Paths to Freedom: The Half-Won Blessing, 4


The chains that bind us might be anger and blame.

A few years back, I had friend, call her Gloria -- an activist. Gloria worked for good, for policy changes that would increase fairness and reduce suffering. Gloria had anger that took her straight to blaming and condemnation.

"Those people in that other party are evil, corrupt, willfully blind," she said. "Some of that party’s supporters are simply dupes – who are duped by the evil and corrupt others."

Her anger and judgmentalism were her bondage. It was hard for her to give that up, to be free of those chains, because she saw them as integral to helping the people she wanted to help.

So there’s that question: how would your liberation affect those you care about? Sometimes we stay in the chains because we think we need them to be of service.

Gloria was venting with me one day, and I remembered: it is often the case that anger outward is a projection of anger inward, that negative self-judgments manifest as negative other-judgments. As the saying goes: When I point the finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at me.

Gloria said, "Those people have no respect for other people."

So I asked, "Have there been times when you didn’t respect others as much as you wish you had?" Yes, there had indeed been times. Personal stories of regret and shame began pouring out. We’d made the shift from other-blame to self-blame.

The path ahead, to self-forgiveness and self-compassion and thence to compassionate understanding of others, including one’s political opponents, would not be easy. That liberating path would make Gloria a more effective activist – and certainly one who enjoys life more.

She assumed she needed her chains of anger and judgment to serve the causes she cares about. The truth is that freeing ourselves allows us to more lovingly and more effectively care about others.


A couple years ago I got a call from a director of a rehab facility for people in recovery from substance abuse. She asked me about the labyrinth on the grounds of the congregation I was then serving. Would it be all right to bring over a group to walk our labyrinth? Would I be available to talk about it with them and guide the experience? I said yes and a week or so later, they came.

There were fifty of them: men and women, rebuilding their lives, wrestling with demons that I can only imagine. Somehow, summoning courage that they wouldn’t have known they had, they made a break with their past lives, a sudden and dramatic exit from the comforts of slavery and addiction. They now faced the slow part – the rest of their lives, really – the wilderness to traverse, a new life of freedom to build.

We gathered by the labyrinth. I stood on a bench to speak to them.

The labyrinth is not a maze, it has only one path. Its lesson is let go of your need to control, trust the path, keep going. One foot in front of the other.

You must go into your center – wind your way in. You must find what is there.

And: you cannot stay there. You must return out to the world, bring the true self you have found back to the encounter. As Yeshua says in the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
This was a group that knew a lot about what will destroy them.

Next: The Labyrinth's lessons.

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This is part 4 of 5 of "The Half-Won Blessing"
Next: Part 5: Labyrinthine Lessons
Previous: Part 3: Goldilocks Responsibility
Beginning: Part 1: Bring Out the Festal Bread

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