Monday, January 7, 2008

Personal Freedom

Portrait of Harriet Tubman, fabrics, 1987

Harriet Tubman successfully led 14 groups out of slavery along the Underground Railway, using tremendous gifts of ingenuity, courage, and faith. Thomas Garrett once said of her: "I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul." She allowed no turning back. When someone in her group faltered in fear of continuing beyond their previously-known world and wanted to return to the plantation, Harriet threatened to shoot him, making tangible his immediate choice between taking the next step towards liberty, and death.

In the probably less dramatic circumstances of your current life, what next step towards liberty does your journey entail? Is the alternative a kind of death, a stultifying obedience to fear-based falsehoods?

Set aside the tendency to belittle your own challenges and gifts in comparison with those of a hero, and the hero can become a mirror, a way to recognize your own inspiration and fortitude, even or especially if the hum-drum of the familiar hypnotizes you into
blunting the knife-edge of choice.

Where is there simply no turning back for you, despite your fear? What is the voice of God, in whatever form, speaking directly to your soul? Maybe it's nothing to go down in history books. Maybe it's a stretch that is actually the one you can manage right now. (
Byron Katie talks of how The Voice would tell her to brush her teeth, when depression had her unable to get out of bed). Maybe it's something simple, like keeping your seat.

Portrait of Rosa Parks, fabrics, 29x40" 1993 (available)

When Rosa Parks chose not to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery in 1955, her firm, quiet refusal became a major spark of the U.S. civil rights movement. She said, "I just wanted to be treated as a human being." Her warm expression reminds me of the kindness of saying no to injustice. It is loving to take your place, your space, your power. It is loving to yourself, and to others you inspire, and especially loving towards those whose fear leads them to treat others as less than equal human beings (and this would be most all of us, sometimes).

We're cut from the same cloth as Rosa. We all just want to be treated humanely. Sometimes the biggest challenge can be to treat ourselves that way. Gently question a repressive policy that's been governing your inner world--"I can't" or "I have to"--is it true? You might discover the courage to spend just a bit more time on what you truly love and a bit less on what you thought you should do to win someone’s approval or escape their anger. That person is your equal. If you pretend they are better than you (and you must obey them, enslaving yourself) or less than you (send them to the back of the bus!)--that lie of inequality can only tie you up until you question it and return home. Home to your fierce, courageous, creative kindness, confidently willing to be guided by the truth that sets you free.

Portrait of Harriet Tubman at aprox 100 years old (fabrics) 1990