We are living in confusing times and for most people this is a challenge they are not prepared for. A quote often misunderstood is that the buddha said be your own refuge.
Therefore, Ānanda, dwell with yourself as your own island (dīpa),¹ with yourself as your own refuge, take no other refuge. Take the Dhamma as your island, take the Dhamma as your refuge, take no other refuge. And how, Ānanda, does a monk dwell taking himself as his own island, taking himself as his own refuge, taking no other refuge? Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, having abandoned covetousness and grief concerning the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … thoughts in thoughts … mind-objects in mind-objects…
There is only one person who can live your life for you and that is you.
There is only one place you can empower your life and that is in the present moment.
These may have become cliches but that is because they are undeniably true. IF we can live our life on our own terms then we are free of the chains that would bind us, the chains of duty, culture, social expectations, financial commitments. These are all forms of slavery, many of which we cling to willingly without realising what we are doing to ourselves. They entrap us and make us feel safe at the same time. I am also guilty of this system myself though I am more and more able to see it clearly.
For instance I want to be a star/ top writer/ top earner? Why?
This is not what I want but I often feel as if I am being made to feel like that by the medium system. What I want is to connect with people through my writing and to spread the ideas I share within that writing. I do need some money from time to time, bills can be tough when you are retired and yet your pension was stolen from you by the govmt. But mostly I have enough to do that for now anyway - and now is all we have.
Living now — caring for the future
Liberation does not mean live carelessly for the future but do not worry so much about the future that you do not enjoy today. It means live within your means and be grateful for that, make that enough, whatever it is. If you have a safe dry place to sleep and enough food to eat then you have enough. Most of us, including me, have a great deal more than that, and we are enslaved by it and do not know how to step out of it. We are afraid to step away and are thus enslaved by this way of life.
Stepping away slowly
We do that by recognising where we are enslaved and where we are able to liberate ourselves. The only place where you are able to be totally free is within yourself. This is where we develop self reliance/ internal referencing/ a sense of self that is not based on ego — dependent upon external reinforcement, but is intrinsic to everything you do as you live your life. It is part of your essence, your own ethical code, your own parameters.
Sometimes it means walking away from people who want you to fit into the mould they created for you. Sometimes it means facing the scary thing of being alone. The ego will tell you this is a lonely place but that is not true.
We are all alone anyway all the time, yet we are never alone for one second. We are alone in that we are the only ones who can live our own life. We are never alone in that we are part of the collective universe which is oneness and thus we are connected to everything else that exists.
Remembering this and cultivating a mind that touches this reality every day takes time but it is where freedom lies.
And it takes effort to break away from this slavery chains that we are socialised into.
It takes effort to find different ways of looking at the universe, at nature, at each other.
It takes effort to learn how to see deeply and perceive the deeper truths behind the material world we are so enslaved to
Gaining self-reliance entails developing a daily practise of the four foundations of mindfulness, ardently, clearly comprehending, and mindfully until the goal is reached. These are:
First Foundation of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of the Body.
Second Foundation of Mindfulness: Vedanā. The Pali word vedanā is most often translated as emotions, but it relates to any state of feelings.
Third Foundation of Mindfulness: Mental States. Mindfulness of mental states is understanding …
Fourth Foundation: Mindfulness of Dhammas. The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness is often thought of as perceptions, of mental processes such as thoughts and perceptions, of blocks or hindrances to our practice, of the unconscious influences we all have.
This is best done by following the guidance of a qualified meditation instructor, but if one cannot find one, it can also be done by careful study in conjunction with practice. Find a writer or teacher who deeply resonates with you and stick to their approach. This does not mean do not read around or study else where, but do so as part of your commitment, not as a spiritual tourist who is avoiding that commitment.
Developing a spiritual path
No matter how many breakthroughs in perception you achieve, you must keep the practise up, however you have developed it and under which teacher. It is so easy to slip backwards, to get drawn back into the material world which we still have to navigate daily. I have chosen Thich Nhat Hanh because he gave me the freedom to work with the energy of mindfulness to find ways that worked with my ADHD and PTSD. This year will be my third trip to Plum Village, the practise centre he set up when exiled into the west from Vietnam. I am going for three weeks, the longest I have been on retreat for in one go, and I shall enjoy every minute of it. I have longed to go for longer but been to afraid to leave my world behind for that long, in case it all fell apart. More of those slave chains! And I know I shall miss my beloved husband and children more than anything. But I will practice being connected to them all the time while I am there and also connected to everything else. I don’t know what else I shall do while there. That will evolve during the stay.
I have found great freedom in my commitment to a spiritual path and I know it is the way to live freely inside yourself, to be your own refuge, your own slave liberator, your own enabler. I have found great companionship on that path too, deep friendships and relationships that are sustaining and self supporting, that have no dependency or negative complications but are part of that place of liberation. I still have to live with my PTSD broken nervous system but I also work to strengthen it all the time. It is a great teacher in its own right, a humbler, a challenger, a measure of my journey. But I have found great peace within myself by embracing all that I have lived through and becoming my own refuge, with such a wonderful soul mate to support me too. Well that has been a gift worth everything.