Exploring Personal Freedom in the Season of New Beginnings

Each spring, Jewish people observe the holiday of Passover, a celebration of freedom connected to the ancient story of our ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. Our tradition tells us to imagine that we are being liberated each year during the Passover Seder. 

This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what freedom means to you personally. It is important to bring awareness to your freedom because, as Martin Seligman, and other top positive psychology researchers, have stated, free will and personal agency are essential to our experience of happiness, hope, and meaning.

Whether or not you are Jewish, spring—the season of new beginnings—is a perfect time to do some “internal spring cleaning.” I offer the following prompts, exercises, and practices as a way for you to mindfully take stock of your life at this moment—to explore the ways in which you feel constricted or held back, and to find new appreciation and purpose for the freedoms you possess. 

 

Step 1: Look at the narrow places

Journal Exercise The first step is identifying Describe the ways you feel restricted, held back or trapped. Start by asking yourself these questions. You might also consider journaling or talking about them with a trusted friend.

  • In what ways am I holding myself back from being my truest, brightest, most free self?
  • How can I be enslaved to my own thoughts, actions, and words?
  • What are the ways society holds me back or what are the expectations I have of myself?
  • Which areas of my daily life do I feel ignored or silenced in?

Once you have explored your narrow place(s), pause and take some time for self-compassion. It can be difficult but very powerful to acknowledge and name the ways that you feel limited or held back. I want to encourage you to practice self-compassion Particularly for the ways in which you might be limiting yourself. To grow and move forward, we must show kindness and love to all parts of ourselves, even those that are most difficult.

Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position, perhaps with your hands over your heart or wrapped around yourself. Take a few deep breaths and look inward. Imagine what you would say about the part of yourself that has become cynical and hardened, or that has been negatively influenced by outside pressures. This part of you has probably been trying to protect and keep you safe.

 

Step 2: Get Rid of Your Restraints

Once you have identified what is holding your back, let it go. This is your chance to do some inner spring cleaning. If you are Jewish/celebrating Passover, you can think about this as burning your “inner chametz.”

Take a look at your responses to Step 1 and consider what you can do to make the most of freedom and expansion. What can you let go of as you move forward into spring and new opportunities for beginnings?

Ritual Activity Write down what you would like to release on small pieces of paper. Make a fire in any way you like, and then burn the papers one at a time. Be present and observe how it feels for you to let these limitations go. 

 

Step 3: Move Toward Freedom

After the first two steps, I hope you have more space to move toward freedom and expansion. You can start by focusing on gratitude for the many freedoms in your life. Freedom can be defined in any way you find meaningful and tangible.

Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position and turn your attention inward. After a few moments, take a moment to focus on your breath. Then, start to identify and reflect on the ways you feel freedom in your life.

  • Your mind, body, spirit
  • Your education
  • Your religious/spiritual practice
  • Your love/marriage/partnership(s)
  • Your home
  • Your job/vocation
  • Your community
  • How you think, how you speak
  • How do you access information 
  • How you spend your time. 

 

What can you do? See if you can cultivate a sense of gratitude for all the ways in which you are free. Feel this feeling of gratitude throughout your body. You can take three to five more deep breaths before you open up your eyes.

Freedom is a complex concept that we overuse in the United States. Freedom can be achieved through courage and determination or simply luck. Freedom has been used to commit violence and harm. You can make freedom for one person or group by keeping another from being free. A certain amount of power comes with freedom. It is important that we ask ourselves these questions. What’s the point of my freedom? What will you do with it? Does my expression of freedom cause harm or lift others up?

Journal Exercise Create a “Freedom Intention.” What is your intention for your freedom this year? How can you tap into your courage, agency, and live more freely in your own life, your body, and your relationships? How can you use your freedom to make others more free? I encourage you to connect this intention to your personal values or beliefs and to find opportunities to share this intention with others in your life. 

I wish you all a beautiful spring. May your exploration of your personal freedom lead to many new beginnings.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Rabbi Shefa Gold and At the Well for providing inspiration for a few of the exploration prompts included in this post.

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