I hate to break it you, folks, but freedom ain't just getting to do whatever you want all of the time. Freedom is a holy, hellish, hectic surrender to the moment & the truth of what is *right now.* Freedom is the perfection of needing nothing, wanting nothing, holding nothing, having nothing.
And that kind of pure freedom takes discipline.
I teach a practice called 5Rhythms. It’s a dance practice that facilitates diving surrender through movement of the body. And it’s pure magic.
The witch who founded the practice, Gabrielle Roth, was a true wild woman who possessed an uncanny ability to cast spells with her words. One of her most famous, puzzling, potent spells was that "it takes discipline to be a free spirit."
I've been thinking about this a lot as I step into teaching in a new city. I've been thinking about what the relationship between discipline & freedom is, and why, it seems, you cannot have freedom (which we tend to crave) without discipline (which we tend to avoid).
Here's what I've come up with:
At its purest, freedom is a total unification with the moment such that exactly everything ceases to exist, including any sense of “I.” It’s a nondual experience. It’s complete surrender, total oneness, transcendent unity. It’s unfettered intimacy with exactly what is with absolutely no attachment or story. In a nondual state, there is complete freedom because you have transcended the bonds of duality. The burden of form, the suffering wrapped up in your personal story, the self-efforting, self-negating, self-sabotaging, the fragility of happiness... all of it falls away in the perfection of presence.
As beings of form, however, we cannot actually sustain this state & stay alive. Our bodies literally require we engage in duality. Our bodies are form & the nondual is emptiness (of course, this distinction is an illusion, because at the core of all things is just one thing, so the whole idea of form & emptiness really becomes moot the deeper you go, but for the sake of argument, let’s say they’re real & diametrically opposed).
Being beings of form—beings with bodies—it actually takes training to experience the kind of freedom available in the nondual. Fuck, it takes work to even glimpse it! Because we believe our form (as we should) and we believe in our identities (as we should—and I cannot stress this enough! I’m very much of the belief that no one should attempt to kill their ego; to do so is to follow a murderous impulse & it has very dangerous potential consequences—more on that later). In other words, to really “break free,” i.e. feel the pulse of pure, unadulterated, raw FREEDOM that throbs at the core of each moment, each cell, each sigh… we need discipline.
(As a related aside, I’m just gonna say, there’s really no point in just hanging out in the perfect transcendence of the nondual for too long… being a separate dualistic being in the world is *fun*. Like, seriously fun. Like dancing-with-the-devil fun. Like molten-chocolate-lava-cake fun. Like totally-hot-sex fun. Like the-first-rays-of-warm-sun-on-your-face-after-a-long-winter fun. Like breaking-free-of-the-chains-that-previously-bound-you fun.)
Why do we need discipline? Because while the dualism of form is necessary & fun & vital & full of all the richness of human experience, it can also become laden. Laden with false-identification. Laden with heaviness, distraction, misunderstanding, victimhood. We can start to believe the illusion. We can start to take our bodies for granted. We can start to give credence to the lie.
In a totally paradoxical way, the more we buy into the duality, the less available the freedom of nonduality becomes. And then, of course, the more we crave it.
But when we’re coming from a place of duality, when we’re coming from the unexamined ego, we try to reach freedom by doing whatever we want. Because that’s freedom, right?? As a kid my parents wouldn’t let me eat ice cream before dinner, so now, to prove how free I am, I eat ice cream all the damn time. I'M FREE, BITCHES! Of course, there are a lot of reasons why that’s awesome (ice cream rules), but there are a lot of reasons that’s actually not good.
At the deepest level, it’s not good because that kind of freedom is actually a trap. It’s a simulacrum a freedom. It looks like freedom, smells like freedom, & might even taste slightly of freedom for a few sweet moments, but at it’s foundation it's a trap waiting to lock you the fuck up. And once you realize it’s a trap, it's too late: you’re already too far gone. You’ve already eaten the entire tub of ice cream, wasted the money on the shiny thing, missed yet another opportunity to be vulnerable, squandered precious moments on something unsatisfying. That kind of freedom is a wolf dressed in freedom’s clothing. It’s maya’s sleight of hand. That kind of freedom tells you that in order to sample its wares, you must break the rules. You must rebel. You must change. You must not listen to anyone. You must not ever be confined. You must flee. You must “go with the flow.” You must, you must, you must.
I don’t know about you, but “I must” doesn’t sound anything like freedom to me. “I must” sounds like a prison. And so, the freedom that had me believing I was free (I must do whatever I want in order to be free) has surreptitiously bound me… and I’m thwarted by my own game.
This is why the perennial wisdom traditions require discipline. This is why literally every school of religion, philosophy, spiritual development, or personal growth has a practice. Because without it, we’re just victims of our own stupid games. Without discipline, we think that walking into a room & moving *however we want* is freedom. But it’s not: it’s a trap.
So, in the 5Rhythms practice, we practice discipline in the name of freedom. We discipline ourselves to move through the Rhythms, each & every one of em. We discipline ourselves to arrive on time, follow instructions, take a partner when asked even if we don’t want to, & watch our breath even if it hurts. We discipline ourselves to stay with our sensations, expressions, & shapes even if they feel dead, or depressed, or ugly, or scary. And we discipline ourselves to stay out of the stories & projections we’re inevitably running through our heads in each moment.
We do this crazy dance of discipline so that we actually have a real shot at freedom. We relish the practice of form so that, when it's ready, we are surprised by the astonishing presence of emptiness. We engage our resistance with an air of play because, the true freedom that presences itself through our discipline is the most astounding, numinous thing there is. And frankly, pales in comparison to binging on ice cream ;-).
And so we see: it takes discipline to be a free spirit.
And that, my loves, is why I fucking love my practice.