Saturday, July 3, 2010

Independence Day Starts From Within

The Fourth of July holiday brings classic poolside picnics, hot summer nights, ice cream cones and local parades. At night, fireworks explode in the sky -- sometimes synchronized to the 1812 Overture -- and Americans have an opportunity to celebrate the exquisite privilege of living in a free country.

Except, the problem is, despite the fundamental freedoms created by our founding fathers, many modern Americans don't feel free at all. Countless citizens are half-heartedly waving tiny flags, eating hot dogs and staring at the explosions of color in the sky, while suffering an inner imprisonment about how to pay next month's mortgage, find a new job with flexible hours, grasp the extent of the oil spill's damage, or mend a broken heart.

Ever feel sort of like a colonist: nothing is going right, someone is holding the strings of your life and all attempts to break free end in further pain and suffering? It's hard to wax sentimental about the greatness of our country when the inner life feels beholden to the "King George" tryanny of fear, negative self-talk or emotional dependence on others.

It doesn't have to be that way. Independence Day starts from within. Every July, for the past 234 years, Americans take the time to celebrate our Independence from oppressors. And, since the outer world always mirrors the inner world, perhaps the Fourth of July is a perfect time for a little introspection, liberation and celebration as well. Wasn't it Emerson who penned, "the unexamined life is not worth living?"

How do we declare a "Declaration of Inner Independence" this year? Let's start with the original words from the Declaration that freed our Nation as a model, and apply it to ourselves:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Life. What holds you back from fully engaging in life? Are you afraid to let go of the past and take a giant leap of faith towards manifesting your dreams? If you could do one big thing before you die, what would it be? Light a little sparkler and allow the childlike thrill of watching the sparks fly serve as a guiding symbol of your resolve to do whatever it takes to suck the marrow of life's bones. If our founding families could do it, so can we. Celebrate your life, and make it count every day.

Liberty. Do you feel free -- really free? If not, what is holding you back? Is it voices from the past, telling you that you are not good enough, can't do it, aren't smart enough, not capable enough or don't deserve it? Make a declaration to unshackle your spirit from the tyrannous fears that have prevented you from experiencing deep liberty -- freedom. Having liberty means trying something you didn't think you could do, and failure is a wonderful teacher; infinitely more satisfying than being tied to the sidelines.

Pursuit of Happiness. Why do so many of us deny ourselves the value of seeking happiness? Notice the key of this final phrase in the Declaration lies in the word "pursuit." It matters not if your invention ever becomes a reality, if your book is ever published or if your paintings ever go beyond the walls of your home. The ability to pursue that which makes us happy, purely for the sheer joy of it, is an unalienable right we so often neglect. Declare your independence by doing something crazy, silly and altogether useless -- just for the fun of it!

Air Your Grievances. The power of the Declaration of Independence revolves around the careful construct and genius of the Founding Fathers. First, the document describes the unalienable rights of humankind to pursue their freedoms. Second, it lists a long string of specific grievances against King George of England to justify their ultimate conclusion of severing all ties, and vowing to be "enemies in war and friends in peace" as a free nation.

The next step in constructing a personal Independence Day document is to consider what inner grievances you have to air out. Time to be honest here. Make a list of the qualities that have held you back over the years. Maybe it is being critical of others, being judgmental without considering another side, living in fear, shutting down emotionally to others, feeling angry for no good reason, shutting off loved ones from your life or not speaking up when you know you should.

By writing down these qualities that no longer serve, you can give yourself permission to let them go. The infamous Tony Robbins always said, "if you have a limiting thought, change it." Imagine replacing each grievance you have with a more positive option, and imagine the exhilaration of how it would feel to live life that way.

The final portion of the Declaration bespoke of the steadfast alliance the original 13 colonies developed in order to break free from England:

"And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Certainly many of the colonies had vast differences in perspectives, yet they understood the power of community and mutual solidarity. The colonists used the Declaration as a compass rose -- a guide to serve them individually and collectively towards creating a way of living never yet attempted in the world.

It takes bravery to make such a Declaration. Maybe someone you know and love is living an inner life that is not overflowing with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How can you serve as an inspiration to them? Creating a Declaration of "Inner Independence" is a wonderful exercise to explore over dinner with your partner or family. Whether or not you live in the USA, happy Independence Day to all HuffPo readers worldwide.

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