As the Fourth of July approaches, I find myself contemplating the concept of freedom. Like most Americans, I place a high value on feeling and being free. We live, after all, in “the land of the free.”
As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, I am interested in the inner landscape. Freedom there is a different matter. I define inner freedom as the ability to respond in the present from a non-reactive place inside and make choices based on wisdom and compassion rather than habit and fear.
It’s easy to believe that if you were able to do this consistently, life would be a picnic, everything would turn out wonderful. But I’m not so sure that’s true. We don’t live in a vacuum. Our choices affect others and if they’re not also able to respond from this place, your responses can still trigger them.
In close relationships, what often happens is one person gets triggered and his or her reactivity triggers the other person, which in turn triggers the first again. Then we’re off and running, spiraling out of control. Nobody is truly present, or free. I’m sure, like me, you’ve been there, done that.
It’s a truism that we hurt most the ones we love and there are a host of reasons for it: 1) we’re drawn to people based on our early wiring and so more likely to be triggered by them; 2) we feel safe with them and make ourselves both more vulnerable to be hurt and more honest when we’re angry; 3) we spend more time with them; and 4) we know them so well we know exactly what to say to hurt them when we’re mad and out of control.
When we love someone, however, there is motivation to change this dynamic. There’s no magic formula for this other than a commitment to doing the hard inner work. The willingness to apologize after we’ve, yet again, gone down the well-worn path of reactivity before we could stop ourselves, is a necessity. The path of blame and shame is a slippery slope leading to a dead end.
If you wait for the other person to apologize first, it might never happen. So if you truly love someone, muster up the courage and humility to be the one to make the first move. Even if you know your partner or friend is in the wrong as well.
The path of freedom begins with taking responsibility for yourself. It can pave the way for the other to do it too. And even if he or she doesn’t, at least you know you’ve taken the high road. (And keep in mind, a healthy relationship is only possible if both people are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves.)
We can only free ourselves in the moment, and every time we do we make it that much more likely we’ll be free in the next moment.