by John Denver

A few months ago a wonderful program on public television discussed the Statue of Liberty. The whole notion of liberty awoke inside of me in new ways. I continue to think about it and want to share some of that exploration with you.
Liberty is more than freedom. It is typically interpreted to mean freedom from constraints, often political constraints. And yet it is much more.
Liberty begins with each of us. It starts with knowing ourselves. To express ourselves, which is a form of liberty, we have to know who we are. With the opportunity to be ourselves, self expression is a conscious choice.
Most of us spend most of our lives trying to find out who we are, looking for the courage to be the person we imagine. Being who we are is something absolutely connected to nature, the Earth and the spirit. In fact, we are part of nature itself. When I think of this in that way, I reflect on the notion that most of us would never consciously hurt or destroy a part of ourselves. In essence, to hurt or destroy any part of another, including the Earth itself, is to damage ourselves.
The cycle of seasons within the living world is an expression of natural liberty. Life diminishes in autumn and winter, yet that loss of vitality forms the basis for rebirth in spring and summer. It is the birthright of the planet to live in the liberty of natural transformation.
There is a deep longing to be connected with all the parts of ourselves so that we can keep whole and healthy. Yet all around us is frustration, anger, rage and negativity. It is a real part of the world that surrounds us. Strangely, it seems we don't know ourselves fully enough to remember that we are all one with each other and the Earth. If we can begin to sense within ourselves suppression of liberty, perhaps we can be more sensitive and understanding to those we push aside. This includes, for instance, the homeless, unemployed, and, in a broader sense, all the refugees of the world, human and otherwise.
I once asked the Dalai Lama "What is the purpose of life?" He said, "to be happy."
I believe that we each have to go through a lot in our lives in order to find the courage to be who we truly want to be. When we finally express that person, we can be truly happy. Being who we are can be the fullest expression of our liberty. To the degree that we deny our liberty, succumbing to constraints, we are neither free to be who we are nor are we happy.
There is, however, another side to constraints. When they are self imposed, and are based in our responsibility to the larger community of which we are a part, this is not denial of our liberty. This protects and helps ensure liberty. The difference has to do with conscious choice. When we make conscious choices, we are honoring our response ability. Whereas many constraints outside ourselves are theoretically a reflection of choices we each would make individually (laws and social norms) they tend to lose their inherent power when we defer responsibility for them. Too many people say, "We have to: It's the law." Or worse, some ignore the law. In fact, to the extent that we externalize responsibility for making conscious choice, we are again denying our liberty.
The incredible abuses of humanity and the Earth itself are reflections of hollowness. Because we allow these abuses, we are, in essence, abusing ourselves.
The first step toward liberty's light is to recognize our responsibility. It goes back to finding out who we are. To express ourselves as loving, generous, valuable, knowledgeable and purposeful requires that we not only see abuse but respond to correct it. It is a willful act to not acknowledge an abuse. I believe this "blindness" is actually a conscious act borne out of the fear of what could happen if we do, in fact, see and react to the abuses all around us. We are denying ourselves in the most grievous ways when we do see and do not respond. We are denying our response ability.
In contrast, when we do see and do act, we are acting for the whole world, for every one and for the future. In the words of a traditional song "It's in every one of us to be free."

Special thanks to Emily Parris of Rocky Mountain High.

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