_DSF2140I step into the bow of the canoe, tuck my feet beneath the cane of the seat, settle myself into her lap. Feeling her tip and lurch, I steady my heart with my paddle, as my partner behind me stumbles aboard.  Though his embarking may not be exactly graceful, the feeling of his joining me in the boat is one of pure grace. I simply love having him with me. Here. In this moment.

This feeling of tandem belonging doesn’t occur often. We are more often at odds and I know that even his agreeing to come is an act of love. I have longed for his passion to meet mine for this wilderness, but it doesn’t. He has his own passions, much different than mine. But when we are here at last, just the two of us, undivided by all that pulls us apart in our day to day, an intimacy returns to our relationship that is healing.  It doesn’t happen always, and there were heavy years when even this place did not heal the pain of our alienation, but when it does the veil lifts.

Back in the canoe this morning, we ease from the shoreline with a push or a scootch, and in that moment when the boat is afloat, I feel it, the leaving of heaviness behind on that shore, the dislodging of all that feels hard. That moment when the canoe is buoyant, an automatic visceral shift occurs in my body, almost like the letting down of milk from my breasts when I nursed my babies, except that it is me who is receiving this nurture from the body of my mother, Earth. The whole of my being sighs.

Release. Peace. Nurture. Belonging. Is this what freedom feels like?

It is interesting to me that I am not alone in this moment of feeling so utterly Free. More so, I am deeply connected. To my partner, to my environment, to my self. I am not floating off in some ethereal disconnected and isolated escape. Rather, I am fully wholeheartedly here, no part of myself somewhere else in heart or mind. Focused perhaps.

What does wholehearted focus have to do with freedom? Perhaps it is the absence of all of  voices that tell me Who I should be, What I ought to be doing. Voices that tear at my heart  and weigh heavy upon my spirit. This is a freedom from conflict, from conflicted emotions within and without, freedom from the war that rages and wages inside of me. This is a freedom that lets the whole of me be in one place without guilt or shame.

I realize that much of my shame is self-inflicted (see my previous post for proof of that) but certainly not all of it. Much of it is learned from experience. Conditioned responses to external, painful stimuli, to rejection and judgment, to predator and attack. Even the wise ones of our human lineage understood this. The Buddha, for instance, tells us that to be human is to face praise and blame, is to be vulnerable to both the warmth of welcome and pain of rejection, is to succeed and to fail, is to experience deep joy and deep sorrow. Rumi suggests that this being human is a guest house, where we receive daily the unexpected visitors, “a crowd of sorrows- this dark thought, that malice, this shame’.  It seems we cannot control that. We can only return to love, tend to our hearts, bathe the wounds in Compassion, practice humble, softening acceptance of ourselves.

Trite (or profound) as it sounds, only Love will set us free.

The freedom I experience in the wilderness with my partner reveals that too, for, though I have come here on solo excursions, there remains a feeling of hyper vigilance for me there that feels less than freeing. But being with one who simply loves me, the need to be hyper vigilant about myself leaves, and I can move with pure grace. Sometimes I can even dance as if no one is watching – when the earth moves me with sheer delight, such as at the sight of moose materializing from the edge of a darkened wood, or the exquisite pageantry that is the evening ritual of passing the torch from the sun to the moon, or the sudden slap of a beaver’s tail breaking the muted mists of morning, or the carpet of trout lily and trillium that cause my footfall to become almost as delicate as they, or the spectacle of stars that alights my spirit with wonder.

Sometimes I can even walk about naked. Where else can I be naked like that? Is this then the essence of freedom? This not needing to protect for fear of judgment. Where I am simply alive, no measurements of perfection, no striving to be seen as good enough, no fear of failure. I have noticed that even the addition of two or four others can begin to diminish that sense of freedom, as the need to perform can slip into the place of simply Being myself, and the need to cover my ardor is felt . Then I must wander off someplace alone to be naked, to be filled with unabashed delight, to drink in the milk of sweet nurture, to be free.

Nature alone does not judge and there is a certain freedom in that. But I sense that true freedom is not ‘freedom from’ (how often those two words seem to come to us holding hands) but ‘freedom with’. I believe there is an aspect of our humanity that, paradoxical as it seems, needs belonging in order to be truly free. By this I mean true belonging, deep security, where who we are is celebrated and loved, so that we can come out to be seen– to sing, to dance, to fly, to be. Both to be vital and to breathe with ease. So that we can receive -and give -nurture. This is the essence of true freedom – knowing oneself as Beloved sets us free.

That doesn’t always happen in relationship, this ‘freedom with’.  Even in good ones there is ebb and flow. What once delighted fades into mundanity or worse. Often we must practice hard, and often we fail. That is when this ‘freedom with’ becomes learning to be free interiorly while ‘with’ those who cannot see our goodness, for whatever reason. We cannot simply escape and be free. This, perhaps is the great work of our lives, this learning to be free in the midst of our imprisonments, in the midst of our wars- internal and external, in the midst of our pain and our sorrow and our failures. This learning to be ‘free with’ the whole catastrophe of life, a freedom that remembers what it is to be Loved and lives from that place.

Here in the canoe, in this perhaps fleeting moment of pure grace, supported by the Earth, buoyed by her nourishing waters, surrounded by beauty, there is a tandem freedom in our shared humanity. Tandem freedom. I like that. It infers a balanced mutuality that allows each to be held and beheld as we set off across this wide water. It is buoyed by trust, a trust born from Deep Familiarity- where we are known, where we are allowed, where we are accommodated, where we are needed, where we are seen.  And as we lift our paddles, so do we lift our hearts, to dance across the water ‘with’ freedom and grace.


“Freedom offers a chance to live fully every day, true to our own spirit and gifts. Don’t be afraid of praise or blame. And whether it is outer freedom, inner freedom, or both — they do come together — know that you can choose to be joyful” Jack Kornfield



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