Each spring, Jewish people observe the holiday of Passover, a celebration of freedom connected to the ancient story of our ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. We are told by our tradition to imagine, each year during the Passover Seder, that we ourselves are being liberated.
I find this to be a beautiful opportunity to consider what freedom means to us on a personal level. Bringing awareness to your freedom is important because, as Martin Seligman and other leading positive psychology researchers have acknowledged in their work, free will and personal agency are a necessary foundation to our experience of hope, happiness, and meaning.
Whether or not you are Jewish, spring—the season of new beginnings—is a perfect time to do some “internal spring cleaning.” I offer the following prompts, exercises, and practices as a way for you to mindfully take stock of your life at this moment—to explore the ways in which you feel constricted or held back, and to find new appreciation and purpose for the freedoms you possess.
Step 1: Examine the Narrow Places
Journal Exercise: The first step is identifying the ways in which you currently feel limited, held back, constricted, or stuck. You might begin by asking yourself the following questions, perhaps spending some time journaling and/or discussing them with a trusted partner.
- In what ways am I holding myself back from being my truest, brightest, most free self?
- In what ways am I enslaved by my own actions, thoughts, or words?
- In what ways am I held back by society or by expectations placed on me by others?
- In which areas of my life do I feel silenced or disregarded?
Once you have explored your narrow place(s), pause and take some time for self-compassion. It can be difficult, but really powerful, to name and acknowledge the ways in which you feel limited or held back. I am going to invite you to have self-compassion especially for the ways in which you might be limiting yourself. We need to show love and kindness to even the most difficult parts of ourselves in order to grow and move forward.
Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position, perhaps with your hands over your heart or wrapped around yourself. Turn inward and take a few breaths. Imagine what you would say to the part of you that has hardened or become cynical, the part of you that has held you back or been overly influenced by outside pressures. Speak with kindness and compassion to this part of you that has likely been trying to protect you and keep you safe.
Step 2: Release Your Restraints
Now that you have identified what is holding you back, see if you can let it go. This is your opportunity for inner spring cleaning. If you are Jewish/celebrating Passover, you can think about this as burning your “inner chametz.”
Look over your responses to the prompts in Step 1 of this exercise and identify what is in your control that you would like to leave behind as you move toward freedom and expansion. What can you release as you step forward into spring and opportunities for new beginnings?
Ritual Activity: Write down what you would like to release on small pieces of paper. Create a (safe and contained) fire in whichever way you choose, and burn the papers one by one. Stay present and notice how it feels to let these constraints go.
Step 3: Move Toward Freedom
After the first two steps, I hope you have more space to move toward freedom and expansion. I suggest that you begin by focusing on gratitude and appreciation for the many ways in which you experience freedom in your life. You can define freedom in any way that you find tangible and meaningful for you.
Mindfulness Practice: Sit quietly in a comfortable position and turn your attention inward. After spending a few moments with your breath, begin to identify and consider the ways in which you experience freedom in your life, perhaps including:
- Your mind, body and spirit
- Your education
- Your religious/spiritual practice
- Your love/marriage/partnership(s)\
- Your home
- Your job/vocation
- Your community
- How you think and speak
- How you access information
- How you spend your time.
What else? See if you can cultivate a sense of gratitude for all the ways in which you are free. Notice this sensation of gratitude and feel it throughout your body. Take three to five more breaths before you open your eyes.
Freedom is a complicated concept and a word we certainly overuse in the United States. The freedoms that we experience can be won through determination and bravery, or by pure luck of circumstance. Violence and harm have been perpetrated in the name of freedom. Freedom for one person or group can be achieved by holding back another. And with freedom comes a certain amount of power. I think it is important to ask ourselves, What is the purpose of my freedom? What will I do with it? Does the way I express my freedom harm others or lift them up?
Journal Exercise: Create a “Freedom Intention.” What is your intention for your freedom this year? How might you tap into your courage and agency, and hope to live more freely in your life, your body, your relationships? How might you use your freedom to create more freedom for others? I encourage you to connect this intention to your personal values or beliefs and to find opportunities to share this intention with others in your life.
I wish you all a beautiful spring. May your exploration of personal freedom allow you many fruitful new beginnings.
Amanda Davidowitz is a perpetual spiritual seeker, yoga nerd, and self-improvement enthusiast. She loves to combine yoga, meditation, positive psychology, and other mindfulness practices with Jewish traditions in order to create new, meaningful rituals. Amanda is a certified yoga instructor through both the Kripalu School of Yoga and Yoga for All; a graduate of Wholebeing Institute’s Certificate in Positive Psychology; and a Positive Psychology Coach. Learn more about Amanda at inspiredheartwellness.com.