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On Privilege and True Liberation: Escaping a Culture of Fear


The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage.” ~ Unknown

This post is dedicated to all those out there who feel trapped, neglected, isolated, frustrated, angry,  anxious or in pain. To all of you who feel “lost” or betrayed, to those who think you have no power or control over your life and choices, to those who are afraid.

I was mistaken. I confused pain with suffering: I spoke of the privilege of those calling us to be free and make choices. I kept repeating: “there are many of us who don’t have the privilege of making choices, we are not free.” I thought the “system” had us: after all, we don’t “choose” to be born in a country torn apart by war, hunger or poverty. We don’t choose to be born disabled or carrying chronic diseases. We don’t choose being abused or neglected as children. We don’t choose the food, education and options we are given or the many indoctrination and systemic conditioning we receive from hundreds of years of inherited and passed-on “wetiko”, society, parents, schools, governments…

Suffering, however, is different from pain: pain is the first abuse, the conditions under which we are born or raised, the captivity. And it continues to be true that many of us are too small, too few, too weak or too unaware and oppressed to take control over this pain and turn it around. Many of us have no voices: animals, plants, insects, fungi, entire ecosystems, children, impoverished communities…

Suffering, however, is the response we give to pain: what we do with it, whether we accept and allow it to go through us, using its gift to liberate ourselves and others, or we allow it to hide and come back to haunt us and others forever…

But there is a way out, there is a “choice”: those of us with some level of privilege (and being awake and aware makes us privileged, same as being “able”, having access to skills, knowledge and  caring others; living in relatively wealthy and peaceful places, not having our basic needs threatened, etc.), have the responsibility to continue the work of liberation: of ourselves and of those “others”, as Buddhist say: “bodhisattva’s resolution to attain awakening in order to liberate all sentient beings is the realization of the fundamental equality of all things, and the understanding that to liberate oneself one must liberate other beings, and that to liberate other beings is none other than to liberate oneself.”

Making “your choices” only is like retiring to your own garden while the rest of the world is burning and it only shows self-centered privilege and more separateness: there is no point on attaining simplicity, becoming pure through veganism, meditation and non-participation in the consumerist way of life. Same as there is no point on burning yourself out through deep involving on many community projects and sharing of skills and wisdom if you don’t take care of your own awakening and liberation at the same time.

We live in a culture of fear: we fear what has not yet happened and even what may never happen. We fear what’s natural (such as some discomfort, some hunger, some pain, some losses, some rejection, change and death) because we are culturally conditioned to see those things as undesirable and unbearable when they are not.

I have experienced myself how fear is the main mechanism used by our society to force people to stay put, obey and accept things that are unacceptable.

Louise LeBrun, from the WEL-systems institute says: “As a species, we’ve become adept at managing our physiology so that we can tolerate the intolerable. By managing our physiology, we’re able to do work that depletes us, remain in marriages that hurt us, and allow ourselves to be denigrated verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically within our family systems.” (pg. 148 of Deb Ozarko’s book “Unplug”)

She calls this state a “deep intergenerational, thousand-of-years-old coma”.

The fear, as I noticed, has been used incrementally through the centuries but became exponential in the last few decades and years, disguised as “progress” and “comfort”: in a not so faraway past, our grand-grandmas and grand-grandpas used to grow and preserve most of their food, build their houses (which used to be built thinking on many generations ahead), people wouldn’t move unless they were forced by disasters, wars or famines and there was no air conditioner, central heating or any of the many luxuries we now enjoy and think are non-negotiable. People were more resilient by nature: they would walk or horse-ride long distances without a town, restaurant or clinic on sight…only 100 years ago there was no electricity in most of the world and not pipes, running or hot water and people “miraculously” survived!

70 years ago there were no TV, cable or Netflix; believe it or not, only 25 years ago there was…NO Internet! Cellphones only have a bit more than two decades and social media wasn’t around only 15 years ago…

I could continue forever, the way this society has us in its claws incredibly ridiculous…and intolerable!

One by one, in the name of progress and comfort or “development” and with a lot of fear underneath, we have been giving away our most basic rights and powers: the rights and powers that made us interdependent are now taken by “the powers that be” and makes us dependent of them instead: our right to move and live wherever we please; our right to build our shelters with our hands and the help of family, friends and community; our right to grow our food, preserve and share it with others; our right to make the stuff we need or exchange them with others; our right to be idle and enjoy just watching the clouds, a swimming in a river, watching bugs build their shelters, all that is gone.

We are now convinced that there is danger behind each interaction and process: we are coerced (by fear) to get a passport, adopt a nationality, suspect of those who look or do “different”; sign for credit cards and mortgages; buy insurance and all kind of “what if” stuff; earn money; take precautions when we drink water, eat food, exchange anything, give trust to someone…

We are so detached from nature, the sacred and each other than we live with incredible pain. This pain is very real (first arrow) and manifests in anxiety, frustration, anger, depression and addictions: we become then easy target for those who know how to manipulate these emotions and provide either ways to get us trapped (into debt, a job we no longer enjoy, a relationship we don’t deserve) or entertained (through endless social media, TV, games, vacations, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.) so we don’t complain and don’t see where we are.

I was one of those millions, trapped in that cycle of pain and suffering: but like the character Neo in The Matrix, I always knew there was something wrong with this picture.

Now I’m in a situation where I know what has happened to me and I know where the door is. I still need to find a way of “how”: I have debt (mortgage and credit card debt), I want to explore and get more from relationships with others, I have a burden of not using the precious time I have been given on the things I value most, and I have to “fight the system” and force myself into burnout each time I have to find the strength to do all the things I think are important such as being with “my tribe”; doing real community work and inner/spiritual work; exploring, embracing and sharing self-sufficiency and so on…

Today, however difficult, painful and uncomfortable it may be, I adopt the Four Bodhisattva vows:

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“However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all
However inexhaustible my delusions are, I vow to overcome them all
However immeasurable the Dharma Teachings are, I vow to fathom them all
The Buddha’s Path is endless, I vow to follow it to its very end”

“Living beings are infinite, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to cut through them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.”

I invite you to face fear and pain and see them for what they truly are. Then embrace the freedom you were born in and extend this freedom and joy to all around you.

What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire
.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

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Resources and references:

Unplug by Deb Ozarko: http://www.debozarko.com/