Mistaking Individualism for Freedom

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In today’s rapidly changing society, many of us no longer want to work for others. We want to use our talents, our creativity, and our passions to develop our own business or to work freelance. We no longer are willing to tolerate repetitive tasks, 40-hour work weeks or corporate bosses.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is breaking free of society, that we can remove ourselves from it, that we are somehow above it, or that we are trying to do something different. In truth we are only swapping forced conformity for a self-imposed one, and we mistake this individualism for freedom without acknowledging its paramount importance in the hierarchical value system of our society. We now turn the cog of culture at our own pace and rhythm, but we still don’t question where the machine is taking us.

It is only privilege that creates the illusion of separation. Unless we acknowledge this, we are stuck in a mire of arrogance and indifference. We too are complicit in a system of exploitation that is ruining our planet and destroying entire cultures. Even with our artisan candles and organic coffee. Even with our job as a yoga teacher or a freelance artist.

The more I sit with this, the more I am convinced that analyzing the value systems of our culture and the ways it has infiltrated our most intimate desires, beliefs and values is one of the most radical and deeply spiritual acts of our time. It is crucial for any real development, not because we can break free of culture, but because it is necessary if we are truly going to do our part to help change its direction.

It will take all of us if it is going to even budge an inch. This is one area where we can’t rely on our leaders. Those holding power in our culture are often the ones most conditioned by it. But, if we all begin to question our own opinions, beliefs, desires, and values, even the so-called “spiritual ones,” and question where the source lies, we may begin to awaken the collective mind into something deeper and whole.

Contemplative practices and time in satsang can help give us the leverage needed to be critical of our mind, but I am convinced that this alone is not enough. A critical questioning must become its own form of practice. Meditation, yoga and prayer can actually strengthen and reinforce these cultural values, and all of us in our spiritual community are blinded by this cultural force. Not only do we help each other to wake up, but we also blind each other from our deep conditioning.

Questioning our culture and our privilege must be a part of the spiritual life.  It will deepen our time in practice and enrich our spiritual community.  It will lead us towards freedom, not an individualistic one, but a freedom of abundance that spills out to all corners of the world.

About Sitaram Dass

kirtan, devotion, activism, and writings at sitaramdass.com View all posts by Sitaram Dass

2 responses to “Mistaking Individualism for Freedom

  • Bkerb

    “Arise, O Prince! Give up this faintheartedness, this weakness! Stand up and fight!” Gita II 3

    We all must become karmic warriors and organize at the grassroots level. Summer is here!! Pick what bothers you most and hit the streets!! For any injustice there is an organization against it. All we have to do is participate. The digital age has made it easy for us to stay connected and informed and we have to use this as an advantage. At a moments notice we can mobilize to confront any issue or situation. We are powerful! So if you are against fossil fuels, find a local pipeline to rally against, if you feel a corporation is evil, get online and see how to join up with folks that feel the same.

    We can no longer stay in our personal caves. Forest philosophies of inactivity will only take us so far. Our activities, our duties must become un-Self-ish and stand against conditioned narcissistic tendencies. We have to help each other realize that we are all sharing the same universal consciousness. MySelf is truly yourSelf!

    Feeling Privilege separates us into our own “special little selfs”, which are always seeking and searching, always preoccupied with a new quest of enlightenment. Our own pursuit for perfection becomes another obstacle which can blind us. It becomes another form of suffering in the sense that we are always trying to compensate for some internal dilemma that never really deals with its own motivations.

    All of our meditations and contemplations, all our our yoga practices, all of our methods for reaching the “extraordinary”or finding some fantastic Truth, while having beautiful purpose, are not that useful In alleviating cultural hangups. How can we be or know extraordinary without just being ordinary first.

    True sadhana and Satsang should include our communion to the divine by serving other people and serving life in general. To me, it means getting your hands dirty and be an active participant in God’s lila or drama. We must get involved! Whether that means bothering politicians, boycotting rotten businesses, attending protests and demonstrations, or donating your time and money. Feed hungry people!! There is so much one can do!

    We are all guilty of being complacent. It is easy to be lazy and distracted and to become discouraged. I fight with it everyday. Reality may never live up to the ideal but it is better to hold the ideal, strive for it wholeheartedly, and know that there will be failures and mistakes along the way, but let that never stop us from trying.

    Hari Bol

  • Sitaram Dass

    Ahhhh…. Bkerb, those are the best words I have heard all day. So heartfelt, honest, and inspiring. I can’t wait to see you soon. Ram Ram

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