Episode 36: What Is Freedom Anyway?
In honor of the United States presidential election, we salute the notion of freedom. We ask, just what is freedom anyway? Is freedom defined by your circumstances? Or does it come from inside? We hear the story of Sasha who discovered a new paradigm for freedom in South Africa when she met a woman, poor and infected with HIV, who nonetheless had a great zest and appreciation for life. We’ll also hear from Will, who in the name of freedom performed a ritual letting go of stories that until that point had defined who he was.
J : I don't follow politics much anymore, but it's hard to ignore them these days. The US presidential election is next week, so I thought we would devote this podcast to freedom - because those of us who grew up in the states, grew up with the notion that we live in the land of the free. That's what our national anthem says anyway. But is freedom really something determined by laws? Or is it generated from inside? From One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco we bring you A Taste of Sex reality audio. A podcast featuring stories and perspectives from people engaged in the conscious exploration of connection, sensuality and relationship. This weeks episode: Freedom. Part I: Just what does freedom mean anyway? Part II: Freedom in a Foreign Land. Part III: Letting Go. I'm J , stay tuned.
J : So I'm going to admit something here. I have a bias. My inclination is to argue that freedom comes from the inside, not from outside. But the honest truth is I don't really know. I don't know whether I could find freedom under a harsh political regime, or in sub-humane living conditions, or if I had experienced a terrible loss. I do know that even without those conditions - at least for me - finding freedom is hard work. The pursuit of it has meant going into all of the uncomfortable places inside of myself and turning rot into gold. We talk about freedom a lot at One Taste - unconditional freedom - so what does that mean exactly? We'll start there.
J : What does freedom mean to you?
Speaker 1(Female): Well, My most recent experience with freedom was that, I have this partner and he has the desire to make out with other women sometimes. And it totally bothers me, and it bothers me like beyond the level of just what it is on the surface. And then I was like wow! Like, what if I could get to a place where it didn't bother me so much, or at least it just is what it is instead of having so many meanings on so many levels - so I was like totally freaking out about it ... and then I just said to myself like there is no way I'm going to get through this unless I'm just shooting for unconditional freedom. So I just kept on repeating it like a mantra, and it was just like "I'm just going for unconditional freedom, unconditional freedom". So now whenever I get upset I can just repeat that to myself and remind myself that, you know, just being in an uncomfortable situation and getting through it, is actually leading me to being able to be in any situation and get through it and not have myself be totally taken down by it. So I guess that's my idea of not being free - like being, having my inside state really dictated by my outside circumstances. So my idea of unconditional freedom is that no matter what's happening I'll just be able to go on the ride and come out the other side.
J : What does freedom mean to you?
Speaker 2(male): Uhm, I don't believe freedom actually exists. I believe it's an illusion.
J : Oh really?
Speaker 2: Yeah. It's uhm, I actually think we're all pretty powerless and our lives are pretty unmanageable - and any notion of freedom is our, just our self will trying to act upon this chaotic world, universe, that is acting upon us at all moments ... so to think that we have any sense of control, uhm, or, ergo "freedom" to react with this world is an illusion. The only freedom we actually truly have is to totally let go of conditions, totally let go of our ideas of what the world is and should be.
J : So, That's pretty idealistic.
Speaker 2: That, Yeah, its, you know - that would be perfect, that would be living in perfection, but uhm ...
J : Living in perfection would be what?
Speaker 2: Would be being able to totally let go. But, and that's the only true freedom, is being able to totally let go of anything and everything, anything and everything you want, think things should be - ideas of the way the world should act towards you and towards ... even, even letting go of the fact that you even have control over yourself and your bodily functions in any way and your mind ...
J : Where is an area of your life that you're looking to let go of that sort of control?
Speaker 2: I think, I'm trying to let go of my ideas of how I think my life should look like in terms of like, standards, in terms of comparison to the culture I live in. You know? A house, 2 cars, wife, kids - you know, that picture keeps me imprisoned because I'm constantly trying to keep up with the Jonses so to speak. And, so whenever I'm not there I feel totally, you know I feel imprisoned - I think that’s the word - and I feel trapped. So if I was able to let go of that idea, if I was able to let go and just let, let be whatever is and not, not compare myself to anything or anybody then I would have freedom. But that’s a really hard thing to do.
J : What does freedom mean to you?
Speaker 3(Female): Freedom ... its just another word for nothing left to lose.
J : So what are you willing to give up?
Speaker 3: Uh ... it's not like I'm willing, its not easy. But you have to give up the dream of what you thought that you wanted, because that dream limits you really and ... when freedom is so much bigger than just this one idea of what you think you want - what you, who you think you are.
J : So when you say that you have to give up the dream in order to have this freedom - what's the dream that you have to give up?
Speaker 3: Okay, well say you have this idea like you wanna, you have this dream that you wanna like have babies and go live on a farm somewhere and grow vegetables - its a beautiful dream right? It makes a lot of sense and it like lines up with all your values and morals and ... so that’s a really personal example that I've gone through, like oh I had this dream that I wanted to be this farmer or whatever, with this boy ... and uhm, its really sad to give up that dream because I love him, and I love the idea of being, living a sustainable life but, its like right now in the moment, like, that’s not what, that's not my freedom - like that’s not what's really happening to me, that’s not what’s really truthful in this moment. And if I keep following my moment I don't know where I'm going to end up, I don't know what it's going to look like.
J : And is that freedom? To keep following the moment?
Speaker 3: Yeah, well there is freedom in every moment to make a choice. Like, every ... that’s what freedom is, you know, its nothing more than like, in this moment, here you are, what are you going to do? Like, How does it feel to be alive? What’s real? and that's all that freedom is.
J : Thank you.
Speaker 3: Mhm.
J : This last interview was with Lula who is a very beautiful, very charming, young performance artist/filmmaker. So when she turned the microphone around I couldn't exactly refuse.
Lula: When have you ever felt your freedom blocked?
J : Oh all the time. Like it will happen if I'm walking past someone and there is a certain argument that I have with them. They may or may not know about the argument but it's happening in my head, theres ... a judgement that I have about how they are doing things, or ... I just don't like them for some reason. And then so, what happens is I'll see them and then the argument will start in my head, and then I'll feel awful about myself because I have the argument, and then I'll hate them because they're there kind of manifesting this argument in my head.
Lula: Uh huh.
J : And then yeah, that’s when I don't feel free. So every little one of those, which happens I don't know how many times a day. Those are places where I don't feel free.
Lula: Do you think that somebody can take away your freedom without you allowing them to, or agreeing to it?
J : You know I think about that, because I think about all the oppression in the world. I mean we live in a place where, we live in a pretty free society. We have so many privileges here, and yet there are so many people who don't feel free. And so, here in the United States it feels like we should be able to be free. You know, we live in the land of the free and, we're not, we don't have that same level of oppression that people have in places like Africa or Asia or ... we basically have our civil liberties, even though they could be better we, we have them. So I think about well what if I lived in Africa and I were poor and I were starving could I have my freedom there? And ... the honest answer is I don't quite know the answer. I think it's true, I think there's always a place where we're looking for who's the oppressor in our life. And that freedom actually comes from within. And then I think that there are circumstances that make it easier or harder to recognize that.
Lula: Do you feel like, that people in America are, do you look around and do you see a lot of free people?
J : No ... no not at all. I mean I think - I think our natural inclination is to always find the oppressor. So the oppressor is the government, or the oppressor is our boss, or the company that we work for, or our boyfriend who can't give us what we want, or ... whomever, a teacher, friend, whomever. And we're always looking for that place where we're being oppressed, I think thats the natural inclination. And then the flip side of that is ... is our freedom. So I think that in the United States we're, we do that a lot. We look for who's the oppressor and it's very easy to point fingers because there always is an oppressor. But I think that more of what needs to happen is that we
take, actually take responsibility within ourselves. And things will probably actually change, probably the oppressor will go away.
Lula: The internalized oppressor.
J : Yeah
J : About a week after this interview I was sitting in the back of the room recording sound for One Taste orgasmic Life course. In the workshop was a woman named Sasha. She spoke of how living in South Africa had changed her ideas about freedom. She spoke to the exact subject I had talked about with Lula. Is it possible to find freedom under oppression? At lunch that day I asked Sasha if she would let me interview her for this podcast - she agreed. This is her story.
Sahsa: I was an undergrad at the University of Oregon studying human physiology - and in hopes of some day going to med school or nursing school I wanted to get some clinical experience and have time in somewhere other than the United States looking at health care. Uh, so I went to Durban, South Africa and studied in Hospitals and clinics for 10 weeks.
Sasha: The thing that sticks out in my mind is that I was picked up at the airport in a mini-bus - a sort of little converted sliding door van. It had 8 seatbelts and travelled around the streets and freeways of South Africa. Sometimes 20 to 25 people stuffed inside, it's pretty wild. What I noticed first off was the contrast between poverty and wealth that you could see driving down the freeway, uhm, from the airport to my host family's house. There were thousands of shacks right on the side of the freeway, that is home to most of the people living far below the poverty line. And just up the hill you can see, uhm, the biggest mall in South Africa.
Sasha: The first day I spent in the clinic I saw several hundred cases of TB and spent staff meetings with uhm, doctors, discussing what they were naming in 2006 as the beginning of drug resistant and multi drug resistant TB - They call it MDRTB. And of course a lot of HIV and AIDS everywhere in the country, in Durban. During the beginning of each rotation at each hospital or clinic we get to choose what, what department we wanted to work with - and I spent a lot of time in, doing OBGYN care, and learning about prenatal education and how they attempted to help educate HIV positive women about not transmitting the virus to their babies.
Sasha: When we were in the clinic there were often queues of hundreds to thousands of people waiting all day - sometimes sleeping overnight because they had walked over 15 miles to get there.
Sasha: I actually had the opportunity to help some of the queues move along because the nurses and midwives and doctors that were working with me would teach me how to do things and then let me do them. I felt like I wanted to split myself into pieces and, and do more and help more people.
Sasha: We were instructed to wear scrubs and white lab coats and stethoscopes and so ... feeling like a very rich white American, uh, we walk through the, the hallways in our lab coats - I felt like the peoples who made eye contact were thinking that I was a doctor and that I was going to help them and I was going to fix them and ... There aren't enough doctors in South Africa right now, certainly not in 2006. And, uhm, I know that the rate of pay for Doctors there has not increased, and that is part of the issue is that they can't ... uhm, serve the population. I heard stories while I was there, that uh, some of which I don't think I could ever repeat because uhm ... they were so tragedy on a level that I
didn't understand existed until I went there and I saw it with my own eyes.
J : Can you give us an example?
Sasha: There was a baby in one of the clinics named Assissi who was 3, he was completely malnourished and had drug resistant TB and brain cancer. And the doctors, sort of a miracle baby, the doctors thought that he wasn't going to live past the age of 18 months and he had, we got to see ... uh, CT scans there were holes in his brain larger than the size of quarters, and he was alive and just pulling through, uhm ... his parents, uh, both died of HIV - he was alone.
Sasha: I experienced oppression before I went to South Africa. Yeah, it certainly, uhm, marinated within me while I was there. I think I felt like I had a responsibility as a citizen of the world to help change, and my lack of, my lack of ability as one person made me completely overwhelmed and ... my own strong emotion that already existed inside me I think surged. Seeing, seeing the pain and feeling like I couldn't do anything for the people there. At the same time, nobody could do anything for me either.
Sasha: We were encouraged that our best method of learning would be to ask questions. Ask the doctors questions, ask the patients questions, ask our host families questions and just absorb information like a sponge. Uh, Nequetha Miningie, I wrote her name in my address book because the sentence that she said to me has stuck with me every since. I had the opportunity to speak with her alone, for an hour and a half. And, uh ... the nurse that I was working with in that clinic told me a brief summary of her life. She helped deliver this woman's son 5 years earlier. At the time of the birth they didn't know whether or not she would be able to live to see her son walk, due to her HIV. And she started receiving anti-retroviral drugs and, and her body turned around a little bit, and her son had uh, in 2006 he was 5 years old. So she told me "I'm living a very positive life." That was her, her sentence has stuck with me, and in the moment I was not sure if she was talking about her HIV status or talking about positive as in "Things were good and things were whole for her." But as she went on I came to understand that even in the face of everything she was struggling with: poverty, and her status, and disease and losing friends and family that her life was good - and she felt like she was happy and grateful and it just struck me that somebody who could be faced with so much was so free. I think what, what struck me was that her gratitude set her free. That she was so grateful for everything she did have that she didn't spend time focusing on all the aspects of loss in her life.
J : Was that hard to understand?
Sasha: Yeah I'm still trying to understand it.
J : How did you reconcile it in your mind?
Sasha: I think I asked the nurse afterwards if it was fair that I had this incredibly strong negative emotions inside me and I had never had the kind of tragedy that this woman had had. And I believe I was sitting in the office crying to her that I didn't deserve to feel as low as I felt when the people that I saw in Durban had the hardships that matched up with the severity of emotion that I had inside me.
J : You've been listening to a Taste of Sex reality audio, we'll be back after this short break.
J : Welcome back to A Taste of Sex, I'm J .
J : After meeting this woman and spending this time with her did it change how you saw the rest of the country?
Sasha: Yeah I think it made me understand that when people are in the face of great adversity they find the tools they need to survive and push forward. That sometimes when we're not tested that way it doesn't come as easily.
J : But it's not only survive its almost thrive internally at least.
Sasha: Thrive is the right word. I think that it goes far beyond survival and into thriving and gratitude and their freedom is in the individual moments that are so beautiful.
J : So how did, how did that experience affect you?
Sasha: I'd like to say that it made me feel lighter about the comparatively minor hardships in my life. You know, at the time I was asking "why why why, why can she process something so much harder and I can't process something so much simpler?" I guess her being able to look at the tiny good things and finding a way to make her whole life good based on her son and based on the little pieces that were so rich and whole for her, it was beautiful to watch and...
J : Did it give you a model for how you might live your life?
Sasha: I think the right answer is 'yes' but I don't, I don't think I'm there yet. Perhaps I'm more accepting of my struggle, and that is what I got out of it. The acceptance, not that I don't have to struggle, but that I can have my own struggle and that's ok. I think when I was working in the clinics I kept thinking to myself we sort of have this idea that because we're almost 20 years outside of apartheid that South Africa is free, and its fixed. I kept thinking as I was going through the clinics that these people are not free, this isn't freedom sitting in a clinic all day for free health care - doesn't make you a free person. But I think that my understanding now is that if we choose to be free
we are. She said "I'm living a positive life, I'm so grateful for my son, my son - he's, he's ... he keeps me going." I think it's kind of a reminder on a daily basis that, that I can choose to see the positive pieces when I want to see them - and when they're not there its because I'm not looking at them. And it takes a lot of, courage, for me to say that out loud.
J : Do you feel like in some small way you were able to either start, or further, your forgiveness of yourself for what you're actually going through. That in itself was a step toward freedom for you?
Sasha: Yeah I think, I'm, certainly, I experience immense gratitude on a daily basis, that, that is a source of freedom for me, and, I've, forgiveness is work - but I think its definitely the work that helps me set myself free.
J : Sasha struggled a lot during this interview. Toward the end especially her voice slowed and I could tell she was self editing.
Sasha: I can't, I don't know what’s going on, I can't, I, I can't do it. I'm sorry.
J : That’s ok, you don't have to rush things.
Sasha: Except the, whole point, I can't do this ... I ...
J : We talked about what was happening, and she said the critics voice inside her head had become very intense. She said she worried that she couldn't do justice to the topic, especially the question of how, and why, this woman had affected her so deeply, and how that related to the depression she had suffered from her whole life. We finished the interview, but after, knowing that she still didn't feel complete I asked Sasha if she wanted to write something to explain how she felt. This is what she wrote: "Sometimes we have to be very hard hit with an internal or external struggle before we can grow enough to learn to seek our freedom from that struggle. It is in the face of the struggle that I am able to set myself free from the burden of my own emotion. I realize looking back that no single person is more or less deserving of their feelings than another. I think before my trip I felt that my inability to move through depression was selfish and a sign of weakness. I now believe the source of the struggle is not what keeps us from liberating ourselves. Internal or external, we don't always have the power to liberate ourselves from what is difficult. We do have the power to free ourselves from thinking that we are undeserving of our pain. Pain is part of knowing that I am alive and is more valuable to me as a part of my opening than as a part of what keeps me bound."
J : Will has always had his stories. The ones he liked to tell women about who he was and where he had been. A few weeks ago during a 5 day intensive workshop held at One Taste he decided it was time to let go of the stories. In the name of freedom, this is Will.
Will: So I've been asked to come here and talk about a little rite that I created for myself that was supposed to express where I was at in terms of my relationship with freedom, and my path to freedom. We were supposed to do this originally as groups and my group chose something that didn't really resonate with me, so I decided to do my own thing and came up with a specific rite.
Will: My rite was to do show and tell. And the show and tell would comprise of objects that I've surrounded myself with - that I keep with me and end it with a bang, so to speak.
Will: So, the objects that I have, they all have stories attached to them. The way that I relate to these stories is I used to use them as a way of expressing to people who I am. So I would tell them these stories they would get a sense of what I was about, or, my depth or whatever it was. And I used to rely on the these stories to express my value, so I'll give you some of the stories I have for some of these objects that were meaningful for me growing up. The first objects is the R Crumb handbook - Robert Crumb is a notorious, world renowned, underground comic book artist. What he is well known for is creating these very oversexed, very psychodelic comic books. What he's especially known for is being able to express his, his really deep shadowy sides of himself that most normal people would never delve into - but he was able to express in his art.
Will: I started reading Robert Crumb probably when I was 10. And I've always joked that he informed my sexuality. He used to have this character called White Man who is a business guy in a suit, and he got lost in the woods. And he was going to die of hypothermia, so he had to find a place to keep warm, and he came upon a giant sasquatch woman laying down and sleeping ... and he decided that he would nestle himself into the crack of her ass because it was furry and warm. And to his horror White Man realized he was getting aroused and was besides himself with horror and turn-on. And I thought this was perfect description of my relationship with sex, of this really ... like, things that were turning me on, things I was reading that was turning me on, but also this amazing desire and horror at the same time. Anyway, so this whole thing around being authentic has always been a theme with me, searching for the authentic - and R Crumb, really, some ways was a teacher for me, his willingness to show whatever was coming up inside and be able to express that. He was one of my first teachers, I'd say, in that way.
Will: one of the characters I keep by me is a squeezy toy - of Mr. Natural - which is one of his characters. And the thing about Mr. Natural is that, as he's written in the comic book he despise anyone who follows Gurus or disciples. He's always, he has this guy that he knows who basically shaved his head and is a follower of some Guru, and he's always making these snide remarks at him. So I've always had the Mr. Natural squeezy toy to remind me, "Be careful of putting my teachers on pedestals." And sort of turning them into some sort of idealization, uh for me, and always remembering that they are people - and uh, that I don't require perfection from my teachers. Another figure that I keep by me that I've had since high school is a suffering Buddha. I used to suffer quite a bit, this was to me like - "Oh, so all this suffering is sort of like a spiritual path." This is the first thought I had when I saw this suffering Buddha that perhaps through my suffering that I was maybe find a path through this to purpose or whatever. That somehow this was moving me into a direction, that I was using my suffering - propel me into whatever gateways or doorways I need to go through, so I have my suffering Buddha.
Will: Lets see, in my early 20's I actually had an amazing job in my early 20's - I was in video production. And I was very fortunate to get a job doing video production on point-of-sale fashion shoots for all the top names in New York: Bill Blass, and Calvin Klein. I did a course around the same time that someone had turned me on to, and it very much resonated for me, but it also opened up all sorts of experiences in my body. Everything that I had suppressed, every feeling, every longing suddenly flooded my being. Its like all my nerves were on fire. And every time I would withhold myself with someone, or long for connection, it would fill my, that agony would fill my entire being. I could almost feel like the synapses in my brain starting to reconfigure themselves into almost a new, uh, awareness of what was going on in my body - just uh, what was potentially available to me in relationship and with people. There was a program that the people who produced this course had of going on staff there and basically dedicating your life to doing this type of work. Primarily it was around letting go and seeing that you could actually let go in the moment and be connected. I was reading a book "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass - It was actually page 45 in Be Here Now, and it was talking about parenting and children - and I'll paraphrase here: "What are you doing, doing more of the damph to the dance" They're talking about just life, teaching children. "If you don't help other beings cut through the illusion, because you're through the illusion - what else is there, what else is there." And when I read that, I said "Yeah, I have nothing better to do with my life but to support people in waking up." And at that point, I decided to, uhm, go to this organization and say that I wanted to be a staff person. That’s what I did, I quit my job and, became, it took me a year to become a full time staff person - but I was willing to do whatever it took. Which was basically volunteer quite a bit of my time. That lasted for 4 years, through my early 20's. And then I entered the other world - the career world - and I was terrified. But I felt at the time, this was around 2000, I was feeling kind of stuck - and my Grandmother who I was raised by had uh, passed away. Just prior to that my Mother had introduced me to Amago relationship theory. I was really into uh, understanding, uh, the truth - or what the dynamics really were. Amago theory was great. It was like 'whoah' this is really what I want relationships to be about. The theory of Amago theory is that we were born whole and complete and that we became wounded during early nurturing by our primary caretakers - usually inadvertently - and that we have a composite image of all the positive/negative traits of those caretakers in our unconscious mind. Sort of like a blueprint of someone that we will become strongly attracted to and who we will no doubt marry some day. And who matches that composite image. And inevitably that person is going to be incompatible with us, and least able to meet our needs, and most able to wound us all over again.
Will: Its just so delightful that idea. The whole goal of Amago relationship therapy is to align this conscious mind with the unconscious and be able to work with this person because this is really the most, where the greatest healing can occur - you can bring all this unconsciousness into consciousness and be able to create a workable relationship, be able to be seen heard and loved actually. So this drove me for a while, I met a woman in 2000 who activated me in ways that I had sensations in my body that wouldn't leave - aching sensations - and it was just, amazing. It always seemed to me it was like that primary experience of disconnection that I must have had as a child that I suddenly rediscovered in my body and it would not leave me. That experience lead me to into seeing an Amago therapist for 7 years which eventually led me to One Taste - where I live as a resident currently. And it was at One Taste where everything that I had read and learned I was starting to be able to experience and to try out this idea of being authentic and exploring sensuality. As, certainly as a place where I had great suppression and provided a crucible for me to really put into action, into experience what I wanted to search for. Now one of the things that I used to do as I said earlier with these stories, is I used to tell them - especially with women who I really wanted to connect with and wanted to date - these various stories so they could see these aspects of me. As I've progressed in my time and I've experienced my value in different ways these stories have become less and less important to me. And so, part of my ceremony is to place all these objects that I had and put them into a bowl and set them alight - afire. Because I'm, as I go along my road I realize the stories are just stories - and that what's so amazing is that when I allow myself to really be myself that I can trust in a way that I'm embraced for who I am - not for my stories. That my value is inherent in me, and how risky that feels when I give up those stories, and how amazed I am when I'm loved and appreciated for who I am, and not for the stories that I think I was once defined me. Anyway, that’s my story of my ceremony that I developed and that was it, so thanks.
J : I've developed a habit of late. Before I'm about to reveal something particularly vulnerable to my friends I say "I'm about to be vulnerable." Its a defensive move, I know that they're more likely to respect what I'm saying and also to be nice. It works pretty well, they soften and so do I. And so I'm saying this to you dear listeners, "I'm about to be vulnerable." After 3 1/2 years of living at One Taste and 1 1/2 years of producing these podcast I am taking a sabbatical. Venturing off into the unknown so that I can digest and integrate all of the rich experience I have had here. One of the hardest parts in addition to saying goodbye to the friends I love is saying goodbye to the work I
love - for I do love this work. It's truly been a privilege to have access to all of these beautiful life stories and to tell them so that other people could hear and learn from them. In giving up my work I'm also facing fear, the first fear is that someone will take over my work and do a poor job, thereby desecrating something that means so much to me. The second is that someone will take it over and do a better - or at least as good job - as me, and more easily with less thanks. It's like I'm afraid of being dispensable and what it will mean about me if other people can do what I couldn't - either because of time or capabilities. I wrote this to a friend today: "It is horrible giving things up, horrible - and yet I know it's necessary to let go where I want to cling. It's ironic because this last podcast is about freedom and this is part of my freedom ... I know that. And yet there is this feeling of terror - a fear that maybe I'll never have it this good again. So giving up this podcast as well as all of my other duties at One Taste is part of my path to freedom. Freedom I believe is a willingness to face your fears - to let go and to freefall into the unknown."
Thank you for listening to "A Taste of Sex" Reality Audio. You can find transcripts of this show at Personallifemedia.com. To learn more about One Taste and our lecturers, workshops, and other events - go to OneTaste.us. I'm J , thanks for listening.