At some point in our life, each one of us aspires to be free from all kinds of shackles. We imagine ourselves in that freedom, that we’ll be blissful, happy and fulfilled. We’ll be leading a life of meaning and purpose. This is not necessarily freedom from the people around us but how and what we feel in the present moment. As the British Novelist, Iris Murdoch said, “Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture.”

We are forever doing one thing or the other to remain relevant in this world, to keep the frame together, to look like the picture we have of us in our minds. What does it take to shatter that frame and shift the focus from “human doings” to human beings? How do we stop controlling every aspect of our lives and sometimes let the chips fall where they may? In other words, how do we liberate ourselves? First up, a little story:

In a certain city, a renowned businessman, who was the wealthiest trader in the region, once heard that listening to the glories of God brought about liberation to one’s soul. That’s easy, he thought, I can hire someone to recite the scriptures and be delivered. And so he approached an orator who recited Srimad Bhagavatam for a living. The orator, on his part, sat all attentive knowing that the richest man in the town was in front of him. Here was his chance to make some money.

“Is it true,” the man said, “that I’ll gain liberation if you narrated the Bhagavatam for me?”
“Absolutely,” the orator said. “King Parikshita heard it once and was emancipated, but, due to your bad karma, maybe you should hear it seven times. That’s sure to grant you nirvana.”
“How long will that take?”
“Nirvana!?”
“No! Hearing it seven times, I meant.”
“Forty-nine days.”
“I’ll hear it eight times then, just in case.” the trader said.

An agreement was made on a handshake.

Every day, the man was paid a visit by the narrator who would recite the scripture while he went about his business. A month passed like this when one day the trader said, “I don’t think this is working.”
“How you mean?” the orator said.
“Forget liberation, I haven’t experienced the slightest transformation in me.”
“It takes time.”
“Time, my foot! When my customers pay me, I deliver the goods right away. That’s how things work in the world.”
“But, this is not a business!”
“Preposterous! I am but paying for your services!”

A bitter argument ensued and the businessman refused to pay a dime. The matter was referred to an old saint who lived on the outskirts.

“O holy one!” the trader said, “this man here promised me liberation if I heard the glories of God as mentioned in Bhagavatam but let alone moksha, I have not experienced even an ounce of change in me.”
“Maharaj,” the orator said, “everyone knows these things take time.”

The saint said the issue could be resolved provided they agreed to follow his instructions. Both parties consented and the holy man tied their hands separately with a piece of rope. He then asked them to untie each other. They tried in vain. The orator complained it just wasn’t possible.

“How can I free him,” the trader said reeling with frustration, “when my own hands are tied?” 
“Exactly,” the saint spoke in a calm voice. “How can the one who’s ensnared himself set anyone else free? You, tied by your craving for liberation, made a mockery of the sacred Bhagavatam by turning it into a business deal. Even one word of it when internalized can set you free. And enmeshed in the desire to make more money, the orator here tried to fool you. Without devotion, no amount of listening to any scripture yields any result.”

Somewhere, we are all tied by the rope of our desires and beliefs. How far we can venture out is limited to the length of the lasso. Truth be told, we only need to snip this rope to set ourselves free. This act of snipping, however, is not a sudden affair. And even when it is, one has to see it through with a persistent and prolonged follow-up of right thoughts and actions. This brings me to the crux of the matter: what does it take to liberate oneself? In my humble view, there are only two things needed to get past your limitations. Whether we seek guidance from self-help books or scriptures, gurus or speakers, ultimately, it’s a change in the following two aspects alone that will do the trick.

Habits

We may be whoever or whatever, we remain creatures of our habits. You can’t redefine yourself unless you make a conscious and mindful effort to break the habits that define you. Whether it’s gorging on ice-cream or chocolates when you are stressed or lashing out indiscriminately when frustrated or procrastinating when you have an important task at hand or letting the frog croak, your habits create your actions. Your actions fill your day and your days make up your life. It’s as simple as that. Excessive or negative thinking, being lazy or a workaholic, these are just habits. I would say even being jealous is a habit, for, a jealous person will find one reason or another to repeatedly experience (and justify) this emotion. It’s remarkable how much of what we think and do is driven by our habits.

One definitive way to self-transformation is to write down the one habit you wish to drop and make a deliberate effort to do so over the next forty days. Whether you are building a new habit or dropping an existing one, the amount of effort and time required is roughly the same. So, don’t start both at the same time. Either resolve to shed an existing one or take the time out to build a new one, but not both concurrently. For each habit you renounce, a bit of the old you, the undesirable you, will disappear. And, for every new one you inculcate, a part of you will transform.

The art of breaking or modeling habits, however, requires willpower and the willingness to see the world (and yourself) differently, which leads me to the second point.

Perspective

Most of what gives us grief stems from our perspective. In fact, grief is a perspective in its own right. Pain and painful incidents can be real, suffering, though, is mostly how I have chosen to analyze and accept my pain. Change your perspective and everything changes. As Einstein famously spoke, “We can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them in the first place.” Only that he never said so. Instead, his words were, “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” Either way, the idea is simple: we must change the way we think if we want to change how we feel and act.

And the easiest way to shift our perspective is to look at the brighter side of life, to be grateful, but that doesn’t always work. That leaves us with the second-best option, which is to expose yourself to a new way of thinking. We do so by challenging our beliefs and viewpoints with different, even contradictory, perspectives. Traveling, interacting with people from different backgrounds, reading all kinds of literature and listening to speakers and philosophers who present a fresh way of looking at life modify our thought processes and break our thinking patterns.

In those crumbling old habits and thoughts lie the seeds of brilliance and awakening. One good way to start is to see which belief makes you most susceptible to anger, hatred and negativity. Usually, such beliefs originate from our ego, religious ideas or moral orientation, and sometimes, Heavens forbid, all three. Putrid beliefs thrive in stagnant and closed thinking. Let go, let go, let go. You won’t know what glory awaits you unless you step out in the sun and embark on a journey to see yourself, to know yourself.

Which view of yours rattles you the most in the face of non-conformity? Start with that. Ask yourself, what if I tried the alternative, what if my views on what I’m entitled to or how life should be are impractical, if not invalid altogether? It takes great courage to question what we believe in. Then again, self-transformation is not for the faint-hearted. If someone wishes to sit at the fence and just do what they have always done, that’s their choice. The truth is, you can choose to run away from being vulnerable but then by the same token, you deprive yourself of self-discovery.

Goldberg went to visit his aging mother in her new flat. At the street entrance, he pushed her bell and heard her voice crackle over the intercom.

“Press the ‘unlock’ button with your elbow when it buzzes,” she said. “Then push the button marked ‘3’ on the lift with your elbow. Then just push the handle on my flat door with your elbow.”
Puzzled, Goldberg said, “That’s all clear mother, but why do you keep telling me to use my elbow? Why can’t I just use my hand?”
There was a pause and then came the reply, “You’re coming empty-handed?”1

So it is with our beliefs and habits, we just take them for granted. That’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s how I’ve always been, but it’s true, it’s a given, how can it be anything else, that just doesn’t make sense, I can’t do it and so on and so forth.

The truth: most of what we know is based on our observations and assumptions. The rest has been fed to us by people who learned it from other people and who in turn had either observed or assumed it.

Discard one habit and one belief. You are off to a great start then. Formation of new habits lead to transformation of the self. And, gaining a new perspective gives you a fresh pair of eyes (figuratively, of course) to look at the world. Both are in your hands. You choose.

On a different note, I’m pleased to announce The Book of Kindness published by HarperCollins. It’s a quick read and represents the essence of what I stand for. Here are the relevant links to get the book:

  1. Amazon India
  2. Amazon.com 

Peace.
Swami

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