in simply allowing for the value I already have. Love is then about simply loving things as they are. Freedom is about the space for all things to be what they are. Oppression is not about what others will not give me, but about what I am not giving to others. Freedom comes when I understand my freedom to always be myself, to have an intrinsic value independent of others, and to give others the same freedom. Then I can love all things as they are, and let my love for them flow from my desire to never infringe on their freedom to be themselves. Then a tree can be a tree, even if it is doing nothing for me, simply by being itself. And a human can even be in my way, and still not infringe upon my freedom to be who I am. Then my freedom is not about getting what I want, but getting to be who I am. And no amount of limitation can ever touch that freedom.
We could say that slavery is the ultimate form of oppression. The ability to own another person. But can we see the seed of that energy in our relationship to power? As long as we are caught up in getting power for ourselves, and having any kind of power over others, we are participating in the very same power structure which eventually leads to the extreme of slavery. In relationships, this is what we could call possessiveness. It’s what we might see as an undue desire to exercise control over another person. But can we see that any desire to exercise any amount of control over any other person is still participating in the same oppressive system, even if to a lessor degree. Though you may think it extreme, the desire to possess anything which is intended to exist independent of me is part of that same oppression. To take something which does not belong to me, which in fact belongs only to itself, is oppressive. To take something which belongs to someone else, which they did not give to me, that is the essence of a system of slavery. Any system of power which attempts to flow power from other things to me, is oppressive. That means that the only proper system of power is that which is a giving flow, where all things come to me by their own free will, and not because I have worked or will them to. That is the essence of love. Love is what I choose to give to others freely. Love cannot be taken, earned, or turned into currency. Slavery has many varied and subtle forms which may not appear oppressive on the surface. But if we can begin to understand that true oppression is a desire to possess anything which was created to exist independent of me, we can begin to see that our relationship with so many things is founded in this negative power flow. Then we can begin to see that all things exist independent of me, and that to try and possess anything pulls me out of the giving flow of love and into the taking flow of what eventually leads to hate. I realize how counter cultural that may sound. We are a nation built upon the idea of ownership. There’s nothing wrong with a proper use of the available resources at my disposal. But there’s also a difference been using things we can, and attempting to possess things that are not ours. We must understand that nothing ever truly belongs to us. When we know how to handle things as if they don’t belong to us, to value things as if they had a value independent of us, then we know how to resist the negative flow of oppressive power. What is truly yours? What do you truly possess? The entire earth was hear before you, and will be here after you are gone. Your very life was given to you by others, and your very body will one day be gone. To hold onto passing things with a passing value is to value them properly. To hold all things as if they were not yours is to hold them properly. As Tyler Durden (from “Fight Club”) once said, “the things you own end up owning you.” Possessiveness works both ways. The things we bind to ourselves bind us. The things we seek to enslave end up enslaving us. The things we seek to control end up controlling us. The power we seek to exert over others ends up becoming the power others have over us. To agree to live in a system where anything can be owned, where anyone can have power over another, is to partner with oppression. We must come to see how we are part of that oppressive system in the simple actions of our every day life. How we interact with all things speaks to the power structure we participate in. Are we participating in a system of slavery and oppression? The answer is in how we treat anything, and everything. Is everything here for me, or am I here for everything. Am I attempting to flow all things to me, for my benefit, or am I attempting to be a flow to all things, for their benefit? As soon as we agree with the idea that we can have power over others, over anything, we also agree to let other people and things have power over us. Power is a directional exchange. But no matter where we find ourselves in relationship to power, we always have the power to step out of any negative system and back to the positive. We can always find our way back to love.
It can seem hard to grasp the reality of oppression as an exclusively internal state of being. The world around us is full of limitation and lack. It seems we are constantly trying to establish our own space in a world that is pushing against that attempt. Everything, it seems, in the external world is about the fight against the forces of oppression. Everything seems out to get us, to take away and infringe upon our freedom, our right to simply occupy space in the world. But I believe the world is not so. The practice of contemplation seeks to remove the scales from our eyes in order to see and imagine the world in a different way. Can you imagine a world where you are truly free? Where all the apparent limitations in the external world really don’t limit you at all. Where all you truly have is truly yours, and can never be taken away? What do you truly have? What is your true power? When we connect with our true power, it leads us to those things. We could reverse engineer this whole power game and say that anything which leads us to feel oppressed is simply revealing the oppression within us. Contemplation seeks to focus our attention towards the negative in order to reveal our negative attachment to things. When you feel oppressed, look to the root of that feeling. When you want to fight with another, look to the cause of your desire. When you feel like someone is taking something from you, look to your desire to take something from them. When we can step back and begin to see that the whole game of taking is the problem, we can begin to root out all the elements of that game in our thinking and being, and begin to be free. Contemplation always points us to the root of oppression within ourselves. Where do you feel powerless? That is where you have agreed to operate in a system created to take away your power, but also where you are trying to take power from others. It may sound naively simple, but we can choose to step out of that system, to see that we can live in a different way. We don’t have to participate in those systems of oppression. But we don’t have to fight against them either. To truly resist oppressive systems is to simply stop participating with them. To love all things well is to choose to stop taking, and to see instead what you have to give. I’ve heard it put this way, “what you get makes a living, what you give makes a life.” To participate in the taking flow is to feed the very thing which is taking from us. To step into the giving flow, we must start becoming that flow for others. The struggle is to do it when no one else is. How do we sustain such a radical giving stance in a world largely participating in the opposite, which might likely just take from us and never even appreciate what we have to give? I don’t think that’s possible unless we first come in contact with the ultimate giving flow of God. Contemplate seeks to ground us, not only in this giving flow at the human level, but also at the level of the Divine. If we do not have an infinite source of giving already flowing to us, we might likely have a short, frustrating run at attempting to become that same kind of giving flow for others. But how do we get into that Divine giving flow, in order to become that same kind of infinite flow for others. We’ll get into that in our next discussion in this series. For now, the work we must do is to begin to see how we are participating with oppressive systems of power, for the sake of our own power, and begin to lay all that down. It can seem a daunting and fearful task. It can seem like we are trading any power we have, or could have, for powerlessness. To choose to not participate in oppressive systems does not take away your power, but only your power within those systems. How else can we turn off the power of those systems unless we stop giving power to them, unless we actively choose to step out of them. That is why systemic oppression can be solved one person at a time, as we each choose for ourselves to stop participating in the negative flow of power, and step into the positive, giving flow of love. You can do this. As hard as it may seem, it is always within your ability to choose. The question is, are you willing to lay down the power you think you have in these oppressive systems in order to take hold of your true power. That is the power of love. What is that power, how does it work, and how can we step into it more fully? That is what we will try to answer next. So, stay with me, and stay with the task at hand. It’s a long road to untie the tendrils of this oppressive power system inside yourself. It’s like removing a cancer. It takes time. Be patient with the process, and invite God into the process to illuminate and guide you. You can be free. I know that, because I’ve experienced it. But I didn’t get there by myself. It took God breaking in, and breaking down all the ways I was trying to do life on my own. Be faithful, stay with it, keep going. It’s worth it. Amen!