The following is from a manuscript I’m currently working on. It is meant to be a gift that is shared freely. I still consider it a work in progress, but I think it’s time to “put it out there.” I hope you enjoy!
Freedom. What is it? How do we get more of it when we live in a fast-paced world where so many demands are made on our time? What are the internal and external blocks that affect our ability to be free, and how do we let them go?
I spent decades of my life trying to answer these questions. In the process, my life has taken some interesting twists and turns, and while I would never suggest that I have the absolute truth, I can take credit for making progress in my understanding.
In my personal journey, I have used traditional and non-traditional therapies, yoga, and spiritual approaches. In the process, I often read and was inspired by the book of Exodus in The Bible. The story of Moses compels me because he had his own set of problems. He struggled. He questioned. He made mistakes. He even tried making excuses. Human and flawed, he managed to overcome his perceived limitations to gain a position of leadership and strength.
I wondered what might happen if I contemplated Exodus more deeply. What would I learn about where I’ve come from and where I have yet to go? As I studied each verse, I often felt surprised by what emerged.
I am not a Biblical scholar, nor am I an expert on the actual history of the Exodus story. This text takes a metaphorical approach rather than an academic one. I also didn’t want to get into debates about any symbolism in the text that has already been written. That’s a more scholarly pursuit. Instead, I searched for an interpretation that came from the heart. I hope that, as you explore the words and let them sift around in your own heart, you will come to your own conclusions, perhaps radically different from mine. Rather than a “how to” book, I invite you to see it as the beginning of a dialogue to your own inner truth.
How does an ancient story hold relevance in our modern lives? We have modern conveniences and modern challenges. Yet if you have picked up this book, perhaps there exists a longing within you for something more, or something different. Despite all the freedoms we have as we live in the United States or other democratic countries, we may feel enslaved to a job, a lifestyle, a relationship, or something else that drains us. Our lives may look great on the outside, but inside we are dying from unrealized dreams, unresolved pain, or fear.
In my own experience, each time I have unhooked myself from self-enslavement, I have noticed increased energy and vibrancy. The process hasn’t been easy. It involved experiencing a long and difficult “dark night of the soul” that included debilitating illness, financial problems, infertility, and the end of a marriage I thought would last forever. Further, I have felt the inner enslavement of anxiety that once blocked me from having any joy. The journey never ends, but in healing and release, I have gained strength.
Breaking the bondage of slavery is courageous and challenging work that can generate powerful emotions. At times you may want to throw the book across the room or in the nearest dumpster. Reading a passage may make you sleepy, or you suddenly find you “don’t have the time” to work with one of the exercises. These are important moments to pay attention to—it means you are close to a discovery about your own psyche that wants to hide, to resist, to protect itself.
Exodus teaches us, in part, that freedom takes time, and it’s okay to put the book away for a while and pick it up later. It’s okay not to read it in a particular order. Freedom involves exercising choice, and if you choose to not follow the “plan,” then follow your own good judgment. Adapt the book in whatever way suits your intuition and heart. The more you reflect, the more you will find your own path to freedom, anyway. The exercises are just ways to help you get started.
I started thinking about the concept of “musings” because people tell me all the time that they can’t meditate. The most common reason people give me is, “I can’t get my mind quiet.” Well, join the club. We are human, and our minds by nature leap and jump constantly. Absolute stillness is not a requirement or even a goal for a successful meditation. However, I recognize that the very word conjures up intimidating images for some people.
If we’re musing, though, we take that pressure off of ourselves. If our minds drift away for a moment or two or ten, so what? In fact, in the state of musing, our minds may need to jump around in order to find the answers we’re looking for. We allow ourselves to be less lofty and more curious and open. We experiment, and if something doesn’t work, we don’t worry about it. So let’s take that approach, that we are musing, exploring, dabbling, dipping our toes into the water and watching the ripples.
This book is not aimed to appeal to any particular religion. I have tried to convey concepts and principles in a general way that is accessible to anyone, regardless of your background. As in 12-Step programs, take what you want and leave the rest. If you do not agree with something I’ve written, please try to frame it in a way that works for you. This book should be a living, breathing document that helps you find certainty in your own personal truth. If references to God bother you, then look for a place in your own heart. I speak in the language of someone who believes God exists, but that is not essential to gain benefit from this book.
When we find freedom in our lives, this doesn’t mean that life will not have pain or that you will have no more difficulties. It does mean that you will make wiser and more conscious choices to “change the things you can,” and that you will have deeper strength to “accept the things you cannot change.” You will find ways to transform life’s difficulties into experiences rich with meaning and even joy. You will experience all of life more fully and vividly, feeling the rich palette of God-given emotions without shame, and you will know when and how to express those emotions appropriately.
As a creative person myself, I will write a great deal about creativity, but you do not have to be an artist to use this book. Life itself is a creative adventure, and whatever your career or path in life, creative skills will serve you well. Sometimes creativity is required just to pay the rent each month! As creativity grows, so does our confidence, knowing that we can handle any situation that life brings our way.
There are 52 sections to this book, one for each week. Because 52 verses cannot begin to tell the full tale of the Exodus story, I suggest reading the complete story in the Bible, either before or during the process of doing the exercises contained in this book. It’s a fascinating read, as are many of the Biblical stories.
The Jews tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt every year at Passover. In our experience at the seder table, with family and friends, we experience the Exodus as though it is happening in present time. During Passover, we are all slaves in Egypt. This is what I invite you to do in the pages that follow: recognize that this story is relevant for our time, and that right now we are all slaves in one way or another. We could be a slave to a particular food or drink, or to cigarettes, or to the job—we humans have an infinite capacity to allow ourselves to be enslaved. By bringing the story to present time, we can begin to claim our freedom, bit by bit. We may, like the Israelites, wander in the desert for a long time. We may feel the fear that we will not be provided for. We may feel desperately alone in the world. Still, there will be moments when truth will rain on us like manna from heaven, and we will be deeply fed. All of the moments, whether moments of lack or abundance, are significant and valuable.
Oh, yes, one more thing before we get into some musing details. I’m not here to make you a better person. I believe you already are wonderful, so this is not about self-improvement. It’s about self-discovery, about removing the layers of muck, disappointment, and despair that keep us stuck, to find the shiny, lovely being that’s already there. And I am not the person with the answers. I will explore the questions with you so you can find your own answers. Although I’ve taught yoga, I do not believe in any guru except the one within you that is connected to the ultimate guru that is God. Yes, finding teachers along the way can be helpful, illuminating even, but ultimately we have to make our own decisions and trust our own wisdom. Feel free to disagree with me anywhere along the way, but use that disagreement to forge your own unique path. Let that disagreement allow you to explore what works for you.
We’re all busy people, but there is always time for musing. We muse all the time, really, in the shower, on the way to work, as we fall asleep, or a myriad of other moments throughout the day.
If you’re doing the exercises in this book, you may want to set up a more formal musing time. That’s up to you. You may decide to read the essays and just ponder them throughout your day, and that’s fine. But if you decide to create a few moments in a day for nothing but musing, here are a few guidelines that will make you more comfortable:
Dress comfortably, removing belts or other restrictive clothing and jewelry. You can sit or lie. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure your feet touch the floor and that legs remain uncrossed. You are more than welcome to sit on the floor if you can do so, but make sure your knees are below your hips. If they are not, then sit on as many cushions as necessary to create this alignment.
Let’s talk a moment about sitting in general. You’ll want to find your sitting bones, and you can do that by gently rocking back and forth and side to side to center yourself on them. You can even use your hands to draw the fleshy part of the buttocks back so that you can feel the centered place. Sit up tall. When you’re breathing, make sure you are drawing the navel in toward the spine on the exhale, and this will help keep your spine straight.
Take notice of what your shoulders are doing, too. It may be helpful to bring them forward, up, back, and down to avoid slumping. Then reconnect with your spine to make sure that these movements haven’t disrupted the posture you have already established. If the shoulders are slightly back and down, your chest will be open.
All of these alignment tips are designed to allow the breath to flow freely. When you breathe, breathe in and out through the nose unless instructed otherwise. If you like, you can constrict the throat ever so slightly (don’t tense up) to create an ocean wave sound in the back of the throat. If your breathing becomes labored, that’s too much. This breath, called the ujjayi or victorious breath, requires practice, so don’t worry if you can’t do it at first. It is a powerful breathing practice, though, that can be transforming.
So, okay, since we’re musing, keep in mind that you can also stretch out in your favorite easy chair. You may fall asleep, but a refreshing nap can be great for musing, especially since so many people are sleep deprived. If this book does nothing but slow you down enough to get some much-needed rest, then I’m thrilled, because that will do you more good than anything I might tell you.
Focus on your breathing to help you relax and unwind. Deep inhales and exhales done through the nose quiets the brain and helps you connect with all those wonderful, creative ideas that are about to burst forth from you. Even if you’re cooking dinner during your musings, you can use your breath to connect.
Do not be daunted by a list of rules and must-dos. You’re setting yourself free here, and most of us live under too many rules as it is. Let this be a time when you set the rules and change them whenever you want! Let this be a place where you can think whatever you want, dream whatever you want, and just enjoy the pleasure of your own company. While this may sound odd when used in conjunction with a Bible (or Charlton Heston as Moses, especially when he gets on the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf), I believe that we serve ourselves, and our God, better when we treat ourselves with lightness and ease. My yoga students, no matter how much I tried to tell them otherwise, often tried to push and strain themselves into a pose, instead of relaxing, breathing, and gently coaxing themselves. Guess which approach works better?