Return to Freedom

Listen to this post:

“Hello!” said a tiny voice. It was so small I almost thought I was imagining it. 

I looked around. Nothing in sight. 

“Hello!” quivered forth the sweet notes again.

I stopped the dogs and paused walking. After more investigation, still nothing. How strange. Knowing I had heard something outside of myself, I slowly examined the entire surrounding landscape. As I was just about complete with my full 360-degree rotation, I saw a tiny little child behind a metal gate, peering out at me. I waved. “Well, hello!”

Abruptly she turned her cherubic face away and, while seated, rode her skateboard down the driveway. What I noticed was all the protective gear she had on. In addition to being fenced in, she was donned in knee pads, elbow pads, a puffy coat, boots, and a helmet—and standing behind a gated driveway. The driveway was not steep, nor would her fall from the board be too extreme, given that her physical scale to the board’s was nearly even.

This protection seemed to be overkill. The tiny child looked burdened behind so many layers of safety mechanisms. And yet, I asked myself, isn’t this what we all do? Maybe it’s not always so externally apparent, but certainly internally, we begin to add layers of protective coverage every time we experience a perceived hurt or life disappointment.

I thought back over the years of how guarded I’d become prior to learning to meditate seriously. Everything was so sensitive—my feelings, my body, and my preferences. I’d even developed an aversion to most sounds.

Although I could argue that these were cues driving me to spend more time internally, I was no longer experiencing freedom in the world. I was like the little child hidden behind layers of protective coverings, hoping to avoid injury and pain. In my case, on top of everything else, I’m pretty sure I was even sporting boxing gloves!

I was ready to argue any and every point: political, philosophical, and spiritual. I had a list of reasons to avoid certain situations and kinds of people. There were good and bad feelings to have, and I worked assiduously to avoid the bad type. If you came close to anything that mattered to me, I’d likely hit you! And although I still maintain a strong mama-bear instinct, it’s long been tempered by a much greater motherly love and a far more muted survival instinct. 

Why is this? Because over the years and through deep internal explorations, I’ve come to recognize that most of my perceptions of the world were false. They were shaped by past experiences that I was seeking to avoid encountering again. And in this avoidance, I geared up, just as the caretakers of the child had sought to do for her as she played in their perception of a dangerous world.

The danger in over protectionism is that it often attracts more of what it seeks to avoid. Or as the adage goes, “That which we resist, persists.”

If I’m wearing boxing gloves, everyone who approaches me sees I’m ready to fight. I’m telegraphing. If I’m girding to avoid a fall, all I’m thinking about is falling, which shapes my experience of moving freely since I’m pointedly thinking about not falling.

At forty-some years of age, I began to hear my own tiny “hello!” My miniature hello was from the inner child. The little person who wanted to risk her safety again in order to be free. The real self, poking her head up, ready to play and work again, free from worry of hurt, misunderstandings, or mistakes. She was tired from years of overcompensating to avoid pain.

As my little friend of external remembrance skated down the driveway, I smiled. What a reminder. I wished her a return to freedom too: that she may grow up and play freely without the many walls and layers—perceived and real—that can deaden our senses to experiencing life. 

Life’s experiences, when processed skillfully, lead to growth and compassion. When we’ve fully encountered all our wounds, scrapes, and breaks, we can be of service to others instead of repeatedly bracing for danger. We can expand back into our true nature, our ever-present, childlike inner freedom!

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I write this piece at the time of the Russo-Ukrainian war. There are also many territorial wars being fought around the globe at any given time. With total recognition and admiration for those who must be on an actual battlefield to protect their lives, I wish for the freedom, happiness, and peace of all living beings, everywhere.

Photo embellishment by Richard Laeton