The Oxford Dictionary defines liberation as:
‘the act of setting someone free from slavery, imprisonment or oppression’.
Liberation, therefore, has both inner and outer dimensions which are intrinsically inter-related because if we are not free inside ourselves, it will inevitably limit our ability to live a liberated outer life, even if the society we live in is a relatively free one. The same can hold true the other way around as well.
Many of us, therefore, need liberating not only from what oppresses us internally and which prevents us realising who we really are, but also from a society where economic, religious, societal and cultural forces oppress us. It is just as incarcerating to being a slave to negative habits, restrictive thoughts and tendencies to feel paranoid and depressed, as it is to live in countries with regimes that spy on us all the time, or where societal fault lines means we have to devote so much effort simply to survive that we are allowed no space to be creative or time to experience enjoyment.
I see one of the great problems of the world today is that too many of us are enchained both ways and the result is a huge amount of unhappiness all around. In many Western nations, fault lines in society may activate predispositions inside many of us to feel soulless and empty resulting is us having hearts full of greed, aggression, insecurity, pain, fear and resentment as opposed to love, compassion, altruism and wisdom. And this huguely weighs us down.
In my last book, Gateways to the Soul, I explored certain societal conditions required that I felt would encourage external liberation and in so doing, create a context favourable for possible internal liberation. Here are a few of the most relevant ones…
What supports liberation is creating a society:
– Which is participatory and where all people have a voice in the decisions that affect their life and future.
– Where poverty is eliminated and everyone’s rights to food, housing, education and socially remunerative work is recognised and respected.
– Where there is no longer one law for the rich and another for the poor but justice for all prevails in a world where the rights to all human beings are extended to animals and to our planet as a whole.
– Where resources are available freely to enable people in pain or suffering to be helped to heal their wounds or traumas and where they are encouraged to grow and evolve their humanity.
– Where corporations embrace a mindset of ‘giving to’ as opposed to ‘taking from’ and put the well being of people and planet before profit.
– Where the person in the street receives free instruction in the art of living more simply and sustainably and is helped to make the shift away from a mindset of ‘having’ and consuming, to one of sharing and being, and where we are helped to realise that we can be happy with less and that if we work to bring more quality into our lives, that quantity will become less important.
– Where we find new ways to work to diminish the power of evil and all forms of violence and prejudice towards minority groups is eradicated.
– Where a new value system is encouraged whereby honesty triumphs over corruption, kindness over indifference and generosity over greed.
The emergence of a more compassionate and wholistic society, however, is no absolute guarantee of inner liberation, and speaking as a transpersonal psychotherapist and someone who has been a teacher of transformation for many years, the desire on our part to experience more inner freedom is by no means a ‘given’.
So what liberates us internally?
There is no one thing or one technique or system as all of us are very different, exist at different levels and are enchained in many different ways. For example, what is needed to liberate someone suffering from a severe mental disorder is very different from what is needed to liberate a person desirous to live a more soulful and less ego-centred life. Indeed, at times what may liberate one person may be seen as enchaining to someone else.
I think the key is wanting to be more liberated which can range from us going into therapy and thus working with our inner demons and resulting in us feeling better – not suffering as much – to engaging in spiritual practices enabling us to evolve and be a more evolved human being.
I see these two processes as being inter-related.
Gurdjieff maintained that if a person wants to be free or awaken, it is important that they not only know that living out of their normal everyday mindset is living in a prison, but also what that prison constitutes – how and in what specific ways are we not free.
Generally, the more we are aware of what restricts us, the greater the wish to be free and hence the more we will tend to be ‘a space’ to draw to us what liberates us at the level we need liberating.
It may be a partner who truly loves us as love is a very liberating force.
It may be a proficient psychotherapist helping us free up our anger against our unloving parents and release old traumas.
It may be a particular spiritual teacher or learning to do yoga or taking up a particular course of study.
It may be getting out of a toxic relationship.
It may be meeting someone who inspires us deeply and causes us radically to change direction in our lives.
It may be accessing a particular quality such as, for example, truth. Whether the insights come from ourselves or from other people, it doesn’t matter. In Jesus’ words again: ‘The truth shall set you free’.
That said, there is very often a resistance to our being liberated especially if it implies moving to a new level. We can get attached to the comfort zones of our old condition even if it doesn’t feel good. We may be afraid of the unknown, afraid of the responsibilities of being free, afraid of feeling more abundant and joyful as these experiences are new, and there is a certain safety of being stuck in our old inner prisons. ‘Better the devil you know than one you don’t’.
A liberating force may sometimes come in the form of a big crises. As Gurdjieff put it: ‘what is needed for us to wake up is often a shock greater than the sum of our inertia’.
In other words, if they don’t kill us from their traumatic impact, shocks can often serve to liberate us. This can happen when events occur shaking up the foundations of the life we know. In AA they talk about real change only happening when the addict reaches rock bottom. In a word, extreme suffering has been known in many instances, to lead to a desire to want radically to change how we live and discover that we are not who we think we are, i.e., we are not our separative ego identities, but are all part of a greater Cosmic Self that has actually never been born and never dies..
To flow in an ever greater connection with this deeper self we could call the greatest liberation. In fact, this deeper self which is united with the deeper self of all of life, is the liberating force, and this graced presence is stalking us all the time from inside ourselves, longing for us to give it space fully to come alive inside us. In the words of the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, talking as if on behalf of God: